Liberator of Jedd

By Debra Spencer,2014-11-04 20:22
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The Richard Blade novels were a series of adventures featuring the titular character (MI6A's special agent Richard Blade), who was teleported into a random alternate dimension at the beginning of each novel and forced to rely on his wits and strength. Richard Blade was distinctly British, and all the stories are set in England (at least at the beginning and end, with Blade being teleported to some other dimension for the bulk of each tale). Published by Pinnacle Books (Mm) on 1978/09/30

Liberator of Jedd?

    Jeffrey Lord

Book 5 in the Richard Blade Series

    Chapter One

    ????Lord Leighton was, at best, an indifferent speaker. For some reason which J was unable tofathom the old man had agreed to make the tiresome journey to Reading and address a seminar ofBritain's leading brain surgeons gathered at the University. Later, when the confusion anddanger was over, J was to guess that the old man had hoped to learn something about the humanbrain that he did not already know. What this could possibly be J could not surmise; the oldfellow had already far surpassed the mortal brain by building a seventh generation computer,now waiting for Richard Blade in its guarded vault beneath the Tower of London, and so J putthe rare expedition down to vanity, boredom and a desire to exchange chitchat with otherscientific minds.

    Lord L, J thought now, must get very weary of talking to J. For J was most definitely not ascientific brain. He was a prosaic and pragmatic man, a spy master when he had time to work atit. Which was not often these days. The truth was that J, caught up as he was in the computerexperiments and Blade's dangerous forays into Dimension X, at times nearly forgot that he washead of MI6A.

    Just now, as he squirmed on the hard seat and watched Lord L hem and haw and clear his throat,J was a little bored himself. Also tired and hungry. And worried about Richard Blade.

    Lord Leighton clung to the lectern for support, rather like a frail old lion propping himselfagainst a tree, and peered at his audience with hooded yellow eyes. His mane of white hair,thin and silky, haloed his pink scalp as though defying gravity.

    "In such an electromechanism as the modern computer," he was saying, "we have at leastsucceeded in eliminating the danger of schizophrenia. We build computers to a complex schema,most complex, but when they are built they function exactly as intended. This certainly cannotbe said of the human brain."

    Lord L moved a bit, shifting his hold on the lectern to ease the omnipresent pain in his hump,and J felt a surge of pity and admiration for the old scientist. How did he ever manage to keepgoing?

    For that matter how did Richard Blade manage to keep going? The boy had made four harrowing anddesperate trips into Dimension X. In the morning he would go through the great computer again.His fifth time out J sighed and shook his head, causing the man in the next seat to regard himcuriously, and decided to reserve all his sympathy for Blade. The boy was tense. Nervous.Drinking a little too much and chasing far too many women. All symptoms of strain and fatigue,J thought, though Lord L did not agree.

    "The chief difference," his Lordship was saying, "is that a computer, a cybernetic machine, isa unit, a single component, so to speak, and so it has the advantages and the integrity of sucha unit. Man, on the other hand, really has three brains. The pity, and the source of most ofour troubles, is that those three brains must function as one brain. This they find hard to doat times. And sometimes impossible. The three brains fight each other. And I think, though Iadmit to a great oversimplification here, that this is one of the reasons why man continues towar against man. In a world run by computers there would be no wars. Because to computers warwould just not make sense."

    J fidgeted and sneaked a glance at his watch. Some twenty minutes to go. Then, with any luck,they could catch the 10:47 back to London. J wondered what Dick Blade was doing at the momentProbably something much more sensible than listening to a crowd of elderly pundits discusssomething that one didn't understand, in a jargon that was all but incomprehensible. J sighedagain and shifted his lean nates on the hard chair. Yes. Blade was probably, in the parlance of

youth today, making out.

    "The oldest of our brains," said Lord L, "is reptilian. We have had it for billions of years.The second brain, engrafted onto the first is, of course, lower mammalian. The third brain, thelatest to be melded to the first two, is also mammalian. But late mammalian. It is what makesman, man. Usually we call it the neo-cortex."

    Lord L paused a moment, leered at the audience and added: "And that, gentlemen, is why we arealways in so damned much trouble! That bloody neo-cortex of ours."

    Titters. Then laughter. His Lordship, when the mood was on him, could sound more like a Cockneythan a man born near Bow Bells, and his language could put a coster-monger to shame.

    J did not laugh. That bloody neo-cortex. Blade's neo-cortex that Lord L had been tinkering withfor months now. Taking it apart and putting it together again. Scrambling the molecules andatoms and reassembling them in a manner that allowed Blade to wander into Dimension X. Adimension that no other man on this earth might see or know. Only Richard Blade.

    J found himself shivering. He was sweating and it was almost cold in the hall. How long couldBlade keep it up? How many times could he go into Dimension X and come back? Come back sane andwhole?

    Of a sudden J found that he was badly frightened. The terror of the thing, of what they weredoing with Blade and the computer, descended on him like black dead weight for the first time.

    He could only hope that Richard Blade did not feel the same. A frightened man would stand nochance whatever out in Dimension X.

    Lord L hobbled around to the other side of the lectern and clung to it, sipping from a glass ofwater. "As you all know," he continued, "it was an Englishman, Charles Babbage, who designedthe first 'analytical engine' in 1820. He thought it out rather fully, as a matter of fact,though of course the technology of the time was not up to building it. And I might add thatsince 1820 a great many of us have not known whether to damn or praise Mr. Babbage."

    More titters and laughter.

    Lord L went into his peroration. He wound it up quickly, for which J was grateful. Only aquarter of an hour had been granted for questions. They might catch their train yet.

    A tall balding man, young for this assembly, was asking a question.

    "Do you think it possible, Lord Leighton, that we will ever learn to control human behavior bychanging the pattern of the brain cells? Will the time come when we can restructure thecellular molecules, rearrange the constituent atoms? Completely change the electrochemistry ofthe brain?"

    It seemed to J that Lord L, tottering by the lectern, looked directly at him. There was a wispof smile on his Lordship's thin lips as he answered.

    "I think that is very possible. I believe it is being done now, to a certain extent, onmonkeys, by planting electrodes in the brain and controlling the subject by remote radiostimulation."

    J felt an overwhelming desire to go to the men's room and vomit. He now understood why Lord Lhad made the trip to Reading. The sly old bastard was looking for a brain surgeon. He hadplans, new plans, for Richard Blade. Just scrambling his brain cells and sending him intoDimension X was no longer enough. The scientist in Lord Leighton was taking over from the humanbeing.

    He was not normally a profane man, but now J let a string of obscenities race through his mind.It wasn't going to happen! Not while he was bloody well alive. Dick Blade was like a son to himand they were not going to butcher him. Rage overwhelmed J. He would see to it. He would blowthe whole damned Project DX first.

    Going back to London they had a first-class compartment to themselves. J wasted no time invoicing his suspicions. Lord L made no attempt at denial. The old man was arrogant and crustyand very much aware of his eminence as Britain's first scientist. As such he never stooped to


    "My dear J," the old man said, "there is no need to get all in a lather. It was a thought Ihad, a stray and tentative thought, nothing more. And of course we should have to have Blade'spermission for any, er, any such brain surgery."

    "I'll see that you don't get it," said J angrily. "I goddamned bloody well will see to it. Theboy has done enough. Maybe too much. There are already personality changes in him that I don'tlike."

    Lord L gave him a bland look, hooding his yellow eyes in the way he had. "I suppose so," hemurmured. "Bound to be a few changes, my dear fellow, when your cortex has been restructured asmany times as Blade's has. No help for it. But you overlook a point, such changes are notnecessarily for the worse. I am quite as fond of Blade as you are, and I study him mostcarefully, though I admit I lack the emotional overload you carry, and so far I have seennothing harmful, no cause for alarm."

    J knew he was no match for this aging little hunchback. Lord L had a mind like a razor and hecould slash you to bits with it. J set his jaw and retreated into stubbornness.

    "I remind you, Leighton, that I am head of MI6A and that Blade is under my direct command.There will be no such operations as I am sure you have in mind. If necessary I will go directlyto the Prime Minister. He was in the infantry. He will understand about combat fatigue."

    His Lordship, when he found the going unpleasant, was given to non sequiturs. "In my war," hesaid mildly, "they called it shell shock."

    J was shocked at his own reply. "I don't give a good tinker's fuck what you called it in yourwar. That boy has been into Dimension X four times and tomorrow he goes out again. All right Sobe it. But when he comes back this time, if he comes back, I am going to pull him out ofProject DX. Blade has done his bit. You had better start looking around for a new boy."

    Lord L smiled sweetly and leaned to tap J's knee. "I think we shall have to leave that up toBlade himself, J. And I also think that you know what his answer will be if it comes down to aquestion of country and duty. In any case it is all very much in the future. Now please do bequiet and let me think, I've a nasty little problem in quadruple feedback circuitry to solve."

    His Lordship slumped in his seat, eased his hump, and began to scribble on the back of an oldenvelope.

    J's first anger had faded. He now regarded the old man with his usual mixture of admiration andloathing. The cold-blooded old bastard was right, of course. Dick Blade would do anything thatwas asked of him. Meet any test, volunteer in the face of any danger, keep going out intoDimension X as long as he was needed. It was just the way Richard Blade was made.

    J leaned back and tried to relax. The train was racing through a small village where a fewlights still gleamed here and there. A crowd was spilling out of the local, laughing andshouting cheerful good nights.

    J thought that he would call Blade as soon as he got back to his office. He would not besleeping tonight anyway and there was work piled on his desk. He would just call and check tomake sure that Blade was ready for the ordeal tomorrow. His fifth time through the computerinto God only knew what.

    Again he wondered what Blade was doing at the moment. He hoped it was something pleasant.Something very pleasant.

    ?Chapter Two

    Richard Blade was at the moment enjoying himself. Not many men, even fine swimmers and top-flight athletes, as Blade was, would have shared his enjoyment. He was half a mile from shorein the icy Channel. A raw mid-March wind was slicing off whitecaps and whipping up waves. Thewater was, as Viki complained, fit only for polar bears. But Blade found himself reveling init.

    Blade was naked but for a jockstrap. He floated and stared at the sullen dark sky, overcast andwith no hint of stars or moon. A cold wave slapped at him viciously. Blade rolled through itand slid down into the trough. He was feeling better. The muzzy feeling from too many brandyand sodas had gone. He ran his teeth over his tongue and felt the thick coating. It had becomea regular morning thing, the coated tongue. He was putting away too much booze. Far too much.He did not seem able to stop the drinking and he never got drunk. Weary at times, utterlyweary, and with moments of desolation and despair that he had never known before, but neverdrunk. In a way it was a cheat.

    And there was the little matter of satyriasis. Blade's smile was grim. His sexual appetitethese days was excessive, to say the least. Not at all like the old Blade. Then he had beensatisfied with one woman and very little booze. But that had been the old Blade. BeforeDimension X. Before he had gone four times through the computer. He had had Zoe then and theyhad planned to be married. All this before Lord Leighton and the monstrous computer andDimension X. And the Official Secrets Act which precluded Blade from so much as hinting at hisreal job or the reasons for his long absences.

    Zoe had left him and married another man.

    Blade let a wave carry him toward the cove where Viki waited, a slim forlorn figure shiveringin a British warm. She thought he was a little crazy. Blade went deep and swam powerfullybeneath the turbulence, thinking that perhaps his latest girl was not too far off the mark.

    Not that he had any real doubts about his sanity. He didn't. And he had never been in betterphysical shape. It was just that he knew, and admitted, and so must J and Lord L, that thebrain-scrambling trips through the computer were affecting him. Looking at it dispassionately,Blade mused as his lungs began to pain, it would have been extremely odd if his brain had notsuffered a few changes. It was to be expected. The important thing was not to panic, don't pushthe panic button. It was nothing he could not handle. He felt sure of that.

    Viki, pronounced as though spelled with a C, Randolph was at the moment dancing in a West Endmusical. She had a speaking part, two lines, and considered her career well launched. She was atall girl with an elfin face and gypsy eyes, slim legs and arms and a tiny waist, andsurprisingly large cone-shaped breasts. Her real name was Poldalski and her father was adustman in Putney. This latter Blade had ascertained more out of idle curiosity and boredomthan anything else; he was not a snob and could not have cared less about the antecedents ofhis bed partners. It had been something to do, finding out all about Viki, and between tripsinto Dimension X he badly needed something to do. For with the advent of Project DX he was nolonger permitted to work at his profession of secret agent. J might have allowed it, but Lord Lwas adamant. His Lordship had no intention of losing Blade to a bullet, knife, rope or poison.

    He surfaced, blowing hard, and struck out for the cove in a fast racing crawl. Viki waved, anddesire surged in him and despite the shockingly cold water he began to achieve tumescence. Thehard bind of the jockstrap caused him a slight discomfort. Nothing, he thought, to what Vikiwould presently feel. She had complained of soreness only that morning, after half an hour ofhis compulsive lovemaking.

    Blade felt bottom and began walking in to shore. Yesterday morning, yesterday afternoon, twicelast night and then that long bout this morning. Yes, my boy. Definitely you are afflicted withsatyriasis. The Oxford Dictionary called it "insatiable venereal appetite in the male."

    Ask Viki. For that matter, ask Hester or Stella or Babs or Pam or Evelyn or Doris.

    Do you see, Lord Leighton, what your goddamned machine has done to a onetime English gentlemanby name of Richard Blade?

    Blade grinned and laughed aloud into the mad March wind that was tearing across the littlebeach. Why blame it on poor old Lord L and his computer? Maybe it was just his true natureemerging at last.

    He left the water and stalked toward the waiting girl, droplets of salt water beading on hismassive tanned body. To a sculptor's eye Blade would have seemed fashioned of brown concrete,

    with every muscle and tendon defined with the precision of a Praxiteles. So perfectly formedand proportioned was he that at first glance the eye was fooled. He appeared much taller thanhis six-foot-one and much heavier than his two hundred-ten pounds, and he had taken blues inall major sports at Oxford with an ease that suggested games for babies. Which, to Blade, theywere. His physical prowess had been, quite often, a source of actual embarrassment to him. Hedid so easily what other well-endowed men could not do at all.

    Viki Randolph had a whiney voice when she chose to use it, and she chose now.

    "You were long enough," she accused. "I don't much like it, you know, being left to freeze onthis bloody beach while you go pretending you're a seal or something."

    Blade smiled and slapped her behind. He knew how to handle this type. He let his hand lingerfor a moment and squeezed a buttock. Viki gave him a look and pulled away.

    "You're pouting," he said, "and it does not become you, ducks. Come on, then. Back to thecottage and I'll see to it that you are well warmed up."

    Viki watched him warily. Blade gave her a leer and a wink. She groaned. "Oh, no! Not again.Don't you ever think of anything except sex? Or do anything else?"

    Just then Blade wanted a brandy and soda more than he wanted her. He watched as she gatheredher belongings from a blanket, using a small flashlight to find cigarettes and purse andvarious oddments. The wind took on a shriller note and though he began to goose pimple he wasnot cold.

    They started toward the path that led up the cliff to the cottage, Viki carrying the things ina pouch made of the blanket.

    "I am a reasonable man," Blade said. "If you will tell me anything else that is as important,as interesting and as much fun as sex, I will give it due consideration and let you know if Iagree. Now what could be fairer than that?"

    She surprised him then. The whine left her voice as she said, "The trouble is, darling, thatyou treat me like any stupid totsy. Just another dumb showgirl. You don't really talk to me.You talk at me. And you're never serious, not even for a moment. You act as if it would be awaste of time to be serious with me, as though I wouldn't understand you. You're arrogant,Dick. Very arrogant. And you don't even know it."

    Blade stalked on ahead. The path was difficult here, steep and switchbacking back and forth,with a fallaway of some 200 yards. It was the highest cliff on the Dorset coast and among thelocals was known as Suicide Leap.

    Viki was right, of course. He was on the arrogant side. Nature, birth, background and traininghad all conspired to make it so. Blade was aware of this venial sin and fought against it, notalways with success. At the moment, just now, he was piqued and irritated. First because heseemed to have misjudged Viki, or to have been badly fooled by her dumb showgirl mask, andsecond because he had no desire, need or intention of forsaking sex for philosophy and thefiner aspects of life. He'd brought her down from London for one thing and one thing only, bed.And it was, by God, going to be bed, when and as often as he chose, and nothing else.

    "Dick! Wait for me. I'm a girl, remember, not a great monster like you."

    She was lagging far behind. He went back and picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder andbegan to climb again.

    Viki panted in his ear. "You had a phone call while you were practicing to swim the Channel. Iforgot cigarettes and had to go back and someone rang up while I was there."

    Blade trotted easily up the steep incline. "Who?"

    "Very mysterious. It was a man, but he wouldn't leave a name. He left a message for you."


    "To call J as soon as you got back to the cottage. That was all. Just to call J."

    He nodded and stepped up his pace. What could J want? Everything was worked out, all plansmade. Blade was due at Lord L's house in Prince's Gate for his final briefing at eight the nextmorning. Then on to the Tower of London and the trip through the computer into some newDimension X. So? Some last-minute hitch? Blade shrugged. He would call J, of course, but in hisown good time. Vila, warm and vibrant and bouncing on his big shoulders, had first claim.

    Viki bit his ear. Then she thrust her tongue into it. Blade, who was lugging her along in thefireman's carry, moved a brawny hand up the inside of her pants-clad leg and gripped her firmlywhere she joined. She squirmed.

    "Leave off that, Dick. For God's sake. Do you want to drive me crazy?"

    "You started it, ducks. When a girl kisses a man's ear like that it's like a green lightflashing. And anyway, why play games, you know you love it. You want it as much as I do."

    Silence. Blade trotted, easily. Viki joggled up and down on his shoulder, her spectacularbreasts crushed against the back of his neck. He could feel them even through the thick coat.

    She bit his ear again. "You're right, of course, you big bastard. I guess I am a bad lot. Butonly where you are concerned! That I will have you understand, Dick Blade. I don't act likethis with, with every man I go out with. But with you I just don't know, I don't seem to haveany willpower. All you have to do is touch me and I do anything you want. And I don't like it.I hate it. And I think I hate you."

    "Good," said Blade. "Keep it that way and we'll get along very well." He squeezed again,manipulating her expertly, and she moaned and caught at his hand and tried to pull it away.Blade laughed.

    When they reached the cottage he piled logs on a smoldering fire and took a fast shower to getthe salt off him. He had a brandy and soda and debated whether to call J now or later. Hedecided on later.

    Viki, sitting primly in a big leather chair near the fire, was reading an old copy of Punch asBlade moved restlessly about in his robe. She kept glancing at him over the magazine. She satwith her long legs tightly crossed. When he offered her a drink she refused it. Blade shruggedand made another for himself. It must, he told himself, be the last. He was due in London ateight and that meant an early start It would be nice if he could sleep tonight, sleep as he hadonce slept, without the hideous nightmares that brought him awake screaming and covered withcold sweat. Sleep to knit up the raveled sleeve of care.

    Sleep? Macbeth hath murdered sleep.

    Macbeth hell! Lord L hath murdered sleep with his damned computer. Dimension X hath murderedsleep.

    Logs were roaring in the fireplace now. Blade stood in front of it, drink in hand, and staredinto the blue-yellow flames. Viki had put down her magazine and was watching him intently. Heignored her. Outside the snug little cottage the wind hooted in derision.

    In that moment Richard Blade knew what ailed him. Or rather he admitted it to himself, for thefirst time. He was afraid. There was nothing wrong with his brain and certainly not with hisbody. It was fear. Fear was the canker-worm eating away in his guts. And it was incredible.This sort of fear was beyond understanding. He had known fear before, as what man in hisdangerous profession had not, but it was the healthy and necessary fear that kept a man alive.This present fear, the thing he now endured, was a slimy loathsome presence in his entrails.

    Blade did not want to go up to London tomorrow. Blade did not want to go through the computeragain. Blade did not again want to make the awesome and appalling journey into Dimension X.

    Blade would do all those things. He would force himself to do them. It was unthinkable that heshould not. Otherwise he would not have been Richard Blade.

    Viki, back to her small, whiney voice again, said, "I'm hungry, Dick.".

    He was across the room in three strides and picked her up. He held her high over his head, aseasily as a child holds a doll, and brushed her dark head against the timbered ceiling. His

laugh filled the cottage and boomed over the March wind off the Channel.

    "As my American friends say, ducks, I have got news for you. You are not hungry. Not for food.You are hungry for love. For sex. For a long and unstinted bout of sex that will never end.Never."

    Viki struggled. She kicked him in the chest. "I am not," she moaned. "I'm not, Dick. Really.Please. I am terribly sore there. I don't want, "

    He dropped her. She fell into his arms and he crushed her with one big arm and kissed herfiercely. "You do want," he told her.

    Abruptly she stopped struggling and slid her sharp little tongue into his mouth. She nodded andpulled away for a moment to say, "Yes, you awful beast. You make me want. God, I must be ascrazy as you are."

    Blade lifted her by the elbows and carried her to the fire. He kissed her again. Viki respondedavidly, but said, "There is no tenderness in you, Dick. None at all. You are just rogue male,all of you. And I am mad for you. I don't understand any of it. Nor you. Nor me."

    She was wearing a heavy cable-stitched sweater. As he searched under it, pulled it high andunfastened her brassiere, Blade admitted the accusation. It had not always been true. There hadbeen a time,

    To hell with that. One did not live in the past. Nor, in his profession, did one count on thefuture. There was only now.

    The brassiere came loose. He lifted each perfect breast from its nylon sling. Soft milk-whitemarble brushed with flickering fire shadow. He caressed and kneaded and felt her go lax. Herknees sagged and he held her tight.

    He pulled the sweater up over her dark cap of hair and tossed it away. The brassiere followed.Viki stood naked from the waist, her piquant face uplifted to his, the gypsy eyes narrowed andwatching him. Her hands, small red-nailed talons, reached inside his robe and pounced. She sankagainst him and moaned.

    "I can't, darling. I just can't. You are just too enormous. I told you, You have made me sosore now I can hardly walk. Please, Dick, can't we, I mean I, I know other ways. I'll make youhappy. I promise."

    Blade was not a selfish man. Much of his enormous success with women was due to his regard fortheir pleasure. He gave her a half smile and said, "But will I make you happy? That is thequestion, ducks."

    Viki pulled his robe open and stared down. She would not look at him. It was either a trick ofthe firelight, or she was blushing.

    "Oh, yes, darling. I will be quite happy. I really rather like to do it, you know."

    She giggled suddenly. "You are the first one, man or woman, that I have ever admitted that to."

    "Your secret is safe with me," Blade said as he carried her to the bed. "And I want you to behappy, Viki. I really do. So if you like to do it you certainly shall do it."

    He did not awaken until after two. The fire had expired. Viki was sleeping soundly beside him,her mouth open a bit. Blade pushed it shut with a gentle finger and rolled out of bed. Thecottage was cold and the gale from the Channel was gathering strength. He got into his robe andwent to the phone, resolutely passing the brandy bottle and the siphon. No more of that. Hemight be afraid of going into Dimension X again but he was no drunk. And no coward. No onewould ever know of his fear but himself, and he would keep it to himself. He would handle itsomehow. Because he must.

    He got a trunk call through to the office in London. J answered on the third ring. He soundedtired, but his remonstrance was mild enough.

    "You took your time about calling back, dear fellow. Delay in message?"

    "No, sir. I was swimming in the Channel and then, well, sir, I had some other business toattend to. Then I fell asleep. Sorry."

    "No real matter," J said. 'It is just that I want you to stop past the office in the morningbefore you go on to Prince's Gate for the briefing. I want a chat with you. Understood?"

    Mystified, Blade said that he understood. "That's all, sir?"

    He heard J yawn in London. "That is all, my boy. And, er, no need to mention this little visitto Lord L. Also understood?"

    Blade agreed. J said goodnight and hung up after suggesting that Blade get all the sleep hecould.

    Blade cradled the phone and stood for a moment staring at the pile of gray ashes in thefireplace. Viki snored softly. Blade glanced at the brandy bottle and shook his head. For thefirst time in weeks he didn't, really didn't, want a drink. Maybe that phase was over. Now ifhe could just get the slimy ice out of his guts whenever he thought of Dimension X.

    He saw no point in going back to bed. He would not sleep again and it was better to stay awakeand try to think this thing through. In the final analysis a man had to help himself, no oneelse could.

    Blade rebuilt the fire, pulled up a chair and, smoking an infrequent pipe, stared into theflames and wondered where he would be this time tomorrow night? Would there be fire in this newDimension X? Would they know the secret of flame?

    What weapons? What dangers? What kind of men must he face, if they were men, and what sort ofbrains would they have? Cunning, cruel, complex or childish?

    Viki snorted in her sleep and rolled over. Blade smiled. Who would have thought little Viki tobe such an accomplished fellatrice? Blushing and shamed, or at least shamming it, andperforming with an expertise that bespoke long experience. He smiled again and shook his head.How could you know, really know, about people? Anyone, even himself. People were robots wearingmasks. They kept their real selves locked up in the vaults of their skulls. All the world eversaw was a reasonable facsimile. Even himself. Even Richard Blade. Who could ever guess abouthim? Guess at the unguessable.

    He stood up and brushed his hand swiftly through the air. There. He had just invaded adimension that he, nor any other living man with a normal brain, could not perceive orcomprehend. This time tomorrow, with his brain cells restructured by the computer, he mightwell be wandering in that dimension. He alone of all the men in all the world.

    In that moment Blade began to understand a little. And felt a growing relief. It was not somuch fear, as fear, that plagued him. It was instead the terrible loneliness that he must bear.He examined the idea for several minutes and found that he was being honest with himself. Theawful loneliness that he alone must bear. Just to be able to tell someone would help, but thathe could not do. It was a burden that he must carry alone.

    Even Lord Leighton and J could not share the load. They knew and yet they did not know. Theyhad never been out there.

    Blade laughed aloud. So be it. He was glad. Loneliness he could bear. Fear he could not. Notfor long. It was good to know the true nature of his enemy. And now he could have a drink.

    He poured himself a large brandy and drank it straight, then hurled the glass into thefireplace. And laughed again. He felt so much better, like a man let out of a prison cell.

    Viki stirred at the sound of shattering glass. She peered from beneath the covers at him. "Whatis it, Dick? Are you getting drunk all by yourself?"

    Blade went to tuck her in. He kissed her lightly and patted her shapely rump. "No, ducks. Nowgo back to sleep. I'll be getting you up at five and we've a long cold ride ahead."

    "I still think you're mad," she said, and fell back into sleep.

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