by Peter Rawlik, Glynn Owen Barrass, Brian M. Sammons, Bruce L. Priddy, Robert M. Price, Rick Lai and David Conyers
When it comes to Lovecraftian Horror there is a strong history of round-robins, the most famous being The Challenge From Beyond by Lovecraft, Moore, Howard, Long and Merritt. Others have appeared since including three Herbert West round robins (Though as I understand only two were ever published). The idea for this round-robin came my love of comic books and the Cthulhu mythos. I grew up reading the X-Men, and some of my favorite stories are those that dip into Lovecraftian territory including the N’Garai and the Brood. Similarly, I’ve often considered the Celestials and even Galactus as evidence of a strand of anti-anthropcentricism running through comics. So it comes as no surprise to me that one day I came up with an idea to write a Lovecraftian superhero story, and doing it as a round-robin was a bolt of inspiration. I assembled my dream team, and it took us longer then it should have. Like all good hero teams some members fell out, new members joined. In the process the vision I had of what we were doing and how this would look changed as well, but I suspect that is the nature of round-robins, and collaborations in general. What you have now are a set of reluctant heroes as created by some of the finest, up and coming writers out there, guys who know how to build characters, tell a story and leave you wanting more. One of the writers even found a way to tie the whole thing together with the venerable The Challenge From Beyond. So here you go boys and ghouls, submitted for your approval, I give you Eldritch Force.
Chapter 1. Ashes to Ashes
by Pete Rawlik
Fear stalked the streets of Berlin. The city had always known fear, lived with it in all its myriad forms for centuries, but this was an unfamiliar fear. It was a kind of dread, a gnawing ache that clawed at a man’s soul and left him with the feeling that something was not right, that something had come undone, and been misaligned. Many blamed the Russians, others the French or the British, a few blamed the Americans, but none of the residents of the occupied city bothered to blame themselves. The things that stalked the streets at night, that chased children off the streets, that clawed at windows, and took the old and the sick: whatever they were, it was the Allies that brought them. It was the Allies who must deal with them. Or so those of Berlin thought.
Beneath Berlin, however, there was one who thought differently. He was known to those above, but spoken of in guarded whispers, for he was everywhere, in every shadow, in every darkened doorway, in every unlit tunnel. He was a legend, an urban myth come to life. The English and Americans called him the Night Mayor, but those who had grown up in Berlin, the police, the criminals, those whose occupations or desires took them out into the night, they called him by what he left behind, by the material that covered his victims, and filled their lungs. To those who feared him he was simply Asche!
Asche knew the secrets of the city, had known them for ages and seen the changes that Imperialism and then madness had wrought on both the metropolis and the people who lived there. Through the wars and the time in between he had tried to stay apolitical, tried to concentrate on crime, but it had not been easy. Too many times what he saw as malfeasance had actually been government-sanctioned violence, and he had retreated into his secret home, and waited for the madness to subside. But in those years the network of sewers and subways had changed. Officially, Hitler’s government had made no expansions to the U-Bahn; unofficially a labyrinth of tunnels had been carved out and laid with rails for the sole use of the Nazi elite. Built by military engineers, the city managers knew nothing about it, and so neither did the Allies. But that didn’t change the fact that they were there, and still in use. Asche used them to move about the city unseen, and track the thing that now stalked Occupied Berlin. Whatever had come with the occupation, the Allied authorities seemed reluctant to do anything about it. They waited, huddled in their barracks with their guns, hoping that whatever it was would soon settle down and go away. Asche held no stock in that notion; he had been idle for too long, something was killing the people of Berlin, and he was capable of doing something about it.
The thing that had terrorized the city had taken to using the tunnels as well. Many were collapsed, blocked, damaged by the shelling, but they were still passable, if one were determined enough. Asche stood before the mass of stone and steel that blocked the tunnel before him. The tracks he had been following – there had been no attempt to disguise them – had led here. Whatever it was had wormed its way through the rubble, past tangles of wire, broken concrete, shattered bricks and crumbled masonry. Asche could see the way through, but he had no need for it. The air around him grew still, there was a sound, like paper crumpling, and then Asche ceased to pretend being alive, and became what he truly was: the ashen remains of his long dead body.
The cloud of ash held a vaguely human shape for a moment, but only a moment, and then it moved. It moved like a cloud in the wind, penetrating the rubble, seeping through it. There were a thousand ways for dust to move through the blockage, and Asche used them all. He flowed through the debris like water, following the paths of least resistance whilst finding dozens of dead ends. As he poured out of the far side of the wall he reformed, arms first and then a torso. He pushed against the rubble, dragging the myriad particles of himself out and free, rebuilding himself bit by bit by bit. It took longer to reform his mask of humanity than it did to shed it, but in under a minute he was back to his shadowy self, trenchcoat and wide-brimmed hat included.
“You smell like the dead.”
Asche spun around to confront the voice, but caught the full force of a punch across his jaw. He fell back, rolling with it, letting it carry him out of reach of the thing that slunk out of the shadows. In the dim light that seeped in from a storm drain Asche could see that his opponent was a monstrous thing. It bore some semblance to a man, but with arms and legs that reminded Asche of a hairless, gray ape. The arms were longer than they should be, as were the fingers, which ended in wide, thick pads. The legs had an extra joint, and the prehensile toes were longer than the fingers. There was something canine about the monster’s head: the eyes were predatory, the jaw was long and two great fangs rose out of the lower jaw like tusks. When the thing spoke its voice was like rocks tumbling in a tin pail. “You shouldn’t be here, it is unseemly for the dead to walk amongst the living.”
Asche launched himself at the creature and tackled him across the midsection. “And a monster who preys on the weak is proper?” He punched the beast beneath the ribs, and felt one of them break. The creature groaned in pain, and Asche punched the broken rib again. The groan turned to a scream, which was answered with an echo from down the tunnel. But that echo was different, a different pitch, a different voice, a different word. Asche turned, and in the darkness he saw the source of that echo.
Monsters like the one he was fighting, monsters of all shapes and sizes. There were tall ones, short ones, fat ones, thin ones, old ones and small ones. They were huddled in the dark, huddled in fear, too afraid to move, too afraid to act, too afraid to do anything but cry out for him to stop. And he did, for he knew instantly that something was wrong, that he was wrong, that he had somehow misjudged the situation. Slowly, carefully he backed away.
“What is this?”
The beast with the broken rib coughed. “This is my family. I brought them here to keep them safe.”
“Safe from what?” demanded Asche.
“The soldiers, the ones who aren’t there anymore, they did something. In our home, where we have lived in peace for centuries, hidden from men, they did something. Those soldiers and their masters, they did something. They did something to the land, to the earth, to the graves that reside within. The dead have turned, they’ve gone sour. There’s nothing to eat there anymore, we were hungry.”
“So you came here?”
The ghoul made an almost human gesture of incredulity. “Where else? Berlin is ripe with death, but we are many, many mouths. And the tribes who lived here before us, they have cleaned the cemeteries out. We didn’t think the freshly dead would be missed. We aren’t killers, only scavengers.”
Asche nodded, and ordered the pack of ghouls to follow him. He took them deep within the winding labyrinth that led to his home. There, amongst the ancient catacombs that Berlin had long forgotten, and that he called home, the ghouls found a place to hide, and thrive. Asche gave them his home, and in return they gave him the same.
It would take him days, maybe even weeks, but he had to know, he had to see. He would travel by night, resting by day, moving from graveyard to graveyard. It had been decades since he had left the city, but he had to know what had been done. What had the Nazis done that made the earth and the dead turn sour? He had to know what had been done in the place that men had named Auschwitz. What monstrous thing would make even ghouls flee?
Chapter 2. Deadman Detective
by Glynn Owen Barrass
Hurst hadn’t slept in days and the whiskey didn’t help, not anymore. Each time he closed his eyes skeletal faces appeared, pale limbs like twigs broken beneath the boots of well-fed Nazis. The smell of death lingered with the memories, the disgust rumbling through his stomach like acid lava. Far beneath the camp of atrocities, Auschwitz, a Nazi gun muzzle flashed, and another companion fell.
“You dirty rat bastard!” Private Johnson howled. His rifle discharged, and a cry from their attacker indicated the other man had fallen.
Cat and Mouse, tit-for-tat hellhole, Hurst thought and knelt, touched the corpse’s still-warm shoulder.
“Angell, Peter P. Rest in peace,” he said under his breath.
The corpse replied, “Thank you sir, it’s been an honor.”
Johnson still screaming, Sergeant Wilson grabbed him by the shoulders, and threw him against the tunnel’s concrete wall. “They’re gone, man! Stand down, stand down!” The private whimpered, his shoulders slumped. The sergeant released him.
“Hurst?” Wilson hissed.
Hurst looked up, encountered the sergeant’s wide-eyed gaze.
“You sense anything down there?”
Hurst shook his head. The man had spoken of his ability to talk with the dead. It came with the tumor, inoperable and unwanted. It only worked on those he touched; Wilson should have been briefed on that.
“I need to get closer,” Hurst replied. “Flank me.” He nodded to the G.I.s behind him, the final two not counting the distraught Johnson. Both men nodded. Hurst gripped his Smith & Wesson Victory tighter and crept down the tunnel towards the latest Nazi corpse. Bare bulbs, suspended by wire twenty feet apart, left plenty of shadows for ambush, by humans, or worse.
Tunnels under Auschwitz. Rumors about secret Nazi experiments worse than those practiced not so secretly in the vile camp above. Hurst had been pulled from the Sanatorium in Maine; Military Brass saying his country needed him, again. Reinstated to the MIS (Counter Occult Division), then a plane to Berlin and Auschwitz. Thousands of corpses; he’d spoken to over a hundred this week alone.
Hurst missed his cell, missed the quiet, the drugs that drowned the headaches and nightmares.
“Hey, you? They call you the Deadman Detective, don’t they?” A whispered voice. Private McCormack, flanking him with his Springfield rifle.
Hurst raised his thumb, continued to creep.
“It was you, wasn’t it, killed that Nazi fucker?”
Hurst’s stomach turned. He blinked and saw Chaya. Fed to the gas chambers two weeks short of her fourteenth birthday. She’d overheard a Nazi officer telling another prisoner about a safe place under the camp. He’d take her, if she was good. Both women dead now. Dumped naked in the mud. The officer, Hjalmar Frank, had resisted interrogation whilst alive. Last night Hurst had snuck into his cell, slashed the man’s wrists and made it look like a suicide. Frank’s corpse had been most talkative when Hurst said helping him might just save his soul from Hell.
Hurst had lied.
Frank didn’t know much, just about the quarters near the entrance to the tunnels. This morning, hiding Nazis and death followed.
“Who knows?” Hurst asked with a hiss.
“Don’t worry,” the private replied, “just a few of us. Your secret’s safe.”
They reached the empty oil drums where the Nazi had made his final stand. “No secrets are safe here.” Hurst sighed and holstered his revolver. “And I hate touching this, this filth.” He reached down and gripped the corpse’s black-clad arm.
The graveyards had been emptied. Asche had witnessed this first hand, but no normal grave robbers were to blame, for the corpses had been stolen from under their coffins. Thousands gone, dragged from their graves and no tool mark remained to reveal how myriad holes had been carved beneath the cemeteries of Berlin. But each hole led to a tunnel, the tracked labyrinth of the Nazis’ underground secret.
Asche and a dozen ghouls had been searching the tunnels for hours now, the tracked areas having given way to narrow concrete corridors lit erratically by bare, dangling bulbs.
The ghouls followed their noses, followed a ‘sourness’ that pervaded their ruined ecosystem. This underworld was meant to be Asche’s realm, but he was lost now, the ghoul beside him the leader here as they tracked the source of the ghouls’ woes.
“Not far now,” the ghoul that called itself Mr. Rib said in a guttural, confident voice. It was a surprise to all then when the tunnel shook. The light bulbs flickered and trembled above their heads. Asche almost lost his footing as a hoarse voice behind him grumbled, “Cave in, run!” It hadn’t even finished the words when it swept past him on all fours, followed by its loping companions. Asche remained conventional, neither flying nor running like a quadruped. His footsteps echoed along the cracking concrete.
Mr. Hurst. Wake up.
“Uh, what the…” After the shadows of the tunnel system, a bright light assailed his retinas. He squinted, tried to focus on the figure leaning over him.
Still unfocussed, he saw long, black hair in pigtails, large beautiful eyes. Nothing like the bald skeleton they’d brought him from the mud.
Mr. Hurst. If you don’t wake up soon you never will.
“What…” He groaned. His body felt broken, and yes, he wasn’t breathing.
Just open your eyes.
He did, to a hell of pain and noise and movement. The blackness about him roared, shook around him as he tried to breathe, only to choke down dust for his trouble.
What happened here? One moment he’d been reaching for the dead Nazi, felt surprise as the corpse chuckled. Then the explosion, the hiss in his ears and oblivion.
Booby-trapped. Hurst groaned again and rolled onto his side. A pain stabbed the side of his head; it felt wet there, warm and sticky. He hacked up the debris blocking his throat and took long, haggard breaths. The tunnel ceased shaking, but his ears continued to scream.
His foot touched an obstruction. A voice yelled in his skull. “My eyes, aw dang I can’t see a thing. Hurst, sir? Is that—”
Hurst pulled his foot away and the voice cut off abruptly. McCormack, dead. But what about the others?
He tried to speak but gasped instead. Spitting more filth from his mouth, he croaked, “Anyone here? Hey, I’m alive here.”
Silence but for the roaring in his ears, and then a voice sounded that was mostly growl. “We have a live one here. A human. An Ally soldier, maybe.”
A human? As opposed to what? Strong hands dragged him to his feet. He saw feral eyes in the darkness, glowing white orbs in pairs. Then the lights came on, and he screamed.
“Pull yourself together man!” Had he passed out again? He could hear properly now. The voice, German accent. Cold breath in his face.
“American, yes? What are you doing here?”
Hurst opened his eyes to find himself face to face with a waxy, corpse-like visage. Hooked nose, thin, gray lips. The eyes were blood-red orbs beneath the shadow of a trilby’s brim.
“Me? Heh,” Hurst replied. “Usually drink, usually kill, usually cause trouble.”
The corpse-man’s grip on his shoulders tightened. “Don’t make me—”
“He speaks with the dead, Asche.” A throaty, subhuman voice. Something big loomed up beside this ‘Asche.’ Tall, like a rubbery-skinned, naked gray ape. It had a dog’s muzzle, slightly pointed ears, and eyes, eyes like those of its friend, Asche. More of the creature’s ilk stepped forward. Hurst felt too dazed to be horrified.
“Is that so, Mr. Spleen?” Asche tilted his head, squinted momentarily then released him. He turned on his heels and strode through the rubble, his trenchcoat dragging against the corpses of Hurst’s companions.
“Well, speak with your dead friends, Hurst,” Asche said. “We have work to do.”
“Asshole,” Hurst said under his breath, brushed his uniform down, and followed.
“You need not be here, this is my country’s problem,” Asche said for the second time. The concrete tunnel had been replaced by damp rock with hints of ancient, chipped bas-reliefs along its weathered sides. Hurst walked amongst the ghouls now, grinning horrors that leered and winked on occasion, mostly when he checked his scalp for further bleeding.
“I came here to find Nazis,” Hurst replied. He gripped the rifle he’d pried from Wilson’s dead hands. “I’ll go home when that’s done.”
“This is my home,” Asche said with a snarl; then the procession paused. “You hear that?” he asked.
The ghouls grumbled. One said, “More cave-ins, Mr. Asche?”
Hurst looked up, saw the light bulb above him shake ever so slightly.
“No,” Asche continued, “Something is happening, up there in the camp.”
“Then what’s that I hear ahead?” the same ghoul asked.
“Trouble, and the answer to our questions,” Asche replied.
As Asche and the ghouls started moving again, Hurst whispered a prayer to a God he barely believed in anymore.
Chapter 3. A Light in the Darkness
by Brian M. Sammons
Screaming out of the dark tunnels came a horde of nightmares made flesh. Most were naked, some wore tattered remnants of clothes, and all were obviously dead – as evident by their wounds, lividity, or decay. Yet they still moved. The dead charged into battle with a cry that sent shivers down the spines of a man who regularly spoke to the dead, another for whom death was a memory, and a pack of corpse-eaters from the underworld.
“Run?” The gangly Mr. Spleen asked.
“You’ll never make it,” Asche replied.
“My thoughts exactly,” Hurst said, raising his revolver in a two-handed shooting stance. He fired a round into the chest of the closest shrieking corpse. The dead thing, once a woman in her thirties, now a withered monstrosity of gnashing teeth and grasping claws, staggered a few steps but then kept running forward.
Hurst adjusted his aim towards the woman’s head. The small, quick-moving target took three swift shots to hit. That brought the thing down, but it also meant that he had nowhere near enough bullets, and now the rushing dead were right on top of them.
The ghouls charged, all fangs and claws and terrifying howls, while Asche squared off with two of the cadavers. One was a German Wehrmacht officer missing an arm, the other an emaciated Jewish grandfather whose skin was a bright pink due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Asche aimed a kick at the naked Jew’s knee, shattering it and dropping the corpse to writhe on the ground. The one-armed soldier clawed into Asche’s throat, but its hand only came away with bluish-gray powder. While Asche could not die from such wounds, it still hurt like hell when pieces of him were torn away unexpectedly.
Hurst fired the remaining two rounds in his revolver, dropping a dead little girl who came at him low and fast. He let his gun fall, as he had no time to reload, and reached for his knife. Unsheathing it, he saw one of the ghouls nearby get its dog-like head wrenched from its loam-shrouded shoulders, and he doubted very much that his six-inches of steel would do any good.
Then, from a branching tunnel, lightning hissed into the dark. The bolt of deadly brilliance daisy-chained several of the corpses together, causing them to tremble and sputter. In a matter of seconds cold, dead flesh blistered and smoked, charred and cracked, before finally liquefying and sloughing off to reveal blackened bones beneath. When the deadly tendril of electricity stopped, what was left of the smoldering husks fell lifelessly to the ground.
For a brief moment, everyone in the tunnels was still and silent. Then another lightning bolt rocketed out, followed by a third and then a fourth. One by one, groups of the raging dead were blasted and scorched until finally only Asche, Hurst, and a pair of bloodied ghouls remained standing.
Once Zeus’ fury had subsided, a clanking sound came from the tunnel where the lightning had originated, and an iron-clad man slowly trudged towards the stunned quartet. The figure’s head, chest, arms, and legs were strapped in homemade armor, and on the stranger’s back a large backpack-like device whirred and sputtered sparks. Tiny arcs of electricity traveled down the man’s arms to sizzle between twin tuning forks that jutted out of the top of leather gauntlets. On the armor’s crude breastplate was drawn the number 769804.
“Who or what are you?” Hurst asked, taking the time to pick up and reload his revolver.
The iron man said nothing, pointed at the number on his chest, and surveyed his gruesome handy work.
“Your name is a number?”
The stranger turned his metal facemask towards Hurst. A pair of brown eyes stared at him.
“American,” Hurst replied.
“The number is all I have left. The Nazis took everything from me, and gave me this number.” The man spoke with a thick Eastern European accent. “So I want it to be the last thing they see before I burn them away.”
“Surely you had a name before the Nazis?” Asche asked.
The metal-clad man turned and raised one sparking hand towards the dead man. “Nazi?”
Asche raised his hands, palm out. “Your impressive weapon would do no good against me, and while I am German, I was never a Nazi. Not all of us marched to the beat of Hitler’s drum.”
“Enough of you did to decimate my people, kill my wife…” His backpack began to hum louder and the sparks dancing on the end of his raised hand were no longer so tiny. “…and murder my children.”
“Ah,” Asche said with sorrow in his rough voice, “You’re a Jew. I am truly sorr-”
The armored man screamed something, but the sizzling crack of the lightning bolt drowned out his words. The electrified arc also blasted away Asche’s left arm, his shoulder, and a good portion of his ribcage.
Hurst raised his gun and blinked his eyes to clear his vision of the flash to see the strange German he had just met still standing, although looking very pissed off.
“Damn it, that hurt,” Asche said. Motes of ash rose from the ground, swirled around his missing side, and slowly coalesced to restore what had been burnt away. “As I was saying, you can’t kill me. I’ve never been a Nazi, and if you hate them then perhaps you should come with us. I would guess that those other dead men you cooked are part of what’s going on down here which stirred up the grave-eaters, and that reeks of Nazi evil to me.”
“Uh…yeah,” Hurst said, finding his voice again. “So are you in for coming with us if it means you can kill a whole bunch of those bastards? We could sure use your firepower.”
The electrified man thought about it for a moment before nodding.
“Good. I’m Hurst, and I’ve heard that one called ‘Asche’ by those things.” The American pointed at the two remaining ghouls. “So can I get a real name for you?”
“Laszlo Scheiber.” He raised his mask to reveal the face of a small man in his forties. He flashed a twitching smile that appeared to be an almost forgotten expression to him.
“So, Laszlo, what’s the story behind your thunder guns?”
“I made them.”
“I gathered, but how? I mean, I’ve never seen technology like that before.”
“Oh, I had a…spell.”
“A spell?” Asche asked. He was almost fully reassembled, with just his hand needing to reform.
“Yes, there is no official classification for it. One day I just left my family, my job at the Eötvös Loránd University where I taught physics, and my home in Budapest. For three years I did God only knows what. Then in 1937 I woke up in a hotel in Boston, America, with no memory of those missing years. I returned home to find my beautiful family waiting for me. They had plenty of questions, but they did not accuse or condemn. I got my job back at the university and for a while everything was fine again.”
Laszlo’s voice turned bitter. “Then my country went mad and joined the Germans and Italians in their Axis. After that, being a Hungarian Jew meant being less than human. My own countrymen rounded my family up and gave us to the Nazis. In time we arrived here, Auschwitz – hell on earth.”
“Come,” Asche said, whole once more. “That battle could draw attention. We had better move.”
The odd companions continued to move through the darkened tunnels, heading towards unknowable horrors, but Laszlo Scheiber was not finished with his sad, strange tale.
“Watching my family die one by one until I alone remained, I slipped back into madness. My mind looked for someplace to burrow away and hide from the nightmare around me. Eventually it came to the wall something had built in my head to keep the memories of those missing years locked away. I think with nowhere left to run from the horrors of Auschwitz, my subconscious broke through that wall. What I found on the other side was amazing, terrifying, and…surprisingly promising.”
“What was it?” Hurst asked.
“A vastly more advanced alien intelligence had taken up residence inside my body for all of those missing years, while my consciousness had been whisked backwards in time to a colossal underground city of basalt. There I inhabited the body of the thing that had invaded me. It was an incredibly inhuman form that even now defies detailed description. And yet, as terrifying an experience as that was, I was allowed some measure of kindness. My alien hosts allowed me to study their massive libraries. I was granted access to their wealth of knowledge they had amassed over the eons. They did this to keep me occupied and docile. When it was time for the alien explorer to return to its own body and time, they sent my mind back home as well, but they attempted to wipe all memory of the fantastic trip from me.”
The older man smiled ruefully. “They were not entirely successful. One of the things I remembered fully was the amazing lightning weapons they had created to fight some other race of polypus horrors. So when the Soviets liberated Auschwitz, I was free to find the materials I needed to build this.”
“So now you’re out for justice.” Hurst nodded while he tried to wrap his head around Laszlo’s incredible tale.
“Justice, vengeance, I don’t care as long as Nazis burn.”
Chapter 4. Act of War
by Bruce L. Priddy
Something deep within the bowels of the earth roared. The entire planet seemed to roll in response, from pain, terror or both. The tunnel before the rag-tag group of eldritch companions collapsed. The bare bulbs lining the ceiling burst. A darkness thick with a choking cloud of dirt and dust swallowed the group.
Laszlo’s deadly tuning forks hummed to life. The electric arcs illuminated the tunnel in a blue twilight.
“Thanks,” said Hurst. He coughed out the words, waved the dust away from his face. The ghouls hacked along with him.
“You spend your days burrowing in graveyards, one would think you would be used to this,” said Asche. As gravity pulled the disturbed earth from the air, his fingers become tendrils of dust, flowing into the spaces between the boulders blocking the tunnel.
“We eat the old bones,” said Mr. Spleen. “Not dirt.”
Asche’s fingers reformed. “I can make it through…” He looked to Hurst, Lazlo and the ghouls.
“We dig, then,” said Mr. Rib.
Asche shook his head, “The blockage runs deep. Digging would take too long.”
Hurst turned to Laszlo. “You seem to know your way around here. Is there any other way out?”
The metal man’s head nodded. “Yes, but…”
“From plans I was able to secure away from the Russians, the route leads up to the camp,” said Laszlo.
Hurst cursed under his breath and kicked a pebble. “Into a camp populated with the worst the NKVD has to offer.”
“It gets better,” Laszlo continued. “In the compound this route leads to, the rulers of this place, before and now, have kept secrets behind iron doors and iron locks. I was never able to look inside, to see what those iron doors hid from the world. Perhaps it is time, yes?”
“Between us and those secrets,” said Asche, “…are a legion of the tomb’s rejects.”
Laszlo stomped away, the sound of his metal feet against the earth echoing through the tunnel.
“Where are you going?” asked Hurst.
“It seems to me we are all dead men,” said Laszlo. “We might as well meet death face-to-face, and see how many Nazis and Soviets we can drag to Hell with us.”
The others needed no further convincing.
Hell met them half-way. Horrors engineered by the architects of war and madness clogged the tunnels beneath the worst-place-on-earth. The ghouls became gibbering carmine blurs of tusks and talons. With lightning powered by something that confused the lines of science and magic, Laszlo obliterated dozens upon dozens of the howling resurrected. Hurst and Asche met the living dead with bullets. When bullets were exhausted, the men turned their guns into blunt weapons to crush skulls. Such close contact with the unholy risen left them both covered in the piceous ichor that had replaced once-living blood and tissue, colored their faces in a gory war-paint that left them almost indistinguishable from their macabre enemy.
At the stairway leading to the surface, Mr. Spleen gouged through the throat of the last resurrected, then pulled its head away. With the undead legion put down, Hurst, shoulders heaving from rage and encroaching insanity, cackled. The laughter doubled him over. His stomach let loose.
“Steel yourself,” said Laszlo. “I suspect there are far more horrible things to come.”
Hurst spit the remaining vomit from his mouth, smeared a hand across his lips, wiping it on his jeans. “I’m all right now,” he said, trying to catch his breath. Hands on his knees, he looked up the stairs. “That is where we learn what this is all about? And stop it?”
“Maybe,” said Laszlo. “Or worst things. Things none of us would ever wish to know.”
“Or it is all one-and-the-same,” Asche said. “But we will never find out if we remain down here ruminating about it.”
Hurst blew an amused snort. Laszlo offered the American soldier a hand, pulled him to standing position. “I’ll take the lead,” Laszlo said, as he began marching up the stairs. Hurst nodded and followed him. Mr. Rib and Mr. Spleen sniffed around the puddle of Hurst’s stomach.
“Come on, you two,” said Asche as he started up the stairs.
Mr. Spleen uttered a pig-like squeal. “But it has been so long since we ate.”
Mr. Rib turned up his snout at the puddle. “The Night Mayor is right. It is all bile anyway. Stinks of fear.”
At the top of the stairs, one of Laszlo’s aforementioned iron doors hung open, blood and other, less identifiable fluids of even less desirable colors smeared across it. Beyond the door lay a room turned charnel house. Large industrial bulbs hung from the ceiling, giving this place of horrors an unsettling antiseptic, banal feel. Bodies were strewn about the floor. Some, wearing Soviet NKVD uniforms or lab coats, were ripped open from belly to throat. The rifles of the soldiers lay beside them. Others, in the rags of prisoners or patient gowns, were twisted into shapes no longer resembling anything human, bloated, limbs distended to ropes, mouths agape and sprouting needle-like teeth. Astronomical charts, detailed schematics of the inner Earth, and photographs of ancient stelae with writing that Asche, Laszlo, Hurst or the ghouls recognized lined the walls. All were splattered with the same gore that stained the door.
“They are not like the other dead,” said Asche, examining one of the abominations. “Something else is going on here.”
Laszlo stepped around the corpses, his tuning forks moving from door to door, watchful for any threats. “None of these… abominations… are victims of the Nazis. Look at the letters on their clothing. Cyrillic.”
Hurst sighed, knelt down beside the corpse Asche was examining. “Judging from the condition of the soldiers, I don’t think they fired a single shot. Someone else killed these monsters.” He reached to touch the corpse’s forehead, the skull ruined by a gunshot.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” asked Asche.
“If we want to know what happened here, I do…”
Mr. Hurst! NO! Chaya screamed in the Deadman Detective’s head.
“What? Why?” Hurst asked the air.
“Who are you talking to?” asked Asche, but Hurst waved him away.
Because he’s a monster. You’ll hear nothing but madness and the howling between worlds.
“Okay, okay…” Hurst slid over to the body in a lab coat. “He’s still human.”
He is a bigger monster.
“The human ones always are,” said Hurst and he put his hand to the corpse’s head. “Tell me what you know.”
Electricity shook through Hurst, welded him to the dead body. It arched, the jaw unhinged with a shriek from the deepest abyss. The same shriek forced its way out of Hurst. One voice spoke through both the Deadman Detective and the corpse.
“Admiral Dönitz expedition, 1942. The white thing that dances and howls in the hollow places beneath the earth. It smelled death on the surface. Its tendrils burrowed up. Pieces of it live through the bodies. Mengele. January 27, 1945. The program resurrected. A weapon against the West! The final defeat of the Imperialists! The bodies have changed! The bodies have changed! It’s getting closer, stronger. Rising up! The bodies reflect the white thing! We can’t control it! It’s inside all of us!”
The corpse’s hands grabbed Hurst’s arm. “All of us!”
Hurst fell back, screamed: “Off! Get it off!” The joints in the corpse’s shoulders, elbows and knees popped, the limbs became fluid.
“I do not have a clear shot!” shouted Lazslo.
The ghouls were instantly upon the corpse. Their talons ripped away arms and legs. The ribs blossomed from the corpse’s sides, making it a facsimile of an insect. It continued to come after Hurst, the sharp bone-legs cutting into him. Asche took a rifle from a dead soldier. One shot to the monstrosity’s head felled it. Hurst scrambled from beneath the creature, grabbed a rifle and filled the monster with bullets until the clip was empty.
“For men trying to sneak around a camp controlled by the Soviets, you do so in a very loud fashion,” said a voice with an American accent from a doorway. Hurst, Asche, Laszlo and the ghouls looked up to find a nondescript man, with plain features, wearing a plain black suit and plain black fedora. He held a pistol at his side. Hurst and Asche raised their rifles. Laszlo’s cannons glowed.
“More Americans? This is my country’s problem,” said Asche.
The nondescript man smiled. “The Germans still think Poland belongs to them. I think the Russians may find a place of disagreement on that issue.”
“You killed everyone here?” Laszlo asked.
The man nodded.
“Who are you?” demanded Hurst.
The man stepped forward, unconcerned with the weapons pointed at him. “Operator No. 13 of the Office of Strategic Services, Mister Hurst.”
Hurst closed his eyes and shook his head. “Speak some sense. The OSS was shuttered after the war. And how do you know my name?”
“If the OSS does not exist, I suppose that means I don’t exist,” said Operator No. 13. “And that means this conversation never happened.”
“How do you know my name?” Hurst demanded, pressing the end of his rifle into the spy’s chest.
Operator No. 13 sighed. “Your weapon is out of ammo, Mr. Hurst.” He pushed down the rifle and continued. “I have been sent here to retrieve you. As I don’t see Misters Angell, Johnson, Wilson and McCormack, I assume they are no longer among the living.”
“Retrieve me?” asked Hurst. “What are you talking about?”
A grim shadow fell over Operator No. 13’s face. “You are on an unauthorized action into Soviet controlled territory. That is an act of war in a time of tenuous peace. I am here to retrieve you and control any witnesses.”
“Unauthorized?” shouted Hurst. “I am here under orders of General Van Buren of MIS…”
Operator No. 13 cut him off. “…MIS has been dissolved and General Van Buren placed in permanent retirement for unauthorized actions against the orders of the President of the United States.”
“Are you going to place me under permanent retirement?” asked Hurst.
“No.” The spy shook his head. “As I said, I am here to retrieve you. Your unique abilities make you a valuable asset.”
Laszlo’s tuning forks hummed. Small hairs raised on the arms of everyone. “You are not taking him.”
Operator No. 13 turned to the lightning man. “And judging from the weaponry and number on your breast plate, you must be Mr. Scheiber. I am not your enemy. I am your best hope.”
“You have until my tuning forks have charged to explain.”
Operator No. 13 smiled. “You are right to be skeptical. The governments of both the Soviet Union and the United States are looking to acquire your special skills. I can offer you a life in the United States. I am sure you know the only thing the Soviets will offer.”
“And us?” asked Asche, his weapon still raised. “I do not wish to be brought under ‘control’.”
The ghouls gibbered in agreement.
“If you kill me, Mr. Asche, another Operator No. 13 will take my place soon enough. And you will regret your actions. But I have no wish to see any of that happen. Safe passage out of Poland, for your silence about what you saw here.”
“Something terrible is happening!” shouted Asche. “We cannot just forget it, let it keep growing.”
“I do not care,” said Operator No. 13. “You have your choice. Make your decision before the Soviets send someone to investigate what happened here.”
BOOM! The room shook, not from an explosion but from something strong striking the steel walls of the compound.
“The Soviet Army?” asked Hurst.
“Worse,” answered the spy. Another strike shook the room. The men and ghouls struggled to stay on their feet.
“What could possibly be worse?” Hurst replied. The wall bulged as it was struck again.
“When we split the atom, the United States built a bomb,” Operator No. 13 said. “But when the Russians split the atom, they built a man.”
A single fist punched through the wall. It grabbed the edge of the hole and ripped away the steel wall as if it were paper. A man stepped through, the embodiment of human perfection, blazing blue eyes, short-cropped blond hair, the face of a model and the physique that can only be found in ancient Roman or Greek sculptures. Clad in the dark red uniform of a Soviet soldier, a bright yellow hammer and sickle was emblazed upon his chest. A cape, the same color of his uniform, flowed behind him.
The ghouls flashed their tusks and claws. Asche and Hurst raised their rifles. Electricity arced around Laszlo’s cannons. Operator No. 13 dropped his gun.
“Lower your weapons,” he said. “They are useless against the Supreme Soviet.”
Chapter 5. The Battle Below
by Robert M. Price
But no one was much inclined to take that piece of advice. Instead, they attacked the newcomer all at once. The ghouls reached the strapping Russian first, and he made short work of them. Their main asset was physical strength, but here the Supreme Soviet grossly outclassed them.
Mr. Rib tried to bite down on the man’s steely arm but succeeded only in splintering his great tusks. With his other arm, the Soviet grabbed the ghoul’s corded throat and, effortlessly snapped the jackal-man’s neck with a loud report that filled the confined space with ringing echoes.
Mr. Spleen looked to be momentarily torn between gazing at the broken corpse with a hungry eye and recalculating a mode of attack. His hesitation would have made no difference, though, as his foe moved with instantaneous skill and force, forming a rigid claw, like a grappling hook made of flesh, which he thrust into Mr. Spleen’s vitals, ripping the reeking, smoking intestines free with a single yank.
Hurst and Scheiber gagged at the stench of the unwholesome nourishment now gushing from those organs. Operator 13 seemed unaffected as he drew a machine pistol and fired. The spew of bullets merely ricocheted off the tower of invulnerable muscle, two or three rounds striking the man who had fired them, the others somehow missing Hurst. Others pinged off Scheiber’s armor, while Asche’s structure easily absorbed those that struck him.
The malevolently grinning juggernaut’s uniform was now soaked with blood, though it matched closely the original hue of the fabric. The Soviet colossus loomed before the survivors who paused in bewilderment. Operator 13 lay on the ground, bleeding heavily, his consciousness draining from him almost as quickly. Then the crimson giant and the ashen avenger charged at one another, upraised fists plunging. Asche’s form had increased in density, but even so, the futile impact of his blow caused fist and forearm to spatter into dusty mist, while the irresistible force of the Communist’s punch had the same effect on Asche’s disintegrating midsection. It seemed his mighty antagonist had found the linchpin of Asche’s physical integrity, for now the rest of the Night Mayor’s form followed suit, dissipating into the tunnel shaft like a smoke bomb.
“Bah!’ spat the self-styled Supreme Soviet. “You are but filth! I shall clean things up!” He took a deep breath, seemingly undaunted by the dust of decay he had inhaled, and ejected the tainted air like water from a fire hose, scattering what was left of Asche farther and wider, forcing it through every available fissure and gap. It would take some time before the haunter of the subway labyrinths could reconstitute himself to return to the battle.
Hurst stood motionless as if passively waiting his turn to die. But in fact he was trying desperately to clear his mind, an almost impossible task in the circumstances, in order to make sense of a kind of signal or scent he had begun to feel on the astral plane, where a part of him always cocked an open ear. At first he thought it was his proximity to what remained of the slain ghouls, though he was not touching them. But then he began to suspect he was hearing the distant, as if deeply buried, screams of a great many souls of the dead. His eyes scanned the close space, barely noticing Scheiber clumsily stooping to take a look at the waning Operator 13. But all he could see was the manifestly vital Supreme Soviet, who was now staring at him. Hurst thought momentarily of a pitcher on the mound, winding up for a throw. He should have but seconds left before joining the ranks of his familiar dead.
The shabbily armored Scheiber was now pacing, waiting for his power pack to regain its charge, panicking and praying the longer it took. But just as the Stalinist Goliath was aiming his next punch at the seemingly paralyzed Hurst, a familiar click told Scheiber that the recharging process was complete, and, thinking that there just might be a God after all, he unleashed a mighty blitzkrieg upon their tormentor.
His hunch had proved correct: for all his invulnerability to physical impacts, the Supreme Soviet could be affected by raw electricity simply because electricity had made him what he was. Clearly the Russian must be a product of the unnatural experiments that took place here beneath the surface, and his abilities must have been enhanced and magnified by means, among others, of electrical manipulation. If he had become impervious to the effects of electrical power, he could not have benefitted from the procedure.
The giant crashed to the floor, inert. As Hurst and Scheiber stooped to examine the great body, they could see he had suffered no superficial damage from his collapse: no blood, no shattered teeth. He breathed, but he looked to have given up the ghost, a marionette with the strings cut. Scheiber spoke tentatively.
“I think I, ah, short-circuited him, or overloaded him, but I admit I’m only guessing. I don’t know if he has expired. If not, I cannot say how long this dormancy will last. Perhaps he is like my battery, drained again. I only hope we may have time to attend to the wounds of…”
Hurst had heard none of this, for the moment he had touched the supine form to examine their foe he felt a great jolt, psychical, not physical in nature. It was both familiar and unprecedented, the sense of being in communion with the dead, yet magnified many times. And then he recognized the voices. They were the ones whose desperate cries had reached him, but dimly, minutes ago. It was clear now, but it was like hearing the voices of trapped miners through a pipe or an air shaft. He could not distinguish words or individual personalities, but the general import quickly became clear. And at once he knew the origin of this man-monster called the Supreme Soviet.
In the chamber that lay beyond the steel barrier the superhuman had breached with nothing more than his diamond-hard fists, the Soviet had been fashioned by a nightmare science worse than any fabled sorcery. Using blasphemous secrets that had seeped down the centuries, Nazi savants, under the orders of their new masters, the Soviet occupiers, had managed to harvest carefully chosen body parts from their limitless supply of human detritus, and to combine them into a titan energized by the trapped vitality of all the poor victims whose organs and tissues now adorned an artificial skeleton. Subsequent examination would reveal that the body parts were imperfectly matched, the fingerprints on one hand not corresponding to those on the other.
The Deadman Detective now read the thoughts of hundreds of dead men. The superior physical form lying at the feet of himself and the still-lecturing Scheiber was itself a concentration camp of souls! And the souls within were suffering in death as much as they had in life.
Hurst interrupted Scheiber, urgently trying to convey his weird tidings in as credible a form as he might. He knew he and his comrades might have precious little time before the mighty-thewed Frankenstein’s creature revived.
They had no time at all.
The Supreme Soviet rose uneasily to his feet, looking about him groggily. Hurst and Scheiber naturally supposed he was reorienting himself after the massive shock he had absorbed. And they looked on helplessly, knowing more than ever that they had no more defense, not even any stalling tactics.
The titan’s eyes cleared. He looked upon the expectant mortals as if he had not seen them before. When he moved, he appeared unsteady on his feet, as if trying to gain his sea legs. Or like an amputee struggling to become accustomed to clumsy artificial limbs. There was no longer any air of threat about the tall, crew-cut, blond-haired form, and so the armored scientist and the reader of the dead found themselves relaxing, having to remind themselves to remain vigilant. For whatever was transpiring before them must surely prove to be no less bizarre than what they had experienced hitherto.
And the newly awakened man began to speak.
The first thing his hearers noticed was that his thick Russian accent was gone, replaced by one whose provenance they could not recognize. Then his peculiar speech trailed off as he began instead to snap his fingers, two or three on each hand, producing an effect similar to castanets. Then this, too, subsided, and human speech resumed.
“I am sorry. It is difficult at first. Your mode. We are so very different in our mode. But I believe it is coming easier.”
Behind his sweat-slick face plate, Scheiber’s haggard features registered blank surprise. The finger-snapping gave him the hint.
“You… you come from the past, the far past. You come from the people of Yith! Is that not so?”
“It is so,” the strange accent answered. “You are the Scheiber. You remember too well. Too much.”
“So it is true: you do keep track of us. I thought you must, in case your memory blocks fail.”
The usurped form of the Supreme Soviet made to click its fingers once more but caught itself and spoke: “We have never perfected that art.”
Hurst spoke. “But what brings you here? Have you come to reclaim Herr Scheiber?”
“No. For then we should have taken his mind as we did before. In watching over him, we saw what was happening here. We saw something we had never observed before—even as you did just now. A crowd of minds contained in a single physical unit. This we knew we must study, and so we have displaced those minds and placed each one in a separate conical body, the ones familiar to the Scheiber one. When we have learned from them all that we can, we shall allow them to disperse into the Gulf of Unknowing where they should have gone but for the efforts of these experimenters you seek.”
The possessed figure stopped, his attention drawn to the strange sight of a vortex of dust swirling and condensing a few feet away.
Scheiber took the opportunity to speak up again. “But you want to learn something here too, am I right? That is why you have occupied this body?”
“That is so, you Scheiber, you Hurst. Something done here has poisoned the dead. The dead who are past poisoning. We must know what this is. We will now help each other to discover it. But first, I shall see to your fallen comrade.”
Chapter 6. The Transition of Mr. Rib
by Pete Rawlik
But it was not the enigmatic Operator 13 that the former Supreme Soviet went to aid. The OSS Agent needed no help, for he rose from the ground where he had fallen and where his blood had pooled, not with fatal wounds, but rather scratches that were quickly fading into scars. He smiled and explained.
“There was a man, a doctor, an American who worked for the Germans. He learned many things about life, and death, and how to cheat both. His treatments occasionally come in useful.” There was more than a touch of sarcasm in his voice.
The collective man knelt beside Mr Rib, the ghoul whose neck had been broken. His mismatched eyes grew wide and then began to glow, the air became electric and time seemed to slow. There was a spark, a blue ray erupted from his eyes and danced over the fallen carrion eater. The body convulsed, spasmed, and then screamed in agony, in a manner that only ghouls crawling through ancient catacombs can. It was a scream to wake the dead, and it tore through the living and left them on the verge of terror.
Yet as the echoes of his cry died, Mr. Rib’s voice rose out of his throat and in a sobbing, pain-wracked voice begged: “What have you done? Dead I was dead. Feeder no more I was food!” The ghoul took a deep breath. “I stink, not of the dead but of death!” He rose from the ground and pushed the patchwork man away and then dashed to his fallen brother Mr. Spleen. “I won’t let you defile him as you have me!” With a swipe of his claw Mr. Rib split open the other ghoul’s skull and then buried his muzzle into the bloody gore within.
The others turned away, but Hurst watched and listened as the spirit of Mr. Spleen became something small and dark that fluttered briefly around Mr. Rib. It found a perch above the feasting ghoul’s eye and then slowly sank into the flesh below. For an instant Hurst could see them, the thousands of memories that had been devoured by Mr. Rib, and been preserved there, and he realized that he and the ghoul were more alike than he would have thought possible. “Mr. Rib…”
Whatever Hurst was going to say the ghoul waved it away. “Mr. Rib, no I cannot be Mr. Rib. Mr. Rib is gone. A new name yes, I must be new, I must be what I have become. I must be Mr. Dead.”
From the shadowy tunnels came a chorus of mad gibbering and the scrambling of dozens of claws. Dust fell from the ceiling and piles of debris vibrated from the wave of whatever was coming toward them. The impromptu team steeled itself for the arrival of this new threat, save the Night Mayor who was still trying to gather the myriad parts of himself.
“Gentlemen, I appreciate that you are all possessed of some skill that sets you apart, and perhaps above, other men. But my senses tell me that when it comes to the horde coming for us discretion is the better part of valor.”
Scheiber looked at the hazy image that was still putting itself together and then at Operator 13. “What did he say?”
The agent chuckled, holstered his guns, and moved toward one of the tunnels, from which there were no sounds emanating. “I think he said we should run!”
As Operator 13 moved down the hall at top speed the others fell in behind him, and the Yithian occupying the Supreme Soviet wondered why.
The spy enlightened him. “When the United States was building the atomic bomb, the scientists explored a variety of directions. Some failed almost immediately, others were promising but ultimately proved unreliable and were shelved. The Soviets, when they developed their superman, faced the same problem. Unfortunately, many proved resistant to liquidation.”
“I am sorry. Your language, the colloquialisms, they are difficult to understand. What is it you are trying to say?”
“The things coming after us are rejects, prototypes in development of the Supreme Soviet, and many of them share the same powers and resistance to injury that your body does. Put more simply, they are very difficult to kill.”
Chapter 7. The Lord of Benevolent Order
by Rick Lai
“We don’t have much time before those things attack,” said Scheiber. “Yithian, we need answers. You claim to be ignorant of the force behind these animated corpses, but I know your devious race. You’re withholding information. You need to fully trust us.”
“You’re correct, mortal,” answered the being possessing the Supreme Soviet’s body. “I wasn’t originally sure of our adversary’s true nature until my suspicions were confirmed through this host body’s eyes. Ask me your questions.”
“One of the living corpses mentioned a 1942 expedition authorized by Admiral Karl Dönitz of the German navy,” recalled Hurst, “What do you know about it?”
“Other Yithian operatives in this time period were able to learn the truth about this Nazi endeavor. My race had established two great cities on your planet, The first was in Australia, but we also needed to harness the energy of a magnetic pole. Our second city was constructed in your Arctic Circle.”
“That makes no sense!” interrupted Operator 13. “Why go north? If you were already in Australia, the South Pole would have been the logical place to erect your citadel.”
“The South Pole was already controlled by our entrenched rivals, the star-headed Q’Hrell. It was impossible to dislodge them. Like R’lyeh and Mu, a cataclysm submerged our polar metropolis. The ruins of our city rest on the ocean floor. The Nazis discovered its location. Dönitz sent a submarine there. Divers searched for our ancient records, but they retrieved something more. Beneath the ruins, they found a comatose creature we had imprisoned.”
“Great Yahweh!” swore Scheiber. “One of those whistling horrors!”
“No, something far more dangerous than the blind polyps. In a remote corner of the universe exists a planet called Yekub. Its worm-like denizens had mastered a technology of mind transfer similar to our own. Their goal was the destruction of all intelligent life in the universe. The Yekubites sent cubes to remote planets that swapped minds of the local inhabitants with members of their own race. Eventually the entire planet’s original dwellers would be displaced by the Yekubites. On Yekub, the captive minds would be exterminated.
“One of those cubes landed on Earth near our polar city. Before we were able to contain its power, the cube transferred many Yithian minds to Yekub. We slew the transplanted Yekubites in their new bodies, but the cube was impossible to destroy. We quarantined it from any future contact with our race.
“On their own planet, the Yekubites wondered why the cube was no longer functioning. One of their scientists experimented with teleportation. This savant became determined to investigate the cube’s fate. He used the cube as a conduit to teleport himself to Earth. We captured him. Rendered comatose, the Yekubite was incarcerated in an underground prison. When an earthquake ravaged our polar city, the Yekubite and the cube became lost to us. The Dönitz expedition found the creature, but not the device.”
“What the blazes does this have to do with the Auschwitz experiments?” demanded Hurst.
“The slumbering Yekubite was brought to Auschwitz by the Nazis. The Soviets were able to revive the alien when they took over this extermination camp. The Yekubite is now even more dangerous. He can control others telepathically.”
“How did he gain such an ability?” asked Scheiber,
“Other Yithian agents throughout the galaxies have assembled a partial picture of what has transpired on Yekub. The planet has a new ruler. This tyrant has found a way to project his intelligence into every mind of the Yekubite race. The dictator has created an enormous collective intelligence dominated by his own personality. This entity doesn’t destroy minds of other species like his subjects did in the past. He absorbs entire races into his vast mind. We suspect that he utilizes mind-melding machinery based on the cellular structure of the targeted race.”
“Are you sure this despot is a Yekubite?” asked Asche.
“We know that he is not a Yekubite. He is an alien mind too powerful for the Yekubites to tame. This overlord claims to be a member of the most dangerous race in the universe! A race even greater than my own!”
“He can only be one being,” concluded Asche grimly. “Azathoth. The most formidable of the Great Old Ones.”
“Legend has it that space devils captured Azathoth and ripped his brain from his body,” declared Mr. Death. “Azathoth was left an idiot as his mind was scattered across the stars.”
“At least part of his mind must have been ensnared on Yekub,” argued Asche.
“We are no longer alone,” warned the Yithian possessing the Supreme Soviet. “The rejects have found us! And their Master is with them!”
A horde of misshapen humanoids stood poised to attack Asche and his allies. Towering over them was a pallid thing over twelve feet in height. Asche first thought it was a worm. Closer scrutiny revealed its shape to be more like a centipede with tendril-like limbs. A cultured voice issued from the monstrous intruder. It spoke flawless English.
“There is no reason to oppose me, my friends. I am not your enemy. I am the Lord of Benevolent Order.”
“Spare us your lies, Azathoth,” replied Asche.
“Azathoth? That is not my name.”
“Then you are another of the Old Ones,” deduced the Yithian. “Only an Old One could have conquered Yekub.”
A laugh issued from the Yekubite. “Your form is human, but I can sense your true nature! You are an egotistical Yithian! How proud your people are! Great Race indeed! My race is greater than yours! Even greater than the Old Ones!”
“This can’t be!” insisted the Yithian. “Surely my people would have encountered such a race in all our travels.”
“You did indeed! But your pride caused your kind to dismiss us as insignificant. My race is the final stage in the evolution of the universe. I am of the race of Man! Mankind was! Mankind is! Mankind shall be!”
“You can’t be one of us!” yelled Scheiber.
“I was born George Campbell in Canada. I was a mere university professor until stumbling upon a cube during a vacation trip. The cube transferred my mind to Yekub, and it was child’s play to conquer that world in my new body.”
“You are worse than the original Yekubites!” hissed the Yithian. “They merely killed other races. You destroy their individuality by imposing your own rigid conformity.”
“I share with my subjects the vast knowledge of the universe—a knowledge jealously guarded by you Yithians. When I merged my mind with the Yekubites, the union extended to their imprisoned kinsman on Earth. Once the Soviets awakened him, I was able to view my native world once more. What I saw appalled me! Another World War has ravaged Earth. The tensions between the Soviet Union and its former allies indicate that peace will be of brief duration. With the creation of the atomic bomb, the next conflict has the potential to devastate Earth. My benevolent rule is the only option to prevent mankind’s annihilation.”
“Your zombie slaves don’t conform to your professed benevolence,” sarcastically noted Operator 13.
“Since only one of my Yekubite minions exists on Earth, projection of my telepathic power is limited. If I possessed the original cube that transfigured me, I could correct that deficiency. Regretfully, it lies beyond my reach in Canada. I can only impose my will on the feeble-minded, such as these poor unfortunates resulting from the serums that the resurrected Herbert West left behind at Auschwitz. However, several Soviet scientists here have voluntarily merged their minds with mine. I have instructed the so-called rejects to prevent any interference while these scientists constructed a machine. This machine would allow me to project my mind into every human alive.”
“You lie,” challenged the Yithian. “No human would ever willingly embrace your subjugation. You enslaved those scientists against their will.”
“I speak the truth! Why are you surprised that Communists would joyfully bond with me? I represent the Marxist ideal perverted by Stalin. I embody a future where all men are equal in a classless society. I offer the same utopia to you, my human brethren. Surrender your minds to me and witness the ascent of Man across the galaxies!”
“Where do the ghouls and I fit in your future paradise?” asked Asche. “We aren’t human.”
“The same offer extends to you and the ghouls. It extends to all the races of the cosmos, even the Yithians.”
“I refuse to allow my individuality to be rendered meaningless by you!” shouted the Yithian.
“Spoken like all the haughty members of your race,” said Campbell. “You care nothing for the other sentient beings of the universe. You scheme to ensure a future where your species outlives all the others.”
“Others of our kind have become vassals to Nyogtha and Mordiggian,” declared Mr. Death, “but a true ghoul has no master! My brothers and I defy you!”
“Then you and the Yithian shall perish!” prophesized Campbell. “The rejects will tear you apart! What of you others? Will you join me or die? Choose!”
Chapter 8. Who Will Save Us Now?
by David Conyers
In the end names mattered not, and the Outer Gods and Great Old Ones and alien intelligences such as the Yithians and Yekubites were all the same. They were not humanity. They possessed no emotions that were integral to the humans’ biochemistry. They barely noticed the comings and goings of Homo Sapiens upon the third planet of a main sequence star in the outer reaches of an unspectacular galaxy in a universe no different to its infinity sisters in parallel dimensions. A war had been fought for six years across this world and fifty-five million souls had perished. The aliens cared nothing about this, saw it as insignificant, if they noticed it at all. Nothing worthwhile would ever occur here in their multitude of eyes.
It was only when humans merged with the unknowable Old Ones that agendas were formed and schemes laid out. Campbell was a man no more, but he was motivated enough by human emotions to desire the world’s destruction to come about on his watch. And yet he was one of them. He commanded their powers. He was a dangerous combination of the worst of both species.
The town of Oswiecim was Campbell’s battleground. He did indeed command the Yekubites’ time manipulation powers of past and future knowledge, and the unlimited potential creative and destructive energies of the Infinite Eye, Azathoth, Court Ruler of the Throne of Madness at the Heart of All Things. Hundreds of souls died at his tentacles, maws and claws that day.
Asche was powerless as the Campbell-centipedal monstrosity leveled his destructive powers upon the town of Oswiecim. He moved in and out of the space-time quandaries that Einstein had postulated not that long ago, and manipulated reality for his own purpose. Old buildings became fluid, like ribbons caught in streams, and were Campbell’s appendages. He was a monster that needs fight only from a distance, if distance mattered to him at all.
Asche watched helplessly as the Deadman Detective and Operator 13 were crushed under a hundred tons of fluid rock. The ghouls that had been Asche’s companions for far too long now, including Mr. Dead, were consumed by a road that opened as a maw and crushed them like ants ground between two giant stones, as if the earth itself had become an extension of the monster.
Laszlo Scheiber proved a little more difficult to destroy, until Campbell locked the unfortunate man in a time loop, forcing Scheiber to murder himself in a moment of perpetual self-electrification. And when time moved on in the human world, Scheiber did not move with it, and vanished from reality.
The colossus that was the Supreme Soviet was the last to fall, not so much obliterated but merged, as old stone buildings became fluid around him, melding the iron clad hero with bricks and wood, until Campbell pushed his foe deep enough into the centuries-old structure so that the hot water pipes found the Yithian and heated steam melded with his heart, and burnt his life-blood away.
Asche could heal rapidly from many inflictions, but not this assault. The centipedal Campbell soon immobilized Asche in its many tentacle limbs holding him fast with a hundred pincers.
“Someone will stop you,” Asche said as the air was forced from his lungs, Campbell crushing him just a little bit more each time he breathed in, murdering him slowly like an anaconda squeezes the life out of its prey. “There are plenty… more heroes… in this world… than just us.”
Campbell laughed manically. “The Great Old Ones are. The Great Old Ones were. The Great Old Ones will always be. We are not part of this universe, Asche, we are the fabric of reality itself.”
“You… are… not…” He ran out of breath. He could speak no more, and air would not reach his lungs. The Eldritch Force was spent, defunct.
“I am not what?”
Asche’s last memories were of the maws reaching towards him, and his head chewed from his neck, then his head rolling through the wet darkness of the Yekubite’s throat, and down into its equivalent of a wet, slimy gut, where it dissolved slowly.
Sabina was eleven, and she had no friends. She wanted friends and they were important to her, only they had all died or vanished during the Nazi occupation.
She had no parents either. Her mother she had seen gunned down by German soldiers who had lined her and her neighbors against a wall, and killed them with the casualness of machinegun fire. Her father had gone off to fight in the resistance and was never seen or heard of again.
Ever since, she had lived on the streets, stole food and ran messages for the American and British soldiers for a coin here and there. When boys tried to kiss her, and do worse, she would kick and scream and bite and punch until they left her alone. She made herself dirty and unpretty, and that seemed to help keep them away.
When not scrounging she played with her only companion, her doll Dorota. It was Sabina’s turn at hopscotch so Dorota watched, propped up against the rubble, the remains of the fighting that had occurred here for too long. Sabina threw her button into the one square, then skipped and hopped through the squares without touching an edge. If she messed up, it would be Dorota’s turn.
Returning to the start, she threw the button into the two square, only to have a powerful gust of wind blow the button and Dorota far down the street, far enough so that they could no longer be seen.
She looked up at the shadow passing over her.
The monstrosity that stared down was not human-forged, but a fused matter of worm and insect, with hundreds of limbs and joints in all the wrong places. It was larger than the greatest American airplanes and tanks she had seen. Its breath was hot and gusty, the source of the unnatural winds. It surged with arcs of electricity that ran as blue lines across its unnatural shape.
It stared at her for several seconds with its multitude of eyes, growled. An arc of electricity ran off it onto Sabina, and she felt a mild shock. Then it marched on. It looked sated. It seemed uninterested in her.
With the creature gone, Dorota could not be seen. Sabina’s only surviving companion was lost to her like everyone else.
It wasn’t fair. Nothing was fair.
She should have been teary, afraid, depressed. She knew all these emotions even though she was only eleven—that was what losing everything created in a young girl.
Instead, she watched the arc of electricity she controlled leap from her index finger to her thumb. She felt the scars on her body begin to heal, and the voices of the dead talk to her.
She had hope now.
“When I grow up,” she whispered to ghosts, “I’m going to be a superhero.”
Pete Rawlik has been collecting Lovecraftian fiction for forty years. In 2011 he decided to take his hobby of writing more seriously. He has since published more than twenty stories. Reanimators, a labor of love about life, death and the undead in Arkham during the early twentieth century, is his first novel. He lives in Royal Palm Beach, Florida, with his wife and three children. Despite the rumors he is not and never has been wanted by maritime authorities for crimes on the high seas.
Glynn Owen Barrass lives in the North East of England and has been writing since late 2006. He has written over a hundred short stories, most of which have been published in the UK, USA, France, and Japan. He also edits anthologies for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu fiction line, also writing material for their flagship roleplaying game. He has forthcoming fiction appearing in the collections Atomic Age Cthulhu, Cthulhurotica 2, The Mark of the Beast, Over the Mountains of Madness, The Starry Wisdom Library, Steampunk Cthulhu, and World War Cthulhu.
Brian M. Sammons has been writing reviews on all things horror for more years than he’d care to admit. Wanting to give other critics the chance to ravage his work for a change, he has penned a few short stories that have appeared in anthologies such as; Arkham Tales, Horrors Beyond, Monstrous, Dead but Dreaming 2, Horror for the Holidays, Twisted Legends, Mountains of Madness, Deepest, Darkest Eden and others. He has edited the books; Cthulhu Unbound 3, Undead & Unbound, Eldritch Chrome, Edge of Sundown, and Steampunk Cthulhu. For the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game he wrote the book Secrets and has had scenarios in the books; Terrors From Beyond, The House of R’lyeh, Strange Aeons 2, Atomic Age Cthulhu, and Doors to Darkness. He is currently far too busy for any sane man. For more about this guy that neighbors describe as “such a nice, quiet man” you can follow him on Twitter @BrianMSammons or visit his website: http://brian_sammons.webs.com/
Bruce L. Priddy‘s previous work can be found in such places as the Stoker-nominated anthology “Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations” and the premiere issue of the Lovecraft eZine. He won first place in the short story category in the 2012 Literary LEO contest. Keep up with him at his blog misterpriddysmarvels.wordpress.com, on Twitter at @MisterPriddy, or on Facebook. If you buy him a bourbon, he’ll be your friend.
Robert M. Price is an American theologian and writer. He teaches philosophy and religion at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, is professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute, and the author of a number of books on theology and the historicity of Jesus, including Deconstructing Jesus (2000), The Reason Driven Life (2006), Jesus is Dead (2007), Inerrant the Wind: The Evangelical Crisis in Biblical Authority (2009), The Case Against the Case for Christ (2010), and The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul (2012). A former Baptist minister, he was the editor of the Journal of Higher Criticism from 1994 until it ceased publication in 2003, and has written extensively about the Cthulhu Mythos, a “shared universe” created by the writer H. P. Lovecraft. Browse Dr. Price’s books at Amazon.
Rick Lai is an authority on pulp fiction and the Wold Newton Universe concepts of Philip José Farmer. His speculative articles have been collected in Rick Lai’s Secret Histories: Daring Adventurers, Rick Lai’s Secret Histories: Criminal Masterminds, Chronology of Shadows: A Timeline of The Shadow’s Exploits and The Revised Complete Chronology of Bronze. Rick’s fiction has been collected in Shadows of the Opera, Shadows of the Opera; Retribution in Blood and Sisters of the Shadows: The Cagliostro Curse (the last two titles are available from Black Coat Press). He has also translated Arthur Bernède’s Judex and The Return of Judex into English for Black Coat Press. Rick also regularly appears on the Lovecraft eZine internet chats..
David Conyers is science fiction author and editor from Adelaide, South Australia. He has a degree in engineering from the University of Melbourne, and today works in marketing communications. David’s fiction has appeared in magazines such as Albedo One, Ticon4, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Book of Dark Wisdom, Lovecraft eZine and Jupiter, as well as more than twenty anthologies. His previous books include the science fiction Cthulhu Mythos blended thriller, The Eye of Infinity published by Perilous Press and the prequel The Spiraling Worm co-authored with John Sunseri. Previous anthologies he has edited include Extreme Planets, Cthulhu Unbound 3, Cthulhu’s Dark Cults and Undead & Unbound. His e-books include the Cthulhu Mythos thrillers, The Impossible Object and The Weaponized Puzzle, while his other Mythos fiction appears in his collection, The Nightmare Dimension. Recently David became the Art Editor with Abledo One magazine.
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Story illustration by Dave Felton.
I loved the story and the references to “Herbert West” and “The Shadow Out of Time.” I think the story would be great as a graphic novel or as part of a book series.
Asche already has two stories written about him pending publication, though you might not recognize him. He hasn’t always been that nice of a guy.
Thank you for the feedback, gentlemen.
I can’t speak for the others, or to any potential sequel, but there will be other Operator No. 13 adventures, sometime in the future.
Well, I already trademarked Operator 13 and the other names, so… 😉 I’m kidding! Heh.
Room left for a sequel…who will save us now? Loved Dr. Robert M. Price’s and Rick Lai chapters best, though the others were notable…I wonder if the stars will ever come aright again, for another collaborations such as this one…
A great compilation of minds uniting similar themes and continuance of certain characters; it was interesting to see where each other continued and what evolved, and it ended perfectly with the eleven year old Sabrina…i wanted to know more! kudos!