Dean R. Koontz

A Werewolf Among Us

ONE: A Case Begun

Morbidly curious, the squint-eyed customs official examined the two holes in Baker St. Cyr's chest. He touched the flange of warm, yellow plastic that rimmed each of the female jacks, and he tried to determine how the flesh had been coerced into growing onto the foreign material.

St. Cyr would not have been surprised if the man had sent for a flashlight and begun a detailed visual inspection of those two narrow tunnels in St. Cyr's flesh. On a world as serene as Darma, largely given over to the sport of the wealthy, a customs chief would rarely encounter anything unusual; therefore, when one of the four baggage inspectors had turned up an odd piece of machinery in St. Cyr's smallest suitcase, the chief intended, understandably enough, to milk the incident for all its entertainment value.

'Shall we get on with it?' St. Cyr asked.

The customs chief grunted and straightened from his stoop. He turned to the open suitcase on the table beside them and patted the turtle shell, which was not a turtle shell at all.

He said, 'Let's see you put it on.'

The baggage inspector, a young man with a mop of yellow hair and skin as white as dusting powder, came forward to have a better look. He had found the turtle shell machine, after all. He deserved to share in the demonstration.

St. Cyr, with the gentle familiarity a man might exhibit toward a woman who was a cherished lover, lifted the turtle shell. He turned it on its back, leaned over it and inserted the two male jacks which trailed from it into the pair of plugs on his chest.

The customs chief said, 'Well, well.'

The dusting powder boy looked ill.

Smiling, St. Cyr lifted the shell and pressed it against his chest, letting the wires slowly retreat into the machine. The shell had been carefully molded to fit his torso and was nowhere more than four inches thick. Now that it was in place, it was hardly distinguishable as a separate entity. 'Has it — taken you over yet?' the boy asked.

Patiently, St. Cyr explained that the computer half of his investigatory symbiosis did not 'take over' when he was joined with it. 'A cyberdetective is part man and part computer, meshed as completely as the two can ever be. The highly microminiaturized components of the bio-computer can recall and relate bits of data in a perfectly mathematical, logical manner that a human mind could never easily grasp, while the human half of the symbiote provides a perception of emotions and emotional motivations that the bio-computer — in its crisp, clean, mathematical universe — could never begin to comprehend. Together, we make a precise and thorough detective unit.'

'Well, anyway…' The boy looked at the shell again. 'Is it—inside you yet?'

St, Cyr pointed to a smooth, white palm switch on the base of the bio-computer shell, depressed it. Instantly, the computer injected chemical-cohesive filaments into his flesh and painlessly tapped his spinal column and various conglomerates of nerves far more intimately than it could through the two plugs in his chest.

'Now?' the customs chief asked.

St. Cyr nodded.

'You don't look any different.' The chief squinted again, as if he expected to catch a quick glimpse of something monstrous behind the eyes of the newly-formed symbiote.

'It doesn't make any noticeable change in me,' St. Cyr told him. 'On the contrary, you are the one transformed.'

The customs chief looked quickly down at himself, uncomprehending. He wiggled his fingers, as if he were afraid they might melt, mingle and become something else altogether.

St. Cyr laughed. 'I meant, in my eyes you've been transformed. I see you more clearly and understand your motives more completely than before. The bio-computer improves my perceptions and my analysis of what I sense.'

For a moment, as the spinal contacts were being completed and the computer was blending with his own mental functions, he had hallucinated dark shapes that crept from the interior of his mind, hideously ugly beasts that swooped up suddenly, fanged and clawed and wild-eyed. But they passed, as they always did. Now he marveled at the new relationships he saw in everything around him.

'Are you satisfied?' he asked.

The chief nodded. 'You can take it off now.'

St. Cyr realized that not only backworld curiosity possessed the customs official, but that he was also motivated by an intense jealousy of St. Cyr's role in life — and bitterness that his own had turned out, by comparison, so bland.

'I might as well wear it from here on,' St. Cyr said. He picked up his shirt, slipped into it and zipped the front. It was a tight fit now.

'How long do you wear it each day?' the boy asked.

'When I'm on a case, I wear it twenty-four hours a day.'

'Even when you sleep?'

'Yes,' St, Cyr said, slipping into his jacket, then closing the empty case in which the bio-computer rested. 'Even when you sleep, you sense the world around you, and the bio-computer helps you to keep from missing anything. It even interprets my dreams, like a mechanical David.'

The boy tried to discern the machine's lines where it blended with St. Cyr's under the clothes. St. Cyr looked like nothing more than a barrel-chested man. 'Aren't you afraid of sleeping while it's — inside you?'

'Why should I be? It's only a computer, a machine, robot. Robots can't hurt you. The Laws of Robotics prove that, don't they?'

Though he knew the truth of that, the boy shivered and turned away, left the room.

'Be afraid of men,' St. Cyr told the customs chief.

'Men can never be trusted. But a machine is always an ally; it's built to be.'

The chief said, 'We're finished; you may go. Sorry to inconvenience you.'

* * *

Ten minutes later, Baker St. Cyr strolled along the main promenade in front of the terminal, enjoying the view of rolling green hills on the resort planet's most hospitable continent. He breathed in the air — free of pollutants and a welcome change from New Chicago, the industrial planet to which his last case had taken him — and looked around, hoping to spot someone who might be there waiting for him.

While he was looking to his right, a voice on his left said, 'Are you Mr. St. Cyr?'

The voice was that of a handsome, fair-haired, earnest young boy. When St. Cyr turned, however, he was confronted by a master unit robot as large as he was and at least twice again his weight. It floated on grav-plates, silent. Of course, he thought, the Alderbans would have the very best in modern conveniences, no matter what the cost.

'I'm St.Cyr,' he said.

'I am Teddy, the Alderban master unit, and I've come to escort you to the estate.' How perfect he would have been in tie and tails.

Teddy, St. Cyr mused. A master unit was almost human, after all. It had been programmed with a distinct personality — always pleasant and efficient — by the Reiss Master Unit Corporation of Ionus. Such a machine was a far more companionable associate than a dog; and men gave names to dogs.

St. Cyr smiled, aware that Teddy could interpret facial expressions. 'Hello, Teddy. I'm most anxious to be going.'

'I'll take your bags, Mr. St. Cyr.'

Вы читаете A Werewolf Among Us
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату