By George C. Chesbro







Copyright © 1986 by George C. Chesbro All rights reserved.

For my parents, George W. and Maxine S. Chesbro


Chapter 1


Veil dreams.

Vivid dreaming is his gift and affliction, the lash of memory and a guide to justice, a mystery and sometimes the key to mystery, prod to violence and maker of peace, an invitation to madness and the fountainhead of his power as an artist.

Chapter 2


Dinner had been in the grand manner, French cuisine expertly prepared and graciously served in an elegant setting that provided a feast for all the senses. Now Veil Kendry stood on the great stone balcony outside the dining hall, sipping cognac as he watched moonlight splinter and dance on the shimmering surface of the sea hundreds of feet below him. Somewhere at the botton of the night, seals barked.

Kendry was impressed. The Institute for Human Studies was spread over the top third of a mountain in California's Big Sur, fifty miles from Monterey. The Institute was concerned solely with what its brochure described as 'extreme people.' Its staff probed the limits of human accomplishment and endurance through the exhaustive physical and psychological analysis of uniquely gifted individuals who came to the Institute by highly prized invitation. The equipment in the Institute's many laboratories was state-of-the-art, its approach relentlessly multidisciplinary, and its staff represented the elite in dozens of fields. Nobel laureates felt privileged to be invited to lecture or perform research at the Institute.

Veil turned around and studied the others who had joined him on the balcony. The world chess champion, a Russian, was chatting amiably, through an Institute interpreter, with an eleven-year-old Israeli violin virtuoso. In a dark corner the National Football League's all-time leading pass receiver was engaged in quiet conversation with one of the attractive hostesses who had presided over the dinner. An Australian bushman, a man who could trek for three days through open desert on a cup of water, stood stiff and obviously uncomfortable as he fingered a lumpy totem made of ostrich skin.

Veil was definitely odd man out at this gathering, and he couldn't understand why he had received an invitation to spend a month at the Institute. As far as he knew, all of the other guests possessed strikingly unusual talents. All he did was paint pictures, and he was not exactly reeling under the burden of success. Indeed, he was surprised that someone like Jonathan Pilgrim had even heard of him; the critics were once again genuflecting before minimalist art, and he hadn't sold a painting in months. He didn't have enough money in the bank to buy even one of the expensive bottles of wine that had flowed so copiously during the meal.

Veil knew that he was, to be sure, an 'extreme person'— but Pilgrim and his research staff could not be aware of it without knowing the extent and consequences of his brain damage, or somehow gaining access to one of the nation's most carefully guarded military secrets. Both events were highly improbable.

'Mr. Kendry?'

Veil turned to his left to discover the founder and executive director of the Institute standing beside him. Jonathan Pilgrim, like most of the astronauts, stood just under six feet— Veil's height. Pilgrim, in his mid-forties, was lean and muscular. Thick, unruly brown hair was creased by a scar that radiated to his right temple from the lacy mapwork of nerveless, ruined tissue that covered his right cheek. His left eye was green, and a beige patch covered the empty socket where the right eye had been. A simple stainless-steel hook protruded from the left sleeve of his dinner jacket. Scars, hook, and patch notwithstanding, Veil thought, Pilgrim looked remarkably fit for a man who'd returned from the land of the dead.

'Colonel Pilgrim,' he said, gripping the man's outstretched hand.

'I'm sorry I missed you at dinner, Kendry. Welcome to the Institute.'

'I feel very privileged to have been invited, Colonel.'

'Forget the 'Colonel' crap, Veil. My name's Jonathan.'

Veil nodded. 'All right, Jonathan,' he replied evenly.

'I'm only 'Colonel' to some of the fools I have to cater to around here.'

'Some fools.'

Pilgrim lit a cigar, puffed thoughtfully, then blew a thin stream of smoke out into the eddies of wind blowing across the surface of the sea. 'Being highly gifted isn't all it's cracked up to be. Two sessions ago we had a man here whom a lot of people thought might be the smartest person on earth. He went right off the charts on all the standard intelligence tests, so we had to have an IBM mainframe design one that wouldn't put him to sleep. The night before he was to take the test, a hostess caught him stuffing silverware into the beaded purse he carried.'

Veil smiled. 'What did you do with him?'

'I threw the thieving son of a bitch out on his fat ass, naturally.'

Veil's smile grew broader. He felt a strange bond of kinship with this gregarious, unassuming man who was one of the few people he admired and respected without reservation.

'Rare gifts sometimes carry a steep price tag,' Pilgrim continued easily. 'You'll find a lot of people here tonight with elevators that don't go all the way to the top.'

'At the risk of branding myself, how do you know that my elevator goes all the way to the top?'

'Good instincts,' Pilgrim replied, his one eye glinting with amusement. 'Veil. I like that. Family name?'

'Not exactly. I was born with a brain infection, and a caul, and I wasn't expected to live more than two or three hours. My folks had a mystical bent, and I guess they figured that a little metaphysics at the christening couldn't hurt.'

'It looks to me like they may have been on to something.'

'Could be.'

'What about you? Do you have a mystical bent?'

'I believe in gravity, mathematics, and mystery.'

'What do you use for an ethical system?'

'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and watch out for the bad guys.'

Pilgrim laughed. 'Nobody's going to accuse you of not being forthcoming.'

'I read the Institute contract before I signed it,' Veil replied with a shrug. 'I get a month of fresh air, great scenery, and legendary meals in exchange for letting you turn me inside out.'

'True. We do want to extract as much information as we can from your mind and body, but that doesn't mean

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