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PART I

—as the blasts
of loosened tempest, such the tumult seemed!

—The Bhagavadgita


 


1

No borrower may remove
more than three books.


The silence was all a fussy librarian could have wished for. It was 2:29 a.m. and the second floor of the Regenstein Library was deserted and dark . . . except for the prowling flashlight.


They had said that the noise came from here. . . .


The security guard thought it was probably nothing. There'd been no external alarms—just some "weird noise" the two cleaning women claimed to have heard coming from somewhere in the general bookstacks in the west wing.


The guard rounded the corner, and halted in his tracks. Shredded books lay scattered around the bizarre-looking object. The surrounding shelves hadn't just been knocked down. The force of the thing's arrival had crumpled the metal shelving as if they had been made of aluminum foil. He started to turn away . . .


From the apex of the five-sided black pyramid, a beam of violet light engulfed him. Briefly. Then there was no one there to engulf.


* * *


The Krim device expanded, covering some of the debris generated by its arrival. It was nearly sixty yards off target, but the probe was not concerned. That was a perfectly acceptable margin of error for a journey through a wormhole, across 2740 light-years. 


* * *


The apex of the pyramid was now almost against the ceiling. Yet the object couldn't have been very heavy. The crumpled paper it rested on was scarcely dented.


* * *


"There's no sign of the entry control officer," came the voice of the University of Chicago policeman, crackling over the radio. "Except a plate of gyros on his desk. The cleaning women say he went up to the second floor quite a while ago. Probably nothing to get excited about."


Lieutenant Solms scowled and exchanged glances with the dispatcher. Then spoke into the radio: "Stavros, you always think it's 'nothing to get excited about.' Do your job, dammit. You've got Hawkins for backup."


The dispatcher rolled her eyes. Backup, her lips mouthed, exuding silent sarcasm. Solms' own lips quirked appreciatively. The University of Chicago police lieutenant was the watch commander. Of all the officers under his command, those were the two he often found himself wishing fervently would take an early retirement. A very early retirement.


"Go see what's up," Solms ordered into the phone. "And report back as soon as you can."


Solms straightened and sighed. "I'd better go down there myself. What the hell, the Regenstein Library's only a block away. I'll just walk it."


He headed for the door. "Stavros is probably right, but—"


The dispatcher snorted. "Those two clowns could screw up buttering bread."


* * *


The U of C police cruiser was parked in front of the Regenstein. Neither Stavros nor Hawkins was in it. Solms marched through the front entrance and looked around. The wide and open ground level was well lit. Everything seemed perfectly normal, except for the abandoned entry control desk. The two cleaning women had apparently left.


Solms headed for the stairs on the left leading up to the stacks. When he got to the landing, he spotted a flashlight lying on the floor. It was the same type of flashlight he was holding himself.


Belonged to Stavros or Hawkins. He turned his head and looked down the stairs. His eyes ranged over the ground floor, most of which was open to his gaze, searching for a body anywhere.


Nothing. Like one of them dropped it while they were running—but if that's the case, where are they now? 


He shifted the flashlight to his left hand and drew his gun. Then, slowly and carefully, finished the climb to the second floor and started searching through the maze of stacks.


* * *


Solms showed that he hadn't forgotten what he'd learned as a regular street cop, when he saw the pyramid. Something about that black thing said: your next step on your way to somewhere else could be much farther than you want to go. 


Then, when he got outside and reached Stavros and Hawkins' cruiser, he showed his political smarts too. Had he still been on the city of Chicago's own police force, of course, he would have called in for backup right away. And he still had every intention of doing so—after he notified the university's own officials.


Solms was savvy about how things worked, officially . . . and unofficially. He'd seen the University of Chicago Police as a good career, and after he transferred from the CPD he discovered he had a sharp nose for campus politics. Whatever that thing was, the University administration would be furious if they didn't get word of it first.


The Chicago Police Department routinely monitored radio calls made by the U of C police. Solms got out of the cruiser and went back into the library. Leaning over the entry control desk, he snagged the phone and called the dispatcher.


"Marilyn, get me Professor Miguel Tremelo on the line. Patch it through to here. There's something screwy in the Regenstein. Then I want some backup—and ask the CPD to send a few cruisers too. But don't do it until after I talk with Tremelo and give you the okay."


* * *


Miggy Tremelo was still more of a scientist than an administrator. Once he'd had a thirty second look at the object, his training and instincts came to the fore. "Just keep everyone out, Lieutenant," he said, achieving an evenness of tone that amazed even himself. "I need to make a call. I'll go across to my office in High Energy Physics."


"You can phone from here, Professor," Lieutenant Solms offered.


"It's more convenient from my office," Tremelo lied transparently. "It isn't going to take me five minutes to get over there."


He walked off with a speed that belied both his calm tone and his age. Professor Tremelo was a widower, and he had time on his quick walk to the lab to feel a moment's gladness that his wife Jenny wasn't around to see the havoc wreaked in the bookstacks. Jenny had been the head librarian of the Regenstein, and had taken bibliophilia to the point of near-obsession.


* * *


By the time the university president's Lexus got there, the Regenstein's grounds were swarming with cops—both university and regular CPD varieties—and six excited physicists were trying to manhandle a portable industrial X-ray unit up the Regenstein's entryway. The Chicago officers were fussing about "disturbing evidence," and Tremelo was attempting to explain that X-rays wouldn't disturb anything. They were getting a little heated about it. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Solms' university cops had brought some yellow police line and carefully cordoned off the area.


O'Ryan had already spoken on the phone to his friend the mayor, and his face was very pale. Very pale indeed. Finding Mayor Caithorne wide awake at four in the morning had been alarming. Finding out why had been even more so.


The university president hadn't gotten to his position without being able to exhibit forcefulness when necessary. Before too long, he had reassured the police that no evidence would be destroyed but that they really needed to let Professor Tremelo and his physicists proceed.


"The FBI will be here in a few minutes. Now, listen. I've just been speaking to the mayor. The Pentagon is already onto this. That thing is some kind of satellite. Or something. And it isn't one of ours. Obviously they want this kept out of the media for as long as possible. It's a national security matter already."


Solms nodded. "We've got the area secured. But I have a problem, sir. Two of my officers are missing. And so is a security guard. We need to get forensics in here ASAP. And we'd better call the bomb squad as well, in case that thing is dangerous."


The university president fought down an anxiety-driven angry response, reminding himself firmly that Solms was just a good cop doing his job. Then, in a carefully controlled voice, O'Ryan said: "I suggest you wait until the FBI get here. Apparently they're already on their way. After all, they might just have run away or be absent from their posts for a few minutes . . . mightn't they?"


Solms looked stubborn. "Stavros and Hawkins are useless slobs, sir. But police crime-scene procedures have to be followed in something like this, or we're treading on a very fine legal line." Two of the regular Chicago officers echoed their agreement.


The president looked at his watch. He sighed. "Lieutenant, the federal government will have some men to take it out of here before first light anyway. Then your investigation can proceed as normal."


* * *


Lieutenant Solms' father was a builder by trade. As a result Solms knew something about bricks and mortar. And if they could get that thing out of the building without knocking down a few walls, he was a Dutchman's maiden aunt.


 


 


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