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time ducking behind the hillock and dis-
appearing for a moment. When the balloon was gone, it came out of hiding,
rolled down the hill and got back on the road.
"I wonder who or what it's programmed to kill," I said.
"Go off-road and see," Roland said.
I steered to the right and ran up a shallow grade, bumped down into a trough
and ran up onto level ground. The devil crossed the road to follow us.
"So, it isn't the truck, and it isn't the spacetime ship," I
said. "I was hoping it was the ship."
"No, Jake. I'm afraid it's after you and you alone."
"Fine. Why should it be different from everyone else?"
I floored the pedal. Streamers of dust trailed from the back tires. I ran the
car up another gentle grade, this time turning sharply to follow a ridge that
paralleled the road and eventu-
ally curved back toward it. I didn't know the top speed of that thing, but I
was willing to bet the Chevy could outrun it, providing the race were run over
the highway. Off-road, all bets were off. That horrible whatzis didn't have
wheels and didn't need them. If we could dodge around the thing, though, and
make it back to the road, we might have a chance.
But what about Sam?
Roland seemed to be reading my thoughts. "Sam's coming out of the temple," he
told me, looking back through the rear window. "I don't think the devil will
give him any trouble."
But it was giving us a truckload, racing to cut us off. I
floored the pedal and immediately hit a rough spot that wrenched the wheel to
the right. I countersteered, but saw that we'd never make it. I wheeled right
again, and we rolled down a little hill, hit bottom and bounced. I bounced, my
head hitting the mercifully padded roof. Roland lost his seat
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ey.txt and wound up on the floor. I stood on the pedal, aiming up the opposite
slope. The devil came over the ridge behind us. The slope was steeper than I
had thought; the rear tires started spinning and throwing dirt; the back end
began to fishtail. We made it to the top and rolled onto level ground, but the
devil had gained ground and was now sniffing at our tail. It was all
I could do to keep ahead of it.
260 John DeChancle
"Jake, did you know that it was possible to drive the Sub-
stratum as well as walk it?"
"Um... no," I said. "I get the message, though."
And so I turned the wheel so that the front tires were aligned as my friend
Dave Feinmann would have put it
with a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. I
floored it, and we went somewhere. It was a sort of shortcut between
here-and-now and there-and-then, with a stopover in hither-and-yon. Angry
clouds appeared above, and a spatter of rain hit the windshield, briefly then
bright stars came out and something trilled a night song in a wood off to the
Quiet. The smell of autumn leaves... And then all that disap-
peared and we came out into bright sunlight back on Micro-
cosmos, back to the here-and-now, only now we were here, on the side road,
racing for the main highway. The devil was far behind us, whirling its dervish
and wondering what the hell had happened.
"Neat trick," I said. "How did you do it?"
"You did it, Jake."
"Yeah, I know. It makes me feel creepy."
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"Better creepy than dead."
The speedometer read over a hundred miles per hour, which was just cruising as
far as the Chevy was concerned.
We could outrun the devil, beat it to the portal, but Sam wouldn't be able to
keep up. And I wouldn't be able to find the right portal without Sam. That
meant it was best to deal with the devil now. I had no reason to doubt that it
could follow us through a portal. But how to deal with it?
My mind raced furiously. Maybe I could lead the devil a merry chase until Sam
caught up, then... But any ploy would call for close timing.
The side road diverged. I took the right branch, which swung us back onto the
main highway.
"Roland, what the heck is the Substratum, anyway? In twenty-five words or
"It's the metaphysical base of the universe. It underlies everything."
"Who discovered it?"
"No one. It was agreed upon."
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"Thanks, Roland. That helps a whole hell of a lot."
He guffawed. "You're welcome."
"No, really. You mean to tell me" I glanced at the rear view mirror and saw
that the devil was still well behind us, but keeping pace "that consciousness
can create a new uni-
Roland looked at me; his eyes were limitless. "It's a good universe, Jake. But
it could be better. Lots better Don't you think?"
"I think it could be a whole shitlood better, Roland. But that don't mean..."
I checked the mirror again. The truck was a gray dot way back up the road.
Metaphysics 101, three credits, Monday, Wednesday, Fri-
day, 1500 hours. Kantian rationalism. Jesus, mercy, let me out of here.
"Why did you guys build the Skyway?"
"For those who're dissatisfied with the way things are, a path to follow."
I nodded. "And why the bloody hell did you make that path so difficult to
"You know the answer to that. A quest is never easy. Al-
though there is a more mundane reason. If we'd handed out roadmaps, we
would've had the biggest traffic jam in the uni-
verse on our hands. The real candidates would have been trampled in the rush."
"And that's why the White Lady wants me to have the
"Oh, that's part of it, I suppose. She has her reasons."
"Roland, answer me one more question. Will I ever under-
stand it all?"
"Thanks, Roland."
"No problem. Why don't we try to deal with the Tasman-
ian Devil now?"
I said, "Suggestions?" [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]