Is Buddy Satvan the creator of the cartoon superhero Diamond Sutro? Or is Sutro the creator of Buddy Satvan, the mightiest crusader in the universe? Are these two men, or six? Are they real, or figments of someone's imagination? A challenging journey to the other side of reality that adds up to a triple-play powerhouse of time, telepathy, and extrasensory shock!
Release date: December 17, 2015
Print pages: 320
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The Triune Man
Richard A. Lupoff
He lay writhing on the padded floor, thrashing in fury against his restraints. His arms were immobilized in a canvas camisole. His hair, drenched with sweat, whipped with each jerk of contorted neck muscles.
His chin was flecked with foam.
Between incoherent grunts and moans he shouted fearfully. “Project … engineering specs … performance bond … someone….” He hunched himself to a seated posture, propped against the wall. His eyes blazed furiously as he cast his gaze around the padded room, but he seemed, nonetheless, to grow slightly calmer with the passage of the raging spasm.
A fresh torrent of words tumbled dispiritedly from his lips. “You could have … not like other … Satvan you could have….” His head flopped onto his shoulder, sudden exhaustion overcoming him. His blond hair hung flaccidly before his eyes as they began slowly to glaze. His breathing, previously a series of ragged, nearly explosive gasps, grew slower.
He moaned once loudly and slid to the floor. A blackness fell before his eyes, a rushing filled his ears and in some small surviving corner of his mind sanity told him that it was happening again. He fought to retain control, forced his fingers to knot into fists inside the tapering canvas sleeves, commanded his eyelids to snap open, to return to him vision and contact with his surroundings.
But the blackness advanced inexorably until he felt himself fading into a tiny, impotent point of semiawareness only vaguely able to perceive his actions, quite incapable of controlling his body or his speech.
He rose from submersion in the black mind-sea where he had floated since his last period of dominance, possessing the memories of the period between, expecting the hateful feel of the canvas restraining jacket and the softness of the floor of his hospital room.
Instead he found himself standing on a circular platform surrounded by strange devices, light sources and rods, conduits and oddly shaped panels covered with indicators that made no sense whatever to him. The plate upon which he stood seemed bitterly cold to his feet, which he realized with a start were bare. He swung his hands around freely, looked down and discovered that he was naked.
Startled, he swayed dizzily, found himself steadied by unexpected helpers, led unsteadily from the platform across a hard floor to some sort of chair. The room he was in was lighted oddly, as if for eyes attuned to a different spectrum from that in which he had grown up.
Strange shadows and unfamiliar forms seemed to materialize and fade before him. There were sounds, but they came from all directions. They seemed to contain words, but he was not able to tell what they were.
He raised his hands to his brow, suddenly trembling. He looked around. An incoherent gargling sound escaped from his throat. He started to speak. “I … I….” He gathered his strength and managed to blurt the sentence.
“I—they were right after all! I’ve gone crackers!”
He examined himself, studying his nude body. Paunchy, soft, with a roll of excess flesh around his middle that stopped well short of grossness. He raised his eyes, trying to pierce the shadows around him.
“Who’s there? Hello! Hey, what’s happening?”
Whispers and uncertain cracklings.
“Hey, where is this place? What’s going on?”
He jumped to his feet. No one, nothing tried to interfere with him. He swayed momentarily and again there was support from the vague forms that appeared and disappeared around him.
“Is this some new treatment?”
Hisses, something with a sound somewhere between a hiss and a moan, something with a sound somewhere between a moan and a grunt.
“Oh, I can’t be—” He doubled over with wracking laughter. “I’m not dead! Oh, no, that’s too freaky! Nossir, I won’t believe that! Who’s there?”
He leaned forward, peered deeply into the almost tangible murk that seemed to hang in the air like swamp gas over a stagnant pond. Amazingly, a face materialized before him, peered back into his own eyes. Black, vague, a wavering oval with features visible only as differently textured blurs against the vague background.
“Yeah, that’s better. This is old Buddy here. I’m grateful you got me out of there, but where is here? Who are you?”
More faces, forming and fading behind the first. That one rising and growing nearer to him. A voice, a sound something like a voice.
Liquid burblings. Humming.
“Yeah, it’s me all right!”
He felt perspiration beginning to form on his face. It ran from his armpits down his naked sides despite the chill of the … room. “You’re not—” He cracked a smile, held his voice jocular despite a quaver halfway through. “You’re not working for the despicable Doctor Anubis? Because if you are, ah—”
“Yeah. No, you’re not. I could always tell that.”
“We are not … Doctor Anubis. You are …?”
“Yeah, yeah, right.” He nodded twice, too quickly. Dizziness threatened to return. He clutched the arms that offered themselves.
“Yeah, I’m old Buddy all right. Buddy Satvan. You know, I do Diamond Sutro.” He looked around, trying to find faces in the gloom, trying to find acceptance and understanding of his statement.
“You are Diamond Sutro? You are Buddy Satvan?”
“Uh, no … and yes. I’m Buddy Satvan and I draw Diamond Sutro.”
“And Doctor Anubis, the despicable Doctor Anubis? You are also he?”
“Uh, no, I—”
“You had best come with us. You appear addled.”
Strong hands guiding him, not roughly but not leaving any question that he would comply.
“Uh, okay. You did, uh….” He allowed himself to be led farther away from the platform where he had first found himself, away from the seat he had used when he had left the platform.
They passed—Buddy and his guides—through a portal of some vague sort. Buddy felt himself beginning to slip away as he struggled to stand upright, keep his legs working properly. His vision grew faint, the murky room grew even darker, the rushing came to his ears again.
He cried out. “This isn’t right! I haven’t had my turn! I was only here a few minutes. Dang-crack you, who’s coming? Let me—leave me—let me….”
Darkness became complete. Buddy felt his control of his body lapse, thought he heard the voices of strangers, muffled and incomprehensible. Then he was gone.
Strong arms carried the portly blond man onward, reaching a raised pallet of some smooth material, cold as the platform he had stood upon, gray and dull. They lowered him onto it and vague figures clustered, conferring, raising dim faces to cast dismal looks upon the man lying, breathing heavily, naked upon the pallet.
Suddenly the figure rose upward from the waist. He swung his legs off the edge of the pallet and sat upright, balancing himself with his hands on the edge of the gray slab. With one hand he swept his hair back from his brow and then spoke sharply.
“Thank you, my friends. You have freed your leader from the imprisonment into which he was betrayed. Now we will proceed.”
A dark figure loomed near him. “Are you—well?”
“Well? Your concern is appreciated. I will need some appropriate garments. At once. Have you a uniform or other suitable clothing?”
The figures conferred. One spoke. “You must….” The voice faded out and in, nuances lost in the rushings of sonic vagaries. “…. our understanding … data available to us. Are you Old Buddy?”
“The name of the leader is Roland L. K. Washburn.” He slid his thighs over the edge of the pallet and stood on the floor facing the dark forms. “Don’t you know what clothing is?”
He peered at them, straining pale eyes against the darkness and the murk that filled the place. “Trousers. Tunic. Boots.” He indicated the parts of his body where each garment would be used, gesturing with pudgy hands.
“Don’t you—?” He reached out to grasp the nearest figure by the shirtfront. His hand encountered a vague, cool springiness.
He drew back, shocked. He held his hand against his chest with his other hand. He looked down at it, flexed his fingers, saw that no injury had been done.
He fixed the nearest dark form with a commanding glare that took in the others as well. “Identify yourself,” he ordered.
They bent together, swaying and flowing in alien communion. Washburn heard sounds, fragments of unfamiliar syllables, unidentifiable interjections.
The central figure loomed forward again, features visible by their texture that contrasted with the rest of each being. Rush and gurgle of fluids, a distorted voice speaking. “We are … tell you … help understand … Yakshis [some word like Yakshis]… help us … save us … save you….”
The sound subsided gradually rather than reaching a definite end.
“You are incoherent,” Washburn snapped. “I require clothing. Look here! This floor is cold! It is entirely inappropriate for the leader to stand around naked on a cold floor!”
Heads together, the figures swayed.
Washburn pantomimed the act of donning clothes, slowly calling out the name of each garment as he mimed adjusting it in place.
“Ah …” sigh, “… ouh….”
A shadow detached itself from the cluster, flitted into the murk. Washburn heard rustling sounds, thought he might be seeing vague movements in the darkness. The shadow returned carrying shards of some formless stuff. It held it toward Washburn, touched him with it.
Washburn recoiled from its touch. It was as if the vague figures had pressed a nothingness onto his naked flesh. The texture was a nontexture, the temperature a nontemperature. He peered at the stuff: even its color was a kind of characterless lack rather than a positive attribute.
Still, his eyes interpreted it as a dark, dull gray.
The … Yakshi … moved in a circle around Washburn, pressing the gray, flaccid stuff against him. It conformed itself loosely to the shape of his body, forming into baggy shirt and trousers. Washburn raised one foot and felt the stuff become a crude heavy-soled shoe.
“That’s better,” he grunted. “Now, let’s get down to the matter at hand. Which of you is commander of this group?”
The shadows clustered, flitted, seemed almost to swoop. From them came the cold voice Washburn had heard before.
“We are … Yakshis are….” Fade-out, watery rushing. “Welcome you here leader Roland L. K. Washburn … urgent assistance … all benefit or….”
The voice faded out.
Washburn stepped forward toward the vague … Yakshis. They seemed to flitter away from his approach like dry leaves before a puff of wind.
“I want to know your names. You have names? And what is this organization? You are called Yakshis?”
“Yakshis … called, yes. You are Washburn.”
“Dammit, yes!” Washburn clenched his fists, holding himself in rein. “Yes, I am. And I want to know your names. Each of you!”
He pointed angrily at the central figure confronting him.
“This Yakshi … yes, Washburn … called….” The figure swayed, seemed to confer with another to either side, then resumed. “Called … Asoka. Washburn, Asoka.”
“Good! And the others?”
“Yakshi….” A sound like wind swishing through willow whips. “Nanda.” A shadowy form rose, swooped forward and back.
“Yakshi … leader Washburn … Yakshi called … Kalinga.”
They seemed to sigh together liquidly.
“All right, now we’re getting somewhere. You in the middle, you seem to be the spokesman. Very well, ah, Asoka. You come with me and we can sort this out.”
He strode past the vague shapes, headed for some edge of the room, some doorway to a place where he could command the situation beyond the murk and gloom that surrounded him. He turned back to see if Asoka was following him. The Yakshis stood still, wavering vaguely where they had been.
Washburn stamped back, tried to grab the central Yakshi by its shoulder. His hand jerked involuntarily away from the feel.
“Come on, then,” he grunted. He gestured forcefully.
One of the Yakshis rose straight toward the indistinct dome above them, towered momentarily over Washburn as if it were going to swoop on him, but another spun and rose and interposed itself between the looming shadow and the man.
“Come along,” Washburn repeated. The remaining Yakshi glided after him. Snorting, Washburn marched in a straight line, his hands held slightly before him to ward off any obstruction, his eyes straining to pierce the gloom and murk surrounding him.
“Washburn….” The Yakshi’s watery voice burbled.
He continued. His hands encountered an obstacle, a surface that felt strangely as if it were smooth as glass yet corrugated at the same time. He felt around, searching for some sign of a doorway or window. “Open up!” he commanded.
A section of the wall swung away.
Washburn took half a step through the portal before the blinding flash of sensory overload smote him. Dazzled, deafened, assailed by odors and flavors, the nerve endings of his skin set atingle. Up and down lost their meaning. He staggered backward, screaming “Betrayed!” and collapsed.
He lay on the floor crouching like a fetus, holding his head between his knees and his arms over his blond scalp. He moaned.
“Washburn….” Asoka piped, “Not harm … allow … show….”
Washburn let the Yakshi uncurl him carefully, aiding him to his feet. In a few minutes he was upright, fighting down a roaring in his ears and a darkness that threatened momentarily to cut off even the strange dim murk of his surroundings. He clenched his teeth, gritted out words in a bitter hiss. “Not now, I won’t let go now!”
Asoka guided Washburn, walking him confidently. Clearly the gloom of the environment provided no obstacle to his vision. Washburn held one hand out laterally, touching the strange smooth-rippled wall as he walked. After a while they came to a place where the murk seemed to grow thinner, the atmosphere marginally brighter.
The Yakshi stopped Washburn, guided him to a vaguely chair-shaped object, pressed him gently down upon it.
He was still shaken from the moment of total input. “What was that—that door I started through? I demand to know what this place is!”
“Yess … regret your … hurt … difficult … maintain … form … speech.” The figure seemed to sink into itself momentarily, as if gathering strength to continue. “Washburn … permit….” The figure writhed in some alien gesture. “Permit … demonstrate….”
From the murk-covered floor beside the alien a pedestal rose to waist height. Washburn followed as closely as the diffused lighting permitted. The Yakshi moved, bent over the pedestal and manipulated small objects on its surface. He—or it—gave the impression of a machine operator setting controls.
Washburn’s seat slid beneath him, stretching and distorting itself like a dentist’s chair. Washburn clung to its sides, ready to leap up and make his escape.
The darkness above him cleared. Mist rolled away, leaving a clear view of the sky above. Washburn could not tell whether the chamber had opened to the sky or was covered by a perfectly transparent dome. He peered upward.
The sky was black with night, dotted with an array of bright points, swirls and clouds wholly unlike any Washburn had ever seen before. No familiar constellation showed itself, no recognizable object—only uncountable stars and unrecognizable distant galaxies.
In a far quadrant of the sky, surrounded by a glowing border of deep orange, an irregularly shaped blob of utter blackness writhed.
Washburn blinked. Against the blackness of the Yakshis, the dim murk of the chambers he had walked through, the blackness of the sky offered a still darker contrast. And against that blackness, the bright-edged blob—its shape had now become suggestive—was still blacker, an ultimate blackness that seemed to negate not merely material objects but even vacant volume.
The glowing orange edges writhed and curled. Washburn felt himself mimicking their movements with his body. He fought down a faint attack of the ear-roaring, the eye-dimming that he knew so well. He gazed at the black shape above him.
It resembled a great winged creature flapping angrily across the sky. It was a huge malevolent face peering down into the wickedness of the world. It was a hooded serpent prepared to devour the world, a monstrous famished maw ready to swallow all.
Washburn was falling upward into its yawning depths, clutching frantically at the edges of his couch, crying out to be saved.
He sat up, sweat pouring from him, holding a hand over his eyes to blot the horror from them. He scrambled off the seat and ran to Asoka. “Take it away! Cover it up!”
The Yakshi manipulated the controls on his console. Overhead the mists rolled back obliterating the sky. Washburn and Asoka stood and faced each other.
“Can you … we cannot … understand….” The Yakshi gestured toward the section of roof above them where the orange-edged thing had appeared. Beside him the console had sunk back into the floor. Asoka and Washburn stood as they had earlier, shrouded in murk and gloom.
“You’ll have to do better than that,” Washburn glowered. He felt automatically of his new clothing, searching for a weapon of any sort.
There was none.
“Come then … leader Washburn.” The Yakshi looked smaller, as if he had been drained of energy and of hope. “Understanding … is….” A gurgle and rush. “One Yakshi, less Yakshi….”
He took Washburn by the elbow, led him firmly through the murk. Washburn was unable to tell what course they followed. But shortly when Asoka stopped Washburn could sense the alien’s companions, Nanda and Kalinga, swaying and fluttering in the gloom. Again they seemed to confer, almost to blend, swaying and nodding, indistinct susurrating sounds emerging from them.
They separated and moved to surround Washburn. He slid between them suspiciously, spun to face them again. “Watch it!” he commanded.
They moaned. “Not … will not … Washburn … afraid … hurt … will not harm….”
He allowed them to shepherd him to another chamber, another seat. He crouched tentatively on the edge of it, watching the Yakshis. One of them—he guessed Asoka—lay back on a moving couch. The other Yakshi fetched a circlet of gloomily flashing metal and placed it on their companion’s head.
Then they turned to Washburn, a similar circlet extended toward him. “No, you don’t!” he shouted. He started to flee but was caught by one of the Yakshis and forced back onto his seat.
“Not … harm.” Roar and sweep. “Not … hurt you … leader.”
Gingerly, Washburn let the creature draw the circlet over his head.
“CHRIST, will you look at that crap in the sky! No wonder this place is called the smog capital of the world!”
Cantrowicz had the window seat so Burt Bahnson had to lean over his shoulder to see out the window of the 747 circling LAX. All he could do was shake his head in appalled agreement.
“Well, here we go. You reset your watch yet?”
Burt looked at the dial of his electronic Seiko. “No. I’m still on New York time.” He pulled out the stem and reset his readout for LA time, then slipped the watch back on his wrist.
“Better finish up, eh?” Burt tilted his drink, ran his tongue around the inside of the rim savoring the last woody burning of the whiskey, then lowered the plastic cup. He buckled himself into his seat belt in obedience to the letters that flashed across the overhead message board.
“Number one just better have that car waiting,” Cantrowicz growled as the 747 banked into a long, thundering turn to make its final approach and landing. “Christ, if there’s one thing I hate it’s having to fight car rentals. Maybe we should have had somebody meet us instead.”
“No, I thought we’d agreed. That is, I mean, it’ll be more convenient for us to have a car for ourselves while we’re here. To go to the hotel and all.”
“Yeah, yeah, we did work it out. Okay, Burt. I’d as soon have settled this in New York, but you know these Hollywood types—hate to get off their own turf. I think they all have some kind of inadequacy syndrome. Work out their hangups on the screen instead of where they got ’em. If a weekend with a hot broad and a case of Scotch doesn’t take care of ’em they ought to see a shrink, not drag us across the continent for one meeting!”
“You’re right,” Burt said. He picked up his empty glass and ran his tongue around the inside of the rim again.
The plane touched down heavily, its engines reversed to brake its momentum. It slowed and rolled to a stop.
Burt stood up and waited for Cantrowicz to thread his bulk out of the big first-class seat and lead their march to the exit. The smiling stewardess handed each of them his hat and Burt his briefcase—Arch Cantrowicz liked to travel light and Burt kept track of both their papers when Arch wasn’t actually using them.
Hertz had a new LeMans ready for them and they threaded their way from LAX onto the freeway, keeping the AM radio on the airport’s low-powered traffic control station until the signal disappeared into a roar of static.
“Nice car,” Burt said. “Handles nicely.”
He pulled the LeMans into the northbound lanes, found a niche in the off-hour traffic and began to watch for exit signs. They didn’t have too far to go on the freeway. “Too bad Buddy Satvan couldn’t come along. He’d really enjoy this trip. Kind of the star of the show, don’t you think?”
Burt cast a glance at Arch Cantrowicz. Cantrowicz had bitten the tip off a cigar and spit it onto the floor of the LeMans. He leaned forward and punched the car’s electric lighter. The only answer he offered Burt was a grunt. Burt wasn’t sure whether that indicated agreement or disapproval.
“Well, maybe he’ll pull out of it. Meanwhile Albertson is keeping up the strip. Buddy has this secretary, you know her? Tara something-or-other. Very nice person.”
“Yeah,” Arch growled around his cigar. “Gone with the wind.”
Burt laughed nervously. “Uh, any. . .
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