50

After Watkins left, Shaddack returned to the computer terminal in his study, reopened his link to Sun, the supercomputer at New Wave, and set to work again on a problematic aspect of the current project. Though it was two-thirty in the morning, he would put in a few more hours, for the earliest he went to bed was dawn.

He had been at the terminal a few minutes when his most private phone line rang.

Until Booker was apprehended, the telephone company computer was allowing service only among those who had been converted, from one of their numbers to one of their numbers. Other lines were cut off, and calls to the outside world were interrupted before being completed. Incoming calls to Moonlight Cove were answered by a recording that pleaded equipment failure, promised a return to full service within twenty-four hours, and expressed regret at the inconvenience.

Therefore, Shaddack knew the caller must be among the converted and, because it was his most private line, must also be one of his closest associates at New Wave. A LED readout on the base of the phone displayed the number from which the call was being placed, which he recognized as that of Mike Peyser. He picked up the receiver and said, ” Shaddack here.”

The caller breathed heavily, raggedly into the phone but said nothing.

Frowning, Shaddack said, “Hello?”

Just the breathing.

Shaddack said, “Mike, is that you?”

The voice that finally responded to him was hoarse, guttural, but with a shrill edge, whispery yet forceful, Peyser’s voice yet not his, strange: “… something wrong, wrong, something wrong, can’t change, can’t … wrong … wrong …”

Shaddack was reluctant to admit that he recognized Mike Peyser’s voice in those queer inflections and eerie cadences. He said, “Who is this?”

“… need, need … need, want, I need …”

“Who is this?” Shaddack demanded angrily, but in his mind was another question: What is this?

The caller issued a sound that was a groan of pain, a mewl of deepest anguish, a thin cry of frustration, and a snarl, all twisted into one rolling bleat. The receiver dropped from his hand with a hard clatter.

Shaddack put his own phone down, turned back to the VDT, tapped into the police data system, and sent an urgent message to Loman Watkins.

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