Chalker, Jack L. – Watchers at the Well 03 – Gods at the Well of Souls

The colonel thought for a moment, then said, “Perhaps he may surprise you, Doctor. In any event, if you wish to stick with him, I certainly have no objections, but even in the terrible shape he is in, I will insist that from this moment there be a guard posted here or just outside and that he not be moved or treated anywhere without a guard being present.”

“That man is not going anywhere!” the doctor pronounced confidently. “Period!” “If he were on fire and we were watching him bum, I would not trust ‘that man,’ ” the colonel told her. “You and your ship are going to be a little bit famous, I think, Doctor. You see, that man is Captain Nathan Brazil.”

There was a long pause, and then the doctor asked, “Who?”

“Nathan Brazil. There’s been an all wants and warrants out on him since he stole a sailing ship and vanished many weeks ago.”

“I don’t pay attention to that. I have enough trouble keeping up with the medical biology of the nine different races represented on this crew alone, let alone others I might have to patch up, regardless of tech level. It keeps me busy.”

The colonel was still a bit incredulous. “You have never heard the name before?” The doctor gave a mild shrug. “Well, seems to me that there’s a name that sounds something like that in ancient mythology, but I’m afraid I didn’t pay much attention to myths and legends.”

A pseudopod oozed out and gestured toward the man in the tank. “Well, there lies a genuine mythological legend, Doctor. Nathan Brazil, the immortal who alone remains to work the great Well World machine.”

“You’re joking, of course.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. Let’s just say that there is ample evidence that such a person exists. Enough to satisfy the Zone Council that he exists, anyway. And this man, who came through the Well Gate from another world far from here, not from ancestral Glathriel, knew an awful lot about the Well World for one from a civilization still not really even into space.”

The doctor stared at the man in the tank. “An ancient god? That one? Here?” “Wiser heads than we believe it. Certainly it will be a moot point if he dies, won’t it? But if he doesn’t … If he in fact makes a full and complete recovery … What then?”

“You kind of expect your ancient mythological deities to be, well, a bit larger, more imposing, to say the least.”

The colonel chuckled. “Only if they want to be noticed, Doctor. Not when you want to sneak in.”

She hadn’t entirely lost her fear, but she was much more relaxed now, convinced at least that she’d done the right thing by coming to the other, hurt though he clearly was. Everything on the boat was so interesting, so new. She understood that the crew members got a lot of amusement at her ignorance. Of course they were sometimes not so amused, like when she’d just taken a piss on the deck, but she didn’t mind. A lot of it was too confusing to worry about, anyway. What did it matter if some had clothes and some didn’t? What did it matter how one ate, or slept, or whatever?

And they kept going around and working all these things on the boat that didn’t make a lot of sense. Some of them even did things that seemed silly on the face of it, like washing the deck when they were on an ocean-when it got rough, the waves washed it anyway. That was why she didn’t understand why they got upset when she peed on it. Either they or the waves washed it anyway, and it seemed like she had to pee a lot.

They also had a lot of gadgets and gizmos that made no sense to her. They’d sometimes try to show her the simplest things, at least to them, and she’d try, too, really try, but she just couldn’t figure out how to work them. She had finally managed to figure out how to open doors, but then they got mad when she kept practicing on every door on the boat. Doors seemed stupid, anyway. All they did was block her way from one place to another. If they didn’t have doors, they wouldn’t have to bother opening them all the time, she reasoned. She couldn’t figure out why the boat didn’t sink, either. One threw something in the water, it sank. Why didn’t this big, heavy, ugly thing sink? It didn’t make any sense. Well, she didn’t worry much about things she couldn’t figure out. From observing and listening to the surface thoughts of the crew, she’d gotten the idea that there were smart people who understood or could figure out most anything, there were others who understood some things, and finally there were dumb people who just couldn’t figure out things. Some of the crew members whom others in the crew considered stupid didn’t seem so stupid to her, but they also didn’t seem to be sad or upset that they might be stupid. All of them thought she was pretty stupid, even the ones the others thought were stupid, too, so maybe she was. She’d asked the nice doctor about that, and the doctor, who everybody said was the smartest one on the boat, had told her that people who tried their best and didn’t worry about what they knew or didn’t know were happiest, and that seemed like good advice. She’d just try her best and learn what she could and not worry about the rest.

And then there was the other downstairs. It didn’t look at all like her, but it looked more like her than anybody else on board. The doctor said he was badly hurt, something that she hadn’t needed to be told. The doctor also said that while he might wake up and get better, he probably wouldn’t. It was funny, but that news hadn’t really affected her. There was just something inside that said that he’d be sick a long, long time but wouldn’t die. That just meant that it would be a real long time before he woke up and could tell her about herself, if in fact he could and didn’t have the same problem remembering things. She might stick around until he got well, but she knew it would be very long, and what could somebody like her do just staying around? Of course, she didn’t have anything else to do or anywhere else to go.

She’d watched unobtrusively when the two boats had pulled up next to one another. It was kind of neat how they could do that. They probably had to be really smart to do something like that without crashing. The two new people who’d come aboard had gone below, and she hadn’t found out much about them yet, but maybe she would. She didn’t really like the big blob thing; she couldn’t say why. The other one almost seemed like, well, like somebody like her, but that was silly.

Gus found her on the afterdeck, just sitting there and seemingly oblivious to the world. Her hair was a tangled mess, but otherwise she seemed unmarked and remarkably the same.

‘Terry?” he said gently to her. “You understand me? If you do, nod your head up and down.”

Terry. He acted as if he knew her, but the name was unfamiliar. Well, she didn’t have one, so maybe that was as good as any. She nodded and felt his glow of joy at actually communicating with her.

“Do you know who I am?”

She looked blankly at the colorful dragonlike creature. Know him? Should she? “It’s Gus, Terry. Gus. Do you remember me? Remember me at all? Even like this? Shake your head up and down for yes, back and forth for no, like this.” He demonstrated as best he could.

She thought it looked funny but shook her head no.

“Well, I remember you,” he told her, and in his head she could see a lot of images, memories, right at the surface, where she could look at them. Memories of her wearing stupid clothes and working all sorts of strange stuff and in a whole lot of places she’d never seen before. It was like being a character in a story. It was fascinating but bore no relationship to reality at all. The only thing it said to her was, I was smart once. That was good to know. Maybe she could get smart again someday. The doctor had almost said as much, although without a lot of conviction that it would happen.

The visions of her doing incomprehensible things in settings totally unfamiliar soon bored her, but something else was interesting, too. It was the creature’s vision of himself at these places; he seemed to be of the same kind as she and the other down below. A tall, thin man with a very pale skin and yellowish hair. It confused her. For some reason this person thought of himself as that other one as well as what he was now. He couldn’t be both, could he? It was all too mixed up. Like the rest, it was just something she wasn’t smart enough to figure out, she guessed.

Still, she had an unmistakable feeling that the creature was important. He wasn’t trying to fool her or anything like that; in fact, he seemed to be totally open to her. He had known her before she had lost her memory, and he definitely had genuine affection for her from that period. The trouble was, she wasn’t that person anymore, even if she wanted to be. It was as if that person were gone, dead, and somebody new had set up shop in the old body, somebody not nearly as smart. She certainly would trust this Gus, but could Gus ever see her as who she was now and not as who she might have been in some past life? There was little more that either of them could say to one another beyond what had been done. For Gus’s part, he began to understand that Terry had changed again, from the mysterious girl of great power to this very childlike creature who didn’t even remember the second incarnation. This wasn’t going to be easy, but at least now he had a little bit of purpose to his life. She sure needed somebody right now, and he was the only one she had.

Glathrielians were in the medical references at all only because of the work of some Ambrezan physicians and anthropologists, but the information was about as complete on the physiological side as it was for most other races and certainly more than adequate. In high-tech Agon, with a diagnostic computer set up and armed with all those data, it was relatively easy to do a thorough checkup on both patients.

“By all rights Brazil should be dead,” the doctor told them. “In fact, after going through these data, I’m almost .inclined to believe your stories about the mythological god. Virtually every rib is either cracked or broken. One punctured the right lung and caused massive internal bleeding. Several of his organs are in horrible shape, too, and he has lesions in the brain in areas that might well control motor development. As far as I can see, he’s been going on sheer will to live. The aggregate of these injuries is enough to kill just about anything carbon-based, but in all cases there is something like a one in a million chance that it might not be fatal. I swear that instant death versus horrible injury was a matter of microns one way or another in a few instances. A surgical team has been on the case since he was brought in, and they’re now working on him.” “What you are saying is that he will survive,” the colonel noted. “What I am saying is that he should not have survived and that there are very poor odds that he will survive this massive level of surgery. Synthesizing that quantity of blood alone was a monstrous job, and I have no doubt they will use all of it. If he does survive, well, there is no way to know what areas of the brain are affected, but there will almost certainly be some serious problems. In addition, there is major damage to the spinal cord which is perhaps reparable over a very long time, when he can stand the additional work, and assuming that it is similar to other spinal cord injuries in the races that have similar torsos. Then again, that is never an exact science. The odds are great that he’s going to remain in a coma, which will make him your ward and no longer our problem. If he does come out, then he will probably be unable to move much of anything below the neck. They tell me that they can do nothing on the spinal cord injury at this time. They have to do the other repairs first, and it is best if he cannot move anything down there, even involuntarily. The problem is, the longer the spinal cord is left untreated, the less likely it is to respond to treatment. I believe that at best, you will have a being who is totally bedridden and will never be able to move anything beyond his head again. That’s the best estimate.”

The colonel thought it over. “Oddly enough, if that were true, it might be a very convenient result. He could be questioned but would hardly be a threat. On the other hand, we have information that leads us to believe that he is capable of regeneration, perhaps total, over a long period of time. If he is the man of the legends, then that is what will happen, but it is still a result that my superiors will not find too terrible. It buys time, a lot of it, and no matter what, leaves him in our official custody.”

The doctor shrugged. “Suit yourself. Sounds grotesque to me, but considering that he is still alive after all that, I begin to think that I can believe anything about him. What I cannot believe is that he is going to get up and walk out of here, or even crawl out of here, in the next year or two, if ever.” “A year might be most satisfactory if one remaining complication can be resolved,” the Leeming told her. “Unfortunate that he might remain comatose, though. If we cannot resolve our problem, we might have to deal with him much quicker.”

“You never can tell for sure, but I wouldn’t bet on any conversations,” the doctor told him. “Whatever your complication is, you better resolve it.” “What about the girl?” Gus asked her. “Did you run all the tests on her, too?” “We did. She’s in remarkably good physical shape, all things considered. Mentally I’m not so sure. From what we were able to get from the Ambrezans through Zone, we have a theory but only a theory. That is one strange race there in Glathriel.”


“We think she probably woke up in Ambreza near the border and, after seeing what she could only perceive as monsters, made a run into Glathriel. There they’ve developed some kind of deliberately primitive society that shuns all artifacts, machines, tools, whatever. That doesn’t mean they are savages, though. Like some other races here, they went in the other direction, developing powers of the mind, realizing what might be just a slight potential in most of them, developing and honing it.”

“Back on Earth I’ve seen men walk barefoot over red hot coals and suspend themselves on sharp nails,” Gus told her. “And I’ve seen a lot of other strange stuff, too. Is that what you mean? They went strictly that way?” “Well, I think it’s a lot deeper than those types of things, but you get the idea. Ambrezan anthropologists believe that the Glathrielians have developed something of a group mind, a sort of insectlike social and mental organization without any hierarchy in which all of them are connected to one another. They convert their body fat into energy that can be used for things far beyond mere physical work. I think you’ve seen examples of that in her.” Gus nodded. The colonel gave a mock clearing of his nonexistent throat. “I believe I shall go file my report. We have no interest in the girl, so I will leave her fate entirely in friend Gus’s hands.” And with that, the Leeming oozed out of the hospital lounge.

“You were saying they used fat to do things with their mind?” Gus prompted the doctor.

“Yes. Fascinating, really. Still, it’s only the background here. What is really the point is that she walked straight into a place where the people were organically the same as she was but mentally and socially were far more alien to her than physically different races. She had no foreknowledge and no defenses. They co-opted her into their mental net. She would have seen it as an offer of friendship, security in her most vulnerable moment. She didn’t resist, almost certainly expecting communication. She got far more. We think they literally rewired her brain. Not organically but electrically. The memories were still there, but they were no longer relevant or needed because the whole frame of reference was different. We can’t say why, when she saw Brazil, she latched on to him with such tenacity, but we can guess that she knew he was someone from her old world and she wanted out. The problem was, she’d been rewired. She could leave, but she couldn’t rewire herself. That would take the collective knowledge and power of a pretty large Glathrielian group. That meant she was suspended, neither here nor there. In our world she thought like and acted like one of them. But in their world she couldn’t completely wipe away a lifetime of experience, memory, personality, and ambition to assimilate.”

Gus nodded sadly. “Poor Terry. She deserved better.”

“Then we get to the situation where you were present. She reached out somehow, using what must have been instinctive Glathrielian mental methods, and hooked into Captain Brazil’s brain. Again, this is on an energy level, not physically. It was probably out of fear he might abandon her, but the link, once established, worked both ways. He gained access to some of her powers, and she gained a connection that might as well have been steel chains. With only the two of them, stuck for weeks on that island, more in her element than his. it’s difficult to say what happened or if anything did, but it might have. Then came the eruption, probably a terrified leap into the sea and an attempt to get away, the big explosion, and, in the course of it, Brazil was seriously, horribly injured. The link between them, something like a telepathic bond, would have carried through to her as well. The shocks and his own physical and mental trauma, combined with what must have been sheer terror for her, overloaded her system. Linked to his more ‘normal’ wiring, going through all that with her Glathrielian wiring, the shock loosened and perhaps destroyed the careful patterns they’d built inside her. We think-and this is mere theory and probably can never be any more than that-the patterns were wiped out, as if the whole brain were flooded with a massive electrical charge. The Glathrielian powers, which are there now not because of wiring but because they’d been used so much, probably saved her life.”

“I’m followin’ about a tenth of this,” Gus told her. “What is the bottom line?” “Sorry. It’s just such a fascinating study that I tend to run away with myself. The bottom line is that we haven’t any ‘normal’ Glathrielian or Earth-type patterns for comparison-Brazil is hardly a good sample right now-but there are a dozen or more races here that share similar brain and nervous system structures with the Glathrielian physiology. More important, they share a lot of commonalities, so we can compare and at least build a theoretical model of what a Glathrielian brain pattern should look like and how it works. Your bottom line is that whatever was there was erased by the shock, and her brain then rebuilt what it could based on what it had left-the link with Brazil. We’ve tried all sorts of tests, always reliable on those others. Her memory isn’t blocked by shock or brain damage-it’s gone. The Glathrielian protective powers she had were constructed to be autonomic-automatic like a heartbeat. Those remained. So did the other basic autonomic systems. The rest? A simple vocabulary based on what little snippets of information were stored in areas closest to where memories are combined into thoughts-possibly her thoughts, possibly his. This has built up to more complex thinking by what she’s able to get from the surface-level thoughts of others so long as those thoughts create holographic images in the thinker’s mind. If you were to think of an image called ‘boat,’ for example, she knows what a boat is. I do not, however, see any real evidence of abstract thinking or much chance for it.”


“It’s linear thinking, like we do, which means the pattern probably came from him,” the doctor went on. “But it is very limited thinking, very limited processing of information. She has no patience and little interest in learning most things. If she decides she wants to learn something but doesn’t get it quickly, she loses interest. She’s entirely in the present; she has no concept of the future or any interest in it. She can be thrown a ball and is just as amused if she catches it or watches it drop and bounce. She learned to push down on latches aboard ship to open hatches but never could get the idea of closing them behind her, and she’s been frustrated here because she’s been trying to push down on doorknobs to open doors and it doesn’t work. The woman you knew is gone. Accept that. What you have is a young child in her body. And there is no way of knowing at this stage if she will progress beyond where she is in more than very small degrees.”

Gus felt the hurt of losing someone very close, but it wasn’t quite like that. ‘Tell me straight, Doc. Can you say for absolute certain, beyond the shadow of any doubts, that Terry will never regain any of her memory? That it’s a dead-on medical certainty that she’ll be like this until she dies?”

The doctor considered her words carefully. “No, I can’t. Not with absolute certainty. It is not like we’ve ever had a case like hers before or know exactly what we are dealing with. Not even the consulting Ambrezans really understand what’s inside the Glathrielian mind. All I can say is, absent any evidence of physical trauma, it is a very remote possibility that much of anything would come back. And if anything were still there, it would come back in pieces, over a very long period of time.”

“But it’s possible? As possible, say, as Captain Brazil surviving all those wounds?”

“Well, yes, but-”

“She’s tied to him, Doc. You said so. Maybe some of that immunity rubbed off as well. If I just send her back now, it’s over, period. She can never come back. The door’s closed forever. See, I just can’t write her off yet, send her back to what is a certain life as part of a group mind living in the mud. She was so much more than that.”

“But what else can you do?”

“Well, what are my options here?”

“Not many. She can’t stay here. The law says that anyone likely to be a ward of the state must be returned to its native hex. Of course, she is free to go anywhere she likes as well, but I still feel that this is the best course to take. The Glathrielians could probably restore her to their state, but unencumbered by the baggage she brought in the first time. She’d live what for them would be a normal life.”

“Not yet, Doc. When I’m convinced, but not yet. There’s still some options open, no matter how wild the odds. If nothin’ else, I want to see what happens if Brazil wakes up.”

The doctor sighed. “Well, as I said, I will get religion and go study the ancient gods if he recovers, let alone walks. But there’s another reason for possibly sending her back. Perhaps a compelling one. It explains the other major mystery-why the Well preserved her pretty much as she was instead of translating her into another race as it did with you.”


“She’s pregnant, Gus. According to the Ambrezan material, about six weeks from normal full gestation. Counting back, that means she was pregnant when she came onto the Well World and almost certainly not much before that point.” “Oh, my God!”

“It’s in the records, although extremely rare even in ancient times, it seems. The Well has no trouble taking one race and making of it another, but when you complicate it, give it what it perceived in its analysis as two in one, it didn’t have an answer for that. So it pretty much optimized her for survival here but otherwise left her just as she was. She is going to have a baby, Gus, and she doesn’t even know what a baby is or how it’s made.”

Gus sighed. “Jeez! Now what do I do?” If he sent her back, she’d probably be okay, but he’d be dooming forever any chance she might have to recover normalcy. But if he didn’t, then what of the baby?

“Well, you heard the colonel. I’m afraid that since she isn’t capable of deciding for herself, it’s entirely up to you.”

“We have exciting news.” the colonel told Gus. “We have a real lead on the other one, this Mavra Chang. She is in the hands of an international drug ring whose headquarters are on the northern border of this very hex. A fair amount of money and death have gone into protecting them until now, but this changes just about everything, as you might suppose. The more things are different, the more they seem like home. Is it not so?”

“You should know,” Gus muttered.

The colonel ignored the sarcasm. “Well, they are going to attack their headquarters in utmost secrecy, led by one of the few really honest policemen in Agon. With Brazil safely incapacitated, I am going north this very day to be in on this other operation. After all, if we have Brazil but not Chang, and Chang can also access the well, then we have gained nothing. Still, I feel we are closing in and that this matter is about to come to a head. There are others from Earth in this raiding party as well, so it will be pleasant to have yet more of a connection with the old home. What do you wish to do, my friend?” “Others? Anybody I know?”

“I don’t think so. Someone 7 knew, at least for a little while, and two associates of Captain Brazil’s who came in on his initiative, I believe, from Rio de Janeiro. One is a fellow countryman of mine-in the old life, that is. Two Dillians-they are much like the centaurs of our ancient Earth mythology, I am told-and one Erdomite.”

Gus sighed and shook his head. “I don’t know. Much as I’d like to, the only person I really know well is right here, aside from you and the captain, anyway, and I’m just not too sure what to do with her yet.”

“Someone I believe you may know is involved, after all,” Lunderman commented, looking over reports. “Do you know a Juan Campos?”

Gus’s reptilian head shot up, and the eyes blazed with a menace not seen before. “Yeah, I know the bastard! If it wasn’t for him, none of us would be in this damned fix! He’s in this group, too? Don’t sound like his style.” “You misunderstand me, my friend. Campos is with the drug cartel. In fact, it might well be Campos who had Mavra Chang abducted.”

That menace in the eyes didn’t fade. “Same old Campos, then. He was dirty back home, and he’s still dirty. Guess he just don’t know any other trade. Figures. What’d he wind up as?”

“A Cloptan. They look something like cartoon ducks, but there is nothing funny about them or cartoonish, either.” He paused a moment. “A Cloptan female! Most interesting!”

“He’s a girl?” Gus found it impossible not to laugh, although a Dahir chuckle sounded far more threatening than amusing. “Well, at least he got some justice, the bastard. He won’t be raping any more helpless women.”

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Categories: Chalker, Jack L