Hellboy: Oddest Jobs Page 28

"You've lost me already. Carnacki who?"

Hellboy rapped his fingers on the table. "The few people who do know the name think he's fictional, the creation of a writer named William Hope Hodgson. The stories Hodgson wrote are a century old but worth reading. Carnacki was a real man, a ghost finder."

"The same way that Sherlock Holmes really lived but was turned into a fictional character by Conan Doyle?"

Hellboy gave a casual wave, no easy gesture with a right hand made of stone. "Yeah. There are a lot of examples. Jules Verne pretended that Phileas Fogg was fictional, H.G. Wells did the same thing with Dr. Moreau, M.P. Shiel with Prince Zaleski, Maurice Richardson with Engelbrecht, the list is endless.

"When he got old, Carnacki decided to create a society dedicated to ridding the natural world of paranormal threats. The same as what the Bureau does but on a smaller scale. The Carnacki Institute never had the resources we did and they were envious of us for a long time. The only advantage they had was that they were aware of our existence. We knew nothing about them."

"They don't seem much of an enemy, more like an alternative, albeit a poor one. We're doing the same job."

Hellboy shrugged. "You'd be surprised at how vicious people can get when they're working for identical goals. Professional jealousy, that kind of thing. The problem is that we do have the same objectives."

"I guess I understand that," I responded.

"And Carnacki's descendants aren't as noble as he was. His family had a bad reputation. He was the exception that proved the rule. The others have always been greedy scheming rogues, manipulators, and fraudsters."

"Nice bunch of people!"

"Yeah," nodded Hellboy. "Since it was founded the Carnacki Institute never got the chance to mount a real challenge against us. Not until now. Marvin Carnacki, the present director of the Institute, discovered a way to divert Nekrotzar onto a collision course with Earth. There was an old book in a locked attic. He had the good luck to find it. The book outlined the myth of Nekrotzar, gave instructions for a ritual that would change its direction through space."

"And the ritual was performed?" I asked.

Hellboy nodded. "Looks that way."

I finished my coffee. I like regular caffeine hits as much as the next guy but this one suddenly tasted disgusting.

"What the hell is Nekrotzar?"

Myths and legends are generally based on truth, that's common knowledge. Somewhere at the back of every folktale is an event involving real people. Theseus killed the Minotaur and probably there was a real beast for a real man to slay. Before he tackled the Minotaur he killed Sciron and once again that giant was surely an authentic creature. Descriptions are few and far between but Sciron was an ugly mother, that much is certain. And an even more hideous father. Lame joke.

I'll continue more seriously. Bald shiny head, flat round face with bushy eyebrows, thin lips, sagging jowls, lopsided ears, wide nose covered in tough black hairs, bulging belly, muscular frame, relatively short legs, eyes the color of a lake polluted by phosphates and uranium, in one hand a twisted club made of half a tree.

But what was his connection to Nekrotzar?

Nekrotzar was a planet in a distant galaxy, a galaxy not yet identified. The book found by Marvin Carnacki didn't seem too interested in speculating on such details as original locations, so I'll be just as blithe. It was an old planet circling a very old sun, a sun so ancient that it had burnt out. For a million years the planet kept going around anyway but the dead husk of the star was gradually eroded by streams of particles from nearby supernovae and its gravitational attraction became too weak to keep a family of planets in orbit.

Like the other worlds in that system Nekrotzar drifted away on its own, a rogue globe, but people still lived on the surface. The race of beings who always had dwelled there was excessively cruel. Their monarchs were among the most insane in the universe. And another mystery that needs to be solved: they were humanoid, similar in many ways to us.

I've listened to Bureau boffins discuss this enigma. One idea is that in the remote past, long before the Stone Age, humans were more advanced than now. They constructed spaceships and flew off around the universe, colonizing worlds and moving on. Then something happened here, a huge disaster, and the folk who stayed behind on Earth forgot what they knew about technology. So the cosmos is populated with humans and the variations that natural evolution has had time to create.

Plausible. But Nekrotzar is much older than our own planet. Indeed the sun of that world had gone out long before our precious Earth even condensed from Stardust. At least that's what Marvin Carnacki's book claimed. And who wrote that book? I don't have a clue. The Bureau is still examining it. Unlike every other book owned by the Carnacki Institute, that volume survived the terrific explosion that followed the ritual.

Whatever the biology of the matter, one thing remains clear: the rulers of Nekrotzar were complete loons. I'll skip over the more lurid accounts of what Kings Humper, Sepsis, and Nobbel got up to. Each was madder than his predecessor. The line ended with the maddest of all, King Sciron, who wanted a palace bigger than those his ancestors had ruled from. In fact he wanted the biggest palace in the history of creation.

Nekrotzar was a very old world and its core had cooled long ago, there was no liquid mantle under the crust, nothing but solid rock. King Sciron gave orders to start mining minerals, shaping blocks and piling those blocks higher and higher into walls.

Eventually he had the biggest palace of all time, the biggest possible palace. It didn't make him happy.

The Sciron killed by Theseus was clearly the same guy or else a mythical figure based on the real Sciron. But the question remains how the people on Earth who made up the myth, presumably the ancient Greeks, knew about Nekrotzar in the first place. I found this aspect of the case rather troubling. I thought about ordering a beer, maybe several, but I wasn't even in the mood to get drunk. Hellboy was ready to leave too.

"Time to get moving."

He held open the door of the coffee shop and I passed through and stood blinking in the sunlight. Then he lifted his stone hand to provide shade for both of us. Maybe he thought I needed a cooler head before I was ready to know the rest. If so, he was right.

King Sciron of Nekrotzar never gave the order to stop building. Blocks of stone were cut from the ground and added to other blocks continuously. The walls kept rising and rising. Towers were completed, turrets, domes, and chambers, only to serve as the foundations for more towers, turrets, domes, and chambers. The planet had no magma under its surface. The builders could dig it all up and shape it into blocks if necessary. That's what they did. Eventually the total mass of the planet was converted into the palace. One of the wonders of the universe!

A giant palace adrift in space. King Sciron had his personal chambers at the center. But he often liked to ascend the spiral staircase to the tallest turret. There was a balcony there without a rail that looked over the stars, comets, pulsars, other lost planets. Whenever he wanted to punish someone for an offense, he invited them onto the balcony of that turret and ordered them to kneel before him. Then he kicked them over the edge. The bodies are probably still falling, if they haven't already been burned up in younger suns.

Life is weird. I walk down the street with a big red demon and who's the one that attracts all the attention?

Yeah right. Car horns blared. A grinning fellow came up, tried to shake my hand and didn't look abashed when I refused. "Excuse me, but are you Foggy Dicks? Man, I love your flicks. Never seen anything like them before!"

Yeah, life is weird.

My minds a little disordered now. It's mostly the drugs, the painkillers they pumped into my veins after Hellboy knocked the crap out of me. I'm still flooded with that liquid junk. But I was strange before my beating. That's what the specialist doctors at the Bureau told me back in the days when they thought I might be team material.

Which reminded me: I still wanted to know where Liz and Abe were. Up north was too vague an answer to satisfy me. I can't say I ached to see them — I don't ache much emotionally — but they had been friends, to a small degree at least.

"Mount Snaefell," said Hellboy.

"Iceland? What are they doing there? It's weird: you mentioned Jules Verne in the coffee shop and I remember that he wrote a book about two explorers .. ,"

Hellboy just smiled.

"So what part do I play?" I wondered. "What does the Bureau want me to do? You know my talents. Fill me in properly, will you?"

"The book found by Marvin Carnacki outlined many rituals connected with Nekrotzar. Where did this book come from originally? We're still working on that. Marvin himself doesn't know. The rituals are all tantric."

"I'm not the only expert in that," I protested.

"This stuff is extremely advanced. Believe me, you're the only one who can do what's required. The Bureau never lost interest in you."

I was dubious. "Really?"

He rubbed his chin. "What do you think of Marvin Carnacki?"

"Nothing special. An old fuddy-duddy. A typical amateur investigator of the paranormal. Fusty, musty."

"Could you ever consider doing with him the sort of things you do in your films? To save the world ..."

"Is this a hypothetical question?"

He said nothing, twitched not a facial muscle, and I suddenly knew why the Bureau wanted me. To perform some esoteric tantric-sex ritual with that horrible old man. I was too shocked to utter any word of protest. I stopped in my tracks and closed my eyes and laughed sourly. Hellboy rested his stone hand on my shoulder in a sympathetic manner. Maybe he thought I needed some obvious sign of support before giving my considered reply.

And maybe I did. I said, "We all have to make sacrifices. I'll do what I can."

"Thanks. You're one of the heroes."

Smiling, I acknowledged the compliment, but I was furious with myself. Why had I agreed? Was I going soft?

But I've always been soft.

I'm the ectoplasm guy. Remember?

A special room in one of the least-visited parts of one of the Bureaus old auxiliary buildings had been prepared for the ritual. I wore a gray dressing gown. When Marvin Carnacki entered I wanted to laugh. He was dressed like a pasha from an obsolete Eastern empire. Green curly slippers, loose scarlet pantaloons, a billowing orange blouse, an elaborate turban of blue silk. His fingers glittered with silver rings.

"Let's get it over with," I snorted.

Marvin took offense. "No need to be so blunt. I'm swallowing my pride as well."

"Now you've raised the issue," I remarked, "I still don't understand why you came to the Bureau in the first place. Descendant of the famous ghost finder! The first Carnacki would disown you if he knew. Why can't you handle the crisis back at your own institute?"

"Can't you guess?" he sneered.

"You discovered the existence of Nekrotzar and diverted it onto a collision course with Earth. You knew that astronomers would detect it soon enough and warn the governments of the world. You gambled that the Bureau would get involved but be powerless to prevent the catastrophe. Then the Carnacki Institute would step in and put everything right, because only your group had the necessary rituals at their disposal. It was supposed to be a way of showing the Bureau you were a force to be reckoned with."

"The boy has some brains," sniffed Marvin.

"That's right, buddy," I said.

"Nothing turned out the way we planned. We performed the tantric ritual to divert the course of Nekrotzar but there were errors in the procedure."

I shook my head. "Sloppy work, my friend."

"How right you are! A few small mistakes with big side effects. There was a blast that destroyed the antique furniture and killed the membership of the institute, all except me ..."

"An explosion. Any other side effects?" I asked casually. I've always found that indulging in light conversation helps to reduce the embarrassment. Not by much, true, but we take what little we can get in this world. And in the next.

"Nothing major. One random dead person from Earth has possibly been resurrected on Nekrotzar."

I smiled mirthlessly at the irony of the situation. Diverting Nekrotzar onto a collision course with Earth had been the easy part, achievable from a distance, but diverting it a second time, away from our own world, was a far harder task. Somebody had to actually go there and physically steer it.

The book had mentioned a rudder in the throne room of King Sciron, unbelievable as that sounds. Hellboy was the only one capable of doing this. Marvin and I were just there to open up a doorway.

"There were twenty others involved in the first tantric ritual," pointed out Marvin. "You'll have to mimic the roles of them all. Can you do that?"

"Just watch this," I bellowed.

I prefer to leave out most of the details of what happened next. You'll have to use your imagination. I'll just say that Marvin held up a book during the ritual and began reciting in an unintelligible language. Then a mist thickened in the air and I knew it was time to extrude my ectoplasm. He ignored me and kept chanting.

I began to realize he was more perverse than anyone I had encountered before. Now I knew what Hellboy meant when he referred to the Carnacki family as decadent. The mist began congealing into blobs and falling to the floor. On the floor those blobs ran about like drops of mercury before flattening into discs. Then the discs slid together.

"The doorway to Nekrotzar!" somebody shouted.

"Get ready!" was the response.

"Another few minutes!" cried the first voice, and I was aware of the big face of Hellboy looming through the remaining mist. He had stepped from behind the screens. Time seemed to slow. Then a sudden thought made me shudder. If Hellboy managed to cross to Nekrotzar, how the hell would he get back?

He had to pass me on his way to the shimmering doorway and I thought about blocking his path and begging him not to go, even though it wasn't strictly my business what happened to him on the other side. Then Marvin distracted me.

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