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A Darkness in my Soul.

by Dean R. Koontz.

ONE.

Divinity Destroyed

I.

For a long while, I wondered if Dragonfly was still in the heavens and whether the Spheres of Plague still floated in airlessness, blind eyes watchful. I wondered whether men still looked to the stars with trepidation and whether the skies yet bore the cancerous seed of mankind. There was no way for me to find out, for I lived in h.e.l.l during those days, where news of the living gained precious little circulation.

I was a digger into minds, a head-tripper. I esped. I found secrets, knew lies, and reported all these things for a price. I esped. Some questions were never meant to be answered; some parts of a man's mind were never intended for scrutiny. Yet our curiosity is, at the same time, our greatest virtue and our most serious weakness. I had within my mind the power to satisfy any curiosity which tickled me. I esped; I found; I knew. And then there was a darkness in my soul, darkness unmatched by the depths of s.p.a.ce that lay lightless between the galaxies, an ebony ache without parallel.

It started with a nerve-jangling ring of the telephone, a mundane enough beginning.

I put down the book I was reading and lifted the receiver and said, impatiently perhaps, "h.e.l.lo?"

"Simeon?" the distant voice asked. He p.r.o.nounced it correctly-Sim-ee-on.

It was Harry Kelly, sounding bedraggled and bewildered, two things he never was. I recognized his voice because it had been-in years past-the only sound of sanity and understanding in a world of wildly gabbling self-seekers and power-mongers. I esped out and saw him standing in a room that was strange to me, nervously drumming his fingers on the top of a simulated oak desk.

The desk was studded with a complex panel of controls, three telephones, and three-dimensional television screens for monitoring interoffice activity-the work s.p.a.ce of someone of more than a little importance.

"What is it, Harry?"

"Sim, I have another job for you. If you want it, that is.

You don't have to take it if you're already wrapped up in something private."

He had long ago given up his legal practice to act as my agent, and he could be counted on for at least one call a week like this. Yet there was a hollow anxiety in his tone which made me uncomfortable. I could have touched deeper into his mind, stirred through the pudding of his thoughts and discovered the trouble. But he was the one person in the world I would not esp for purely personal reasons. He had earned his sanct.i.ty, and he would never have to worry about losing it.

"Why so nervous? What kind of job?"

"Plenty of money," he said. "Look, Sim, I know how much you hate these tawdry little government contracts. If you take this job, you're not going to need money for a long while. You won't have to go around snooping through a hundred government heads a week."

"Say no more," I said. Harry knew my habit of living beyon

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