Standing in this alcove, Erika spoke to her reflection: “Twelve twenty-five is four one.”
A voice-recognition program in the house computer accepted those five words as the first part of a two-sentence combination to the vault. The center mirror slid into the ceiling, revealing a plain steel door without hinges or handle, or keyhole.
When she said, “Two fourteen is ten thirty-one,” she heard lock bolts disengage, and the door slid open with a pneumatic hiss.
In addition to tall upper cabinets, the vault contained lower drawers, all measuring the same: one foot deep, two feet wide. Each of three walls held twelve drawers, numbered I through 36.
From Drawer 5, she withdrew sixteen bricks of hundred-dollar bills and put them in the small suitcase. Each banded block contained fifty thousand dollars, for a total of eight hundred thousand.
Drawer 12 offered a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of euros, and she emptied it.
From Drawer 16, she withdrew one million worth of bearer bonds, each valued at fifty thousand.
Drawer 24 revealed numerous small gray-velvet bags featuring drawstring closures tied in neat bows. In these were precious gems, mostly diamonds of the highest quality. She scooped up all of the bags and dropped them in the suitcase.
No doubt Victor maintained offshore bank accounts containing significant sums, held by such an intricate chain of shell companies and false names that no tax collector could link them to him. There he kept the larger part of his wealth.
What Erika collected here, according to Victor’s instructions, was his on-the-run money, which he might need if the current crisis could not be contained. Listening to him on the phone, she’d thought he should use the word would instead of might, and when instead of if, but she’d said nothing.
With the suitcase, she returned to the mirrored alcove, faced the open vault door, and said, “Close and lock.”
The pneumatic door hissed shut. The bolts engaged. The mirror descended into place, bringing with it her reflection, as if it had previously taken her image into the ceiling.
In the garage, Erika stowed both pieces of luggage in the cargo space of the GL550.
With a large cloth tote bag in which to carry their books, she returned to the library. In his new attire, Jocko looked less like Huckleberry Finn than like a mutant turtle from another planet, out of its shell and likely to pass for human only if everyone on Earth were struck blind.
Although the faded blue jeans looked all right from the front, they sagged in the seat because the troll didn’t have much of a butt. His thin pale arms were longer than those of a real boy, so the long-sleeved T-shirt fell three inches short of his wrists.
For the first time, Erika considered that Jocko had six fingers on each hand.
He had adjusted the expansion strap on the back of the baseball cap to its full extension, making it big enough to fit him, and in fact making it too big. The cap came over the tops of his gnarled ears, and he kept tipping it back to see out from under the bill.
“It’s not a funny hat,” he said.
“No. I couldn’t find one here, and the funny-hat store doesn’t open until nine o’clock.”
“Maybe they deliver earlier.”
Stuffing Jocko’s selection of books in the tote bag, she said, “They don’t deliver like a pizza shop.”
“A pizza would be a funnier hat than this. Let’s get a pizza.”
“Don’t you think wearing a pizza on your head would attract more attention than we want?”
“No. And the shoes don’t work.”
Even after taking the laces out, he had not been able to fit his wide feet comfortably in the sneakers.
He said, “Anyway, Jocko walks way better barefoot, has a better grip, and if he wants to suck his toes, he doesn’t have to undress them first.”
His toes were nearly as long as fingers and had three knuckles each. Erika thought he must be able to climb like a monkey.
“You’re probably well enough disguised if you stay in the car,” she said. “And if you slump in your seat. And if you don’t look out the window when another car’s passing us. And if you don’t wave at anyone.”
“Can Jocko give them the finger?”
She frowned. “Why would you want to make obscene gestures at anyone?”
“You never know. Like, say it’s a pretty night, big moon, stars all over, and say suddenly a woman’s smacking you with a broom and a guy’s beating your head with an empty bucket, shouting ‘What is it, what is it, what is it?’ You run away faster than they can run, and you want to shout something really smart at them, but you can’t think of anything smart, so there’s always the finger. Can Jocko give them the okay sign?”
“I think it’s better if you keep your hands down and just enjoy the ride.”
“Can Jocko give them a thumbs-up sign? Attaboy! Way to go! You done good!”
“Maybe the next time we go for a ride. Not tonight.”
“Can Jocko give them a power-to-the-people fist?”
“I didn’t know you were political.” The tote bag bulged with books. “Come on. We’ve got to get out of here.”
“Oh. Wait. Jocko forgot. In his room.”
“There’s nothing in your room that you’ll need.”
“Be back in half a jiffy.”
He snatched up one of the laces from the sneakers and, holding it between his teeth, somersaulted out of the library.
When the troll returned a few minutes later, he was carrying a sack made from a pillowcase, tied shut with the shoelace.
“What’s that?” Erika asked.
“All right. All right. Let’s go.”
In the garage, at the GL550, Jocko said, “You want me to drive?”
JUDGING BY THE QUALITY of their excitement and the content of their conversations among themselves, Carson decided that most if not all of the people with torches and oil lamps were Epsilons, like Gunny Alecto, and were workers at the landfill.
In addition to Erika Four, however, five others of the New Race, left for dead at Crosswoods but later resurrected, were Alphas—four men and a woman—who had been terminated by Victor for one reason or another. This was the group that called themselves the Dumpsters.
Carson and Michael had been unnerved when one of the Dumpsters proved to be Bucky Guitreau, the district attorney. He wasn’t the one they had killed in Audubon Park, and he wasn’t the original and fully human Bucky. He was instead the first replicant intended to replace Bucky. He’d been replaced himself by a second replicant, the one she and Michael had killed, when Victor decided that number one wasn’t a sufficiently gifted mimic to pull off the impersonation of the district attorney.
Apparently, all of these Alphas had been returned to life longer than Mrs. Helios. They had found water to wash themselves, and they wore reasonably clean if threadbare clothes, which perhaps they had salvaged from these many acres of refuse.
Although she was the most recent to have been pulled back from the brink of oblivion, Erika Four had been appointed to speak not only for herself but also for the other five Alphas, perhaps because she had been their tormentor’s wife. She knew Victor well, his corrupted character and temper. Better than anyone, she might be able to identify the weakness most likely to render him vulnerable.
Deucalion towered behind Erika, and as she brought Carson and Michael up-to-date, the landfill workers edged closer. None of what she said was news to them, but being the intellectual lower caste of the New Race, they seemed to be easily enchanted. They were rapt, faces shining in the lambent firelight, like children gathered for story hour around a campfire.
“The workers here have known something strange was happening under the trash fields,” Erika said. “They’ve seen the surface rise and resettle, as if something sizable was traveling this way and that in the lower realms. They’ve heard haunting voices filtering up from below. Tonight they saw it for the first time, and they call it the mother of all gone-wrongs.”
A murmuring passed through the Epsilons, whispered exclamations. Their faces revealed emotions that they of the New Race should not have been able to feel: happiness, awe, and perhaps hope.
“It started as a failed experiment, left here for dead, but in fact not fully dead,” Erika continued. “A lightning strike in the dump enlivened it. Since then, it has evolved to become a wondrous being, an entity of indescribable beauty and profound moral purpose. Sometimes an Alpha, presumed dead even by Victor, may yet contain an incandescent filament of life for a few days after an apparent death. If attended properly, that filament can be prevented from fading entirely, and encouraged to grow brighter. As it brightens, this life force spreads through the Alpha, returning him to consciousness and full function. What these Epsilons call the mother of all gone-wrongs, we call the Resurrector, for as it was revived by lightning, it now revives us by sharing its own intensely bright life force.”
So closely gathered were the Epsilons that their torches and oil lamps encircled Carson with shimmering orange light, and in this one small portion of the landfill, the night was as bright as a dawn sky painted with the sun’s celebratory brush.
“Not only does the Resurrector restore the body, but it also heals the mind,” said Erika Four. “From our programs, it strips out all of the encouragements to envy, hatred, and anger, and deletes as well the prohibitions against compassion, love, and hope. Tonight, it revealed itself to the landfill workers—and released them from all the programmed emotions that oppressed them, and gave to them the full range of emotions they had been denied.”
Skin prickling on the back of her neck, Carson recalled Gunny Alecto’s words: The mother of all gone-wrongs talked inside our heads.
Michael shared her reservations. “No offense. But no matter how beautiful it might be, I’m basically freaked out by something that can get inside my head and change me.”
In the quivering torchlight, on the broken half of Deucalion’s face, reflections of flames infused false life into the tattooed patterns, which seemed to flex and crawl across the awful concavities and the broken planes, across the knotted scars.
He said, “It waits for us now in the tunnel. I went down a short while ago—and felt I was in the presence of a being that has no thinnest thread of malevolence in its weave. It will project certain thoughts to you … but it won’t enter your mind against your wishes.”
“As far as you know,” Michael qualified.
“For two centuries I’ve had to bear witness to all forms of human wickedness,” Deucalion said. “And cobbled together, as I was, from the bodies of sociopathic criminals, burdened with the brain of the vilest kind of murderer, I have a certain … sensitivity to the presence of evil. There is none in this Being.”
Carson heard the capital B that he put on the final word. And though his confidence somewhat reassured her, though her disquiet didn’t swell into apprehension, she had misgivings about going into the tunnel to which he referred.
Erika Four said, “The Resurrector will help us bring Victor to the justice he deserves. Indeed, I don’t think we can bring him down without the assistance of this entity.”
“If he flees here tonight or in the early morning,” Deucalion said, “as we expect he will when he learns of the fire at Mercy, we will have an opportunity that we must not fail to seize.”
Under the reflected torchlight in his eyes, the more profound light of his embodied storm throbbed as it sometimes did. Carson wondered if, in his mind’s ear, he heard the sky-splitting crack of the thunderbolt or recalled the terror of his first minutes of unholy life.
“I believe the moment is rushing toward us,” Deucalion said. “You need to meet the Resurrector, so we are ready and waiting for Victor when he arrives.”
Carson looked at Michael, and he said, “So … it’s down the big hole, this is some night, some crazy night, I’m just all up.”
SOMBER THOUGHTS DISTRACTED Victor from his driving, and the deserted state route, winding through lonely darkness, contributed to his bleak mood.
Always before, when setbacks forced a change of venue on him—from Germany to Argentina, to the old Soviet, to China and elsewhere—he had been furious at the associates who had failed him and at Nature for her jealous guarding of the secrets of molecular biology and her stubborn resistance to the incisive blade of his singular intelligence, but he had not lost hope.
The short-lived project in Cuba, so promising, came to ruin because of one stupid peasant, a rabid cat, a treacherous set of stairs, and a wet bar of soap left on one of the treads for no reason that made sense. Yet he and Fidel remained friends, and Victor persevered in another country, certain of ultimate triumph.
The interesting facility in North Korea, with the generous funding by a consortium of forward-thinking governments, should have been the place where the ultimate breakthroughs at last occurred. At his disposal was a virtually infinite supply of body parts from self-pitying political prisoners who preferred being carved up alive to enduring further prison meals. But how could he have foreseen that the dictator, a strutting rooster with a harem, would end up shooting the speed-grown clone of himself that Victor created at his request, when said clone developed a passion for his dangerous look-alike and extravagantly tongue-kissed him? Victor had escaped the country with his testicles only because he and the dictator had a mutual friend, one of the most admired movie stars in the world, who had brokered peace between them. Yet still he had persevered and had suffered neither one day of doubt nor one hour of depression.
The total destruction of the Hands of Mercy affected him more negatively than any previous setback in part because he had been much closer than ever before to triumph, within easy reach of the absolute mastery of flesh, its creation and control.
In truth, the fire itself and all the losses were not what shook his confidence. The identity of the arsonist: That’s what brought him this low. The return of his first creation, the crude and lumbering beast who should have spent the past two centuries frozen in polar ice, seemed even less possible to him than that a g*y clone could have undone him on the very brink of a glorious success.
He realized that his speed had fallen under twenty miles per hour. This had happened twice before. Each time he accelerated, his mind drifted, and his speed fell again.
Deucalion. What a pretentious name.
Deucalion in Patrick Duchaine’s kitchen, turning away from Victor and—just gone. Merely a trick, of course. But quite a trick.
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