The only thing that approached the sadness Claire felt for Shane was the sympathy she felt for Myrnin.
Maybe it was all wrong; after all, it was his fault. All of it. But in destroying the machine, Frank Collins had reset things back to the way they should be--including Myrnin's sanity.
Sane, he understood what he'd done, and Claire could hardly stand to look at him, to see that awful, stunned, horrified expression in his eyes. He hadn't said a word, not a word. When Amelie tried to speak to him, he averted his eyes and sat, motionless and quiet, head down.
Oliver, as usual, had no sympathy at all. "West is dead," he said flatly. "Or worse, perhaps. Collins sacrificed himself to put it right. Let him brood, if he wants to brood."
Myrnin raised his head then, slowly, and fixed his dark, tragic eyes on Oliver. He said nothing, but there was something very nasty in the way they looked at each other.
"Well?" Oliver demanded. Myrnin looked away. "All because you couldn't lose your precious Ada without going mad. Promise me, Amelie, that you'll crucify me with silver before you allow me to fall in love."
"I hardly think there's any chance of that," Amelie said. "I doubt you have the capacity." She sounded remote and cold, but there was something almost painful in it, too. "There is some positive news, I suppose. Most people seem to have recovered their memories. Whatever damage has been done seems to be temporary."
"Positive news," Oliver repeated. "Except that our boundaries are down, and all our defenses. You know that can't continue. The machine--"
"Isn't working," Claire said, and got up from the chair where she sat next to Shane. "It isn't working. It isn't going to be working, not for months, if it ever does again. Get over it, Oliver." She was angry, she realized. Shaking. And she knew that it was because of Shane's dad. "Could you maybe take a minute or something? Just feel something?"
Amelie and Oliver both looked at her with identically surprised expressions. "Feel what?" Oliver asked. "Grief? For Frank Collins? Are you sure your memory is entirely restored?"
Claire gritted her teeth and resisted the urge to flip him off. She shouldn't have. Eve silently did it for her, from where she stood near the portal, slapping dust and debris off of her Goth black. Her boots were still untied. "Hey, Oliver?" she called. "Didn't see you biting the bullet back there and taking one for the team. You were out of there faster than me."
That put Oliver's mood dangerously toward the dark, but Eve clearly didn't care. She was distressed, too. And angry.
Myrnin finally spoke. "I knew," he said, very softly. "I knew that I wasn't . . . myself. I let myself believe that what I was doing was safe, but it wasn't. Maybe even then my mind was . . . going." He looked up, and there was a faraway, miserable look on his face. "If I'd believed Claire in the first place, we could have stopped this. It didn't have to happen this way. But I wanted . . . I suppose that deep inside, I wanted things to be . . ." He took a deep breath. "I wanted her back. I wanted the past. I wanted to feel . . . less constrained by the rules. And that's what the machine picked up from me. That's what it tried to do."
"Well," Oliver said. "You got your wish."
Amelie shook her head. "This gets us nowhere," she said. "Frank Collins did us a great service, regardless of his history. I will honor that."
Shane looked up. "How?" His voice was hollow and empty. "A plaque?"
"How would you prefer he be honored?" Amelie asked. "If it's within my power, I'll grant it to you."
Shane didn't hesitate, not even for a second. It was, Claire thought, like he'd already figured out what he was going to say. "Let Kyle out of the cage in Founder's Square," he said. "Put him on probation. But don't kill him."
Silence fell, long and heavy, and for a few dreadful seconds Claire thought that Amelie was angry. But she was just . . . pensive. She finally said, "All right."
Oliver made a frustrated, furious noise in the back of his throat, picked up a glass beaker that had somehow survived all the destruction, and smashed it to smithereens against the far wall. "Enough!" he barked. "Will you continue to bend to every breather who--"
Amelie grabbed him by the arm, pulled him to face her, and said, "Stop." Her tone was chilly, and quiet, and deadly serious. "We will stop tearing at each other, Oliver. It does neither of us good. It solves nothing. It breeds mistrust and paranoia and ill feelings, and we are not so numerous in this town that we can afford our ambitions. I told you we will rule as equals, but mark me: unless we change, unless we learn how to risk our safety and compromise, the humans will rise up. They will destroy us. I don't grant this because the boy is innocent. I grant it because mercy is more to our cause than justice."
Oliver stared at her without speaking or moving. There was something odd about his expression, something . . . vulnerable? Claire wasn't sure. She'd never really seen anything like it. "And what if I decide I want to rule alone after all?"
"I won't fight you for it," she said. "But your arrogance would destroy Morganville, and all of us."
"I've ruled men before," he said.
"Not to any lasting effect. You tried to change those you ruled. You couldn't." Amelie let go of him, and put her hand on his chest, lightly. "Your ideals didn't survive you. Mine must, or we will all perish together. I'm sure you don't want that."
"No," Oliver said, oddly quiet. "No, that's not what I want."
"Then what do you want?"
He hesitated, and then he inclined his head. "I'll let you know," he said. "But for now . . . for now, a truce."
Amelie let another second tick away, and then stepped away from him. "I'll dispatch police to monitor the roads out of town. We'll have to hope that we can maintain order with more conventional means until--"
"Until what?" Myrnin asked bitterly. "Until I create another miracle? Another brilliant feat that turns fatal because you won't allow me to build it as it must be built? No. No, I'll create nothing else, Amelie. This cannot be done properly unless you stop telling me how to do my job!"
"Ah," Oliver said. "I think I have thought of what it is I want. To never have to listen to him complain again."
Amelie raised her pale eyebrows, staring at Myrnin, and then turned to Claire.
"It's no longer Myrnin's job," she said. "And I suppose you'd best begin thinking how you'll solve our problems, Claire." "What?"
"It was going to be your responsibility in a few years. This merely moves up our plans, I believe. Myrnin can assist you, but I will expect results within the week."
Claire realized, with a sinking sensation, that she'd just become . . . the new Myrnin? How was that even possible?
Things could not possibly be worse than that--until she failed. She supposed then things would take a turn for the extra bad.
At least she had a week.
Myrnin shook his head. "Amelie. Don't be ridiculous. The girl isn't--"
"Enough," Amelie said, and the iron snap of command in her voice made him fall silent. "You've done enough. People are dead, Myrnin."
Claire couldn't even say she was wrong. Not about that.
Shane cleared his throat. "Uh, about Kyle--"
Amelie turned to Oliver. "Make the call," she said. "Unless you're planning to take my place."
He let a few seconds go by, then pulled out his cell phone and ordered the prisoner in Founder's Square released.
Well, Claire thought. At least somebody would be happy.
She didn't see how it was going to be her.
Back home that evening, the four of them sat down to dinner. It was a quiet kind of thing, a little awkward, as if none of them knew where to start. They were all bruised, cut, and exhausted, for one thing; for another, nobody really wanted to say what they were all thinking. Or to bring up Shane's dad at all.
Eve, of course, decided to go at it from the opposite direction completely. "I can't believe I went home to my parents'," she said, a little too brightly. "Ugh. Revolting. My mom made my room into a hoarder's paradise, you know, full of boxes of crap. She ought to be in some freaky reality show. The weirdest part about it? I didn't really expect anything else, somehow. I just figured she'd pitched out my stuff and was pretending I'd never even been there. I pretended that often enough." Eve played with her plate of spaghetti, but she wasn't really eating it. "I kept asking her where my dad was. She kept saying he was on his way home." Eve's father, Claire remembered, had been dead a year. No wonder she was playing with her food instead of eating. Eve swallowed a gulp of water. "I wonder if maybe I should call her, see if she's okay."
"We can go over there if you want," Michael offered. "I know you don't like going by yourself."
Eve gave him a grateful little smile. "You're awesome," she said. "Maybe tomorrow?"
Shane wasn't talking at all. He was eating, though; he'd already cleaned one plate of spaghetti and was working on his second one. She wanted to talk to him, but she knew he wouldn't want her bringing it up, not in front of the others. Shane didn't like to be vulnerable, not even with his friends. He knew they'd understand, but that wasn't the point. He just needed to be . . . stronger than everybody else.
Eve said, "At least you've got an appetite, Shane."
That fell into an awkward silence, because Shane didn't come back at her at all. He just kept eating. Claire twirled some noodles on her fork and said, "My mom called. Dad's getting surgery this weekend in Dallas. They said he needed some kind of valve transplant, but it all looks like it's going to be okay, really okay. I'm going to ask for permission to go up on Friday."
"You don't have to ask permission," Shane said then. "You can just go. The machine's dead. Just go." His voice sounded flat, and wrong.
They all looked at one another, the rest of them. "There'll be roadblocks," Michael finally said. "It's not that easy."
"Yeah, it never is, is it?" Shane threw down his fork, pushed back from the table, and took his stuff into the kitchen. Claire went after him, but as soon as she came in the door, he dumped his food in the trash and his plate in the sink and turned to go.
He held up both hands, pushing her off without touching her. "Give me some room, okay? I need room." He left. She stood there, looking at his plate sitting in the sink, and felt her heart breaking again. Why wouldn't he talk to her? What had she done? It hurt; it really did. She felt like . . . like she was losing him again.
She was tired of losing him.
Claire walked back out to the table. Shane had already disappeared upstairs, and his door shut with a slam. Michael and Eve were looking down at their plates.
"Awkward," Eve finally said, but her heart wasn't in it.
Michael shook his head. "He lost his dad. It hurts."
"I know," Eve said sharply. "Remember? Not like I don't have the T-shirt for that one."
"Sorry. I just meant--"
"I know." Eve sighed, and took his hand. "I know. Sorry. I'm just a little . . . weird. I guess we all are."
"The truth is, he lost his dad a long time ago. Maybe when his sister died. Maybe when Frank . . . uh . . ." Claire didn't quite know how to say it.
Michael did. "Got turned."
"Yeah," she said. "I don't think he ever really faced it, though. Now it's right in his face. He can't really avoid it anymore. His dad's just . . . gone."
"That's not it," Shane said from the stairs. They all jumped, even Michael, whom Claire guessed hadn't heard him coming, either. Shane could be quiet when he wanted to. "It isn't that he's gone. My problem is that I knew my dad. I was afraid of him, and then I wanted to please him, and then I hated him because I thought he was just a hundred percent evil, especially after he turned vamp. But he wasn't. I was wrong about him. He came to help. And when he had to, he died so we could make it through this."
They all looked at him silently. Shane sat down on the steps.
"The point is," he said, "it's too late for me to really love him now. That's what hurts."
Claire got up, holding her plate, but Eve took it away from her. "Go," she said. "I've got this. But you owe me laundry duty."
Claire nodded and went up the steps. Shane raised his head, and their eyes met. She held out her hand.
After a long moment, he took it and stood up. "You know, even when I didn't know you, I wanted to know you," he said. "So I guess you're stuck with me. Sorry."
"I'm not," Claire said, and led him upstairs.
Her cell phone rang at about four in the morning, vibrating around on the nightstand and sending her fumbling for it in a bleary haze. Claire pulled herself carefully out from under Shane's heavy arm and slipped out of bed, grabbed a robe, and walked out into the hall to answer the call. The screen said Myrnin. Claire closed her eyes tightly for a moment, then flipped the phone open and said, "It's four in the morning. And it wasn't exactly an easy day."
Myrnin said, "I can put up the boundaries."
The way he said it gave her pause, because it wasn't manic; it wasn't crazy; it was just . . . a simple statement of fact. "You can? How? The whole thing was . . . destroyed."
"Yes," he said. "It was. But as I once told you, the machine was a support system. An amplifier. The important part of creating the boundaries and the memory control isn't the machine; it's the mind."
"Myrnin--" Claire wanted to scream, throw the phone, do something crazy. But she didn't. She swallowed all that and forced herself to say, very carefully, "Myrnin, I am not putting my brain into a jar to get you out of the doghouse with Amelie. That's never, ever going to happen."
"I know that," Myrnin said. "You don't need to."
Claire drew in a deep, calming breath. "I don't."
"Come to the lab," he said. "Come now."
He hung up. Claire stared at the phone through narrowed, bleary eyes, then turned around and went back into her room.
Getting dressed in silence, in the dark, was a little challenging, but she managed, and sneaked carefully down the hallway, down the stairs, and hopped on one foot as she put her shoes on in the living room. She turned on a light and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked . . . well, pretty much like she'd been rousted out of bed without enough sleep. Bedhead. Creased skin. Wrinkled clothes.
"I'll kill him if this is for nothing," she told her reflection, and grabbed her backpack, which was sitting in the corner. She threw it over her shoulder and walked over to the section of blank wall where the portal would appear. A few moments of concentration, and the black doorway appeared, stabilized, and she walked through, into Myrnin's lab.
It was still a whole lot worse for wear. Broken glass glittered on the floor. Tables were overturned. There was still a faint haze of dust in the air.
Then it occurred to her tired, lagging brain, with a real shock, that she shouldn't have been able to do that. Not coming through the portal. The machine had controlled the portal . . . and the machine was a crushed metal mess in the basement.
Why had it worked?
Myrnin was in the back of the lab, standing in front of . . . something she couldn't see too clearly. He didn't turn around. "Claire," he said. "Thank you for coming."
"Yeah. Does Amelie know you're doing this?"
"She instructed me to rest," he said. "So no, in fact she doesn't. But ultimately, I don't think she'll be angry."
"You don't think so? Are you crazy?"
He didn't answer that directly. "I've been working all night," he said. "Some of the parts were still usable, but I was only able to cobble together the very basic elements."
"Elements of what?"
Myrnin finally moved, and Claire walked a few more steps toward him before stopping cold, her breath locked in her throat, her heart lurching, then hammering very, very fast.
Because that was a brain. In a jar. A jar of faintly green liquid that bubbled. There were tubes, copper tubes, circulating liquid, and there were wires, and there were clockworks ticking along, but there was a brain.
In a jar.
"What did you do?" Claire's voice didn't sound at all like her own. She didn't even realize that she'd said it out loud, until Myrnin looked directly at her.
"What I had to do," he said. "It won't work any other way. It's too dangerous. I can't risk anything like that happening again, and neither should you, Claire. Next time, we may not be so fortunate."
"You killed somebody," she said. Her throat was so tight that she thought she might choke on the words. "Oh, my God, you killed somebody and . . . put their brain . . . in--"
"The point is that the barriers are up," Myrnin said. "And we are safe. I did what I knew had to be done. But you mustn't tell him."
"Tell who?" Claire couldn't decide whether she was furious or terrified. Probably both.
Myrnin didn't answer.
The voice came out of her cell phone speaker, slightly muffled by her pocket--an eerie, disembodied voice that nevertheless was familiar.
The last thing she'd heard it say was Good-bye.
"He means Shane," said Frank Collins. The brain in the jar. "Don't tell Shane, Claire. This is going to have to be our secret."