We exited into the hall to talk in private—out of sight of the hollow, but only just.
“Let’s make a list of all the terrible things this man is responsible for,” Emma said.
“Okay,” I said. “One: he created hollows. Without meaning to, though.”
“But he did. And he created ambrosia, and he took away Abe’s power, or most of it.”
Without meaning to, I nearly said again. But Bentham’s intentions were beside the point. I knew what she was getting at: after all these revelations, I wasn’t so confident about putting our fates and those of our friends in Bentham’s hands—or his plans. He may have been well-meaning, but he had a dismal track record.
“Can we trust him?” Emma said.
“Do we have a choice?”
“That wasn’t my question.”
I thought for a moment. “I think we can,” I said. “I just hope he’s used up all his bad luck.”
* * *
“COME QUICKLY! IT’S WAKING UP!”
Shouts echoed from the kitchen. Emma and I dashed through the doorway to find everyone cowering in a corner, terrified of a groggy hollowgast that was struggling to sit up but had managed only to droop its upper body over the edge of the sink. Only I could see its open mouth, its tongues lolling limply across the floor.
Close your mouth, I said in Hollow. Making a sound like it was slurping spaghetti, it sucked them back into its jaws.
The hollow couldn’t quite do it, so I took it by the shoulders and guided it into a seated position. It was recovering with remarkable speed, though, and after another few minutes it had regained enough motor skill to be coaxed out of the sink and onto its feet. It no longer limped. All that was left of the gash in its neck was a faint white line, not unlike the ones fast disappearing from my own face. As I relayed this, Bentham couldn’t hide his irritation that Mother Dust had healed the hollow so thoroughly.
“Can I help it if my dust is potent?” Mother Dust said via Reynaldo.
Exhausted, they went off to find beds. Emma and I were tired, too—it was nearing dawn and we hadn’t slept—but the progress we were making was exciting and hope had given us a second wind.
Bentham turned to us, eyes alight. “Moment of truth, friends. Shall we see if we can get the old girl running again?”
By that he meant his machine, and there was no need to ask.
“Let’s not waste another second,” Emma said.
Bentham summoned his bear and I rallied my hollowgast. PT appeared in the doorway, scooped his master into his arms, and together they led us through the house. What a strange sight we would’ve made, had anyone been watching: a dapper gentleman cradled in the arms of a bear, Sharon in his billowing black cloak, Emma stifling yawns with a hand that kept smoking, and plain old me muttering at my white-daubed hollowgast, who even in perfect health shuffled as he walked, as if his bones didn’t quite fit his body.
Through the halls and down the stairs we went, into the bowels of the house: rooms crowded with clanking machinery, each smaller than the last, until finally we came to a door that the bear couldn’t fit through. We stopped. PT set his master down.
“Here it is,” Bentham said, beaming like a proud father. “The heart of my Panloopticon.”
Bentham opened the door. PT waited outside while the rest of us followed him in.
The small room was dominated by a fearsome machine made of iron and steel. Its guts stretched from wall to wall, a baffling array of flywheels and pistons and valves glistening with oil. It looked like a machine capable of making unholy noise, but for now it sat cold and silent. A greasy man stood between two giant gears, tightening something with a wrench.
“This is my assistant, Kim,” said Bentham.
I recognized him: he was the man who’d chased us out of the Siberia Room.
“I’m Jacob,” I said. “We surprised you in the snow yesterday.”
“What were you doing out there?” Emma asked him.
“Freezing half to death,” the man said bitterly, and he went on wrenching.
“Kim’s been helping me search for a way into my brother’s Panloopticon,” said Bentham. “If such a door exists in the Siberia Room, it’s likely at the bottom of a deep crevasse. I’m certain Kim will be grateful if your hollowgast succeeds in bringing some of our other rooms online, where there are sure to be doors in more accessible places.”
Kim grunted, his face skeptical as he looked us up and down. I wondered how many years he’d spent battling frostbite and combing the crevasses.
Bentham got down to business. He issued clipped orders to his assistant, who twisted a few dials and pulled a long lever. The gears of the machine gave a hiss and sputter, then turned a degree.
“Bring in the creature,” Bentham said in a low voice.
The hollow had been waiting outside, and I called him in. He shuffled through the doorway and let out a low gravelly growl, as if he knew something unpleasant was about to happen to him.
The assistant dropped his wrench but quickly retrieved it.
“Here is the battery chamber,” Bentham said, drawing our attention to a large box in the corner. “You must guide the creature inside, where he’ll be restrained.”
The chamber resembled a windowless phone booth made of cast iron. A nest of tubes sprouted from its top and connected to pipes that ran along the ceiling. Bentham grasped the heavy door’s handle and pulled it open with a grating rasp. I peered inside. The walls were smooth gray metal perforated with small holes, like the interior of an oven. Along the back hung a collection of thick leather straps.