If the authorities outside of Moonlight Cove tumbled to what was happening there, or if it turned out that virtually every one of the New People was a regressive—or worse—and the Moonhawk Project was a disaster, the remedy would not be poisoned koolaid this time, like Reverend Jim Jones used down there in Jonestown, but lethal commands broadcast in bursts of microwaves, received by microsphere computers inside the New People, instantly translated into the language of the governing program, and acted upon. Thousands of hearts would stop as one, The New People would fall, as one, and Moonlight Cove would in an instant become a graveyard of the unburied.
Loman drove through the first parking lot, into the second, and headed toward the row of spaces reserved for the top executives.
If I wait for Shaddack to see that Moonhawk's gone bad and to take us with him, Loman thought, he won't be doing it because he cares about cleaning up the messes he makes, not that damn albino-spider-of-a-man. He'll take us with him just for the bloody hell of it, just so he can go out with a big bang, so the world will stand in awe of his power, a man of such incredible power that he could command thousands to die simultaneously with him.
More than a few sickos would see him as a hero, idolize him. Some budding young genius might want to emulate him. That was no doubt what Shaddack had in mind. At best, if Moonhawk succeeded and all of mankind was eventually converted, Shaddack literally would be master of his world. At worst, if it all went bad and he had to kill himself to avoid falling into the hands of the authorities, he would become a nearly mythical figure of dark inspiration, whose malign legend would encourage legions of the mad and power-mad, a Hitler for the silicon age.
Loman braked at the end of the row of cars.
He wiped at his greasy face. His hand was shaking.
He was filled with a longing to abandon this responsibility and seek the Pressure-free existence of the regressive.
But he resisted.
If Loman killed Shaddack first, before Shaddack had a chance to kill himself, the legend would be finished. Loman would die a few seconds after Shaddack died, as would all the New People, but at least the legend would have to incorporate the fact that this high-tech Jim Jones had perished at the hands of one of the creatures he'd created. His power would be shown to be finite; he would be seen as clever but not clever enough, a flawed god, sharing both the hubris and the fate of Wells's Moreau, and his work more universally would be viewed as folly.
Loman turned right, drove to the row of executive parking spaces, and was disappointed to see that neither Shaddack's Mercedes nor his charcoal-gray van was in his reserved slot. He might still be there. He could have been driven to the office by someone else or could have parked elsewhere.
Loman swung his cruiser into Shaddack's reserved space. He cut the engine.
He was carrying his revolver in a hip holster. He had checked twice before to be sure it was fully loaded. He checked again.
Between Shaddack's house and New Wave, Loman had parked along the road to write a note, which he would leave on Shaddack's body, clearly explaining that he had killed his maker. When authorities entered Moonlight Cove from the unconverted world beyond, they would find the note and know.
He would execute Shaddack not because he was motivated by noble purpose. Such high-minded self-sacrifice required a depth of feeling he could no longer achieve. He would murder Shaddack strictly because he was terrified that Shaddack would learn about Denny, or would discover that others had become what Denny had become, and would find a way to make all of them enter into an unholy union with machines.
Molten silver eyes …
Drool spilling from the gaping mouth …
The segmented probe bursting from the boy's forehead and seeking the vaginal heat of the computer …
Those blood-freezing images, and others, played through, Loman's mind on an endless loop of memory.
He'd kill Shaddack to save himself from being forced to become what Denny had become, and the destruction of Shaddack's legend would just be a beneficial side-effect.
He holstered his gun and got out of the car. He hurried through the rain to the main entrance, pushed through the etched-glass doors into the marble-floored lobby, turned right, away from the elavators, and approached the main reception desk. In corporate luxury, the place rivaled the most elaborate headquarters of high-tech companies in the more famous Silicon Valley, farther south. Detailed marble moldings, polished brass trim, fine crystal sconces, and modernistic crystal chandeliers were testament to New Wave's success.
The woman on duty was Dora Hankins. He had known her all of his life. She was a year older than he. In high school he had dated her sister a couple of times.
She looked up as he approached, said nothing.
"Shaddack?" he said.
"When's he due?"
"His secretary will know."
"I'll go up."
As he boarded an elevator and pushed the 3 on the control board, Loman reflected on the small talk in which he and Dora Hankins would have engaged in the days before they had been put through the Change. They would have bantered with each other, exchanged news about their families, and commented on the weather. Not now. Small talk was a pleasure of their former world. Converted, they had no use for it. In fact, though he recalled that small talk had once been a part of civilized life, Loman could no longer quite remember why he ever had found it worthwhile or what kind of pleasure it had given him.
Shaddack's office suite was on the northwest corner of the third floor. The first room off the hall was the reception lounge, Plushly carpeted in beige Edward Fields originals, impressively furnished in plump Roche-Bobois leather couches and brass tables with inch-thick glass tops. The single piece of art was a Painting by Jasper Johns—an original, not a print.
What happens to artists in the new word coming? Loman wondered.
But he knew the answer. There would be none. Art was emotion embodied in paint on a canvas, words on a page, music in a symphony hall. There would be no art in the new world. And if there was, it would be the art of fear. The writer's most frequently used words would all be synonyms of darkness. The musician would write dirges of one form or another. The painter's most used pigment would be black.
Vicky Lanardo, Shaddack's executive secretary, was at her desk. She said, "He's not in."
Behind her the door to Shaddack's enormous private office stood open. No lights were on in there. It was illuminated only by the light of the storm-torn day, which came through the blinds in ash-gray bands.
"When will he be in?" Loman asked.
"I don't know."
"Do you know where he is?"
Loman walked out. For a while he prowled the half-deserted corridors, offices, labs, and tech rooms, hoping to spot Shaddack.
Before long, however, he decided that Shaddack was not lurking about the premises. Evidently the great man was staying mobile on this last day of Moonlight Cove's conversion.
Because of me, Loman thought. Because of what I said to him last. night at Peyser's. He's afraid of me, and he's either staying mobile or gone to ground somewhere, making himself difficult to find.
Loman left the building, returned to his patrol car, and set out in search of his maker.
In the downstairs half-bath off the kitchen, na*ed from the waist up, Sam sat on the closed lid of the commode, and Tessa performed the same kind of nursing duties she'd performed earlier for Chrissie. But Sam's wounds were more serious than the girl's.
In a dime-size circle on his forehead, above his right eye, the skin had been tensed off, and in the center of the circle the flesh had been entirely eaten away, revealing a speck of bared bone about an eighth of an inch in diameter. Stanching the flow of blood from those tiny, severed capillaries required a few minutes of continuous pressure, followed by the application of iodine, a liberal coating of NuSkin, and a tightly taped gauze bandage. But even after all these efforts, the gauze slowly darkened with red stain.
As Tessa worked on him, Sam told them what had happened:
"… so if I hadn't shot her in the head, just then … if I'd been a second or two slower, I think that damn thing, that probe, whatever it was, it would have bored right through my skull and sunk into my brain, and she'd have connected with me the way she was connected with that computer."
Her toga forsaken in favor of dry jeans and blouse, Chrissie stood just inside the bathroom, white-faced but wanting to hear all.
Harry had pulled his wheelchair into the doorway.
Moose was lying at Sam's feet, rather than at Harry's. The dog seemed to realize that at the moment the visitor needed comforting more than Harry did.
Sam was colder to the touch than could be explained by his time in the chilly rain. He was trembling, and periodically the shivers that passed through him were so powerful that his teeth chattered.
The more Sam talked, the colder Tessa became, too, and in time his shivers were communicated to her.
His right wrist had been cut on both sides, when Harley Coltrane had gripped him with a powerful bony hand. No major blood vessels had been severed; neither gash required stitches, and Tessa quickly stopped the bleeding there. The bruises, which had barely begun to appear and would not fully flower for hours yet, were going to be worse than the cuts. He complained of pain in the joint, and his hand was weak, but she did not think that any bones had been broken or crushed.
"… as if they'd somehow been given the ability to control their physical form," Sam said shakily, "to make anything they wanted of themselves, mind over matter, just like Chrissie said when she told us about the priest, the one who started to become the creature from that movie."
The girl nodded.
"I mean, they changed before my eyes, grew these probes, tried to spear me. Yet with this incredible control of their bodies, of their physical substance, all they apparently wanted to make of themselves was … something out of a bad dream."
The wound on his abdomen was the least of the three. As on his forehead, the skin was stripped away in a dime-sized circle, though the probe that had struck him there seemed to have been meant to burn rather than cut its way into him. His flesh was scorched, and the wound itself was pretty much cauterized.
From his wheelchair Harry said, "Sam, do you think they're really people who control themselves, who have chosen to become machinelike, or are they people who've somehow been taken over by machines, against their will?"
"I don't know," Sam said. "It could be either, I guess."
"But how could they be taken over, how could this happen, how could such a change in the human body be accomplished? And how does what's happened to the Coltranes tie in with the Boogeymen?"
"Damned if I know," Sam said. "Somehow it's all related to New Wave. Got to be. And none of us here knows anything much about the cutting edge of that kind of technology, so we don't even have the basic knowledge required to speculate intelligently. It might as well be magic to us, supernatural. The only way we'll ever really understand what's happened is to get help from outside, quarantine Moonlight Cove, seize New Wave's labs and records, and reconstruct it the way fire marshals reconstruct the history of a fire from what they sift out of the ashes."
"Ashes?" Tessa asked as Sam stood up and as she helped him into his shirt. "This talk about fires and ashes—and other things you've said—make it sound as if you think whatever's in Moonlight Cove is building real fast toward an explosion or something."
"It is," he said.
At first he tried to button his shirt with one hand, but then he allowed Tessa to do it for him. She noticed that his skin was still cold and that his shivers were not subsiding with time.
He said, "All these murders they've got to cover up, these things that stalk the night … there's a sense that a collapse has begun, that whatever they tried to do here isn't turning out like they expected, and that the collapse is accelerating." He was breathing too quickly, too shallowly. He paused, took a deeper breath. "What I saw in the Coltranes' house … that didn't look like anything anyone could have planned, not something you'd want to do to people or that they'd want for themselves. It looked like an experiment out of control, biology run amok, reality turned inside out, and I swear to God that if those kinds of secrets are hidden in the houses of this town, then the whole project has to be collapsing on New Wave right now, coming down fast and hard on their heads, whether they want to admit it or not. It's all blowing up now, right now, one hell of an explosion, and we're in the middle of it."
From the moment he'd stumbled through the kitchen door, dripping rain and blood, throughout the time Tessa had cleaned and bandaged his wounds, she had noticed something that frightened her more than his paleness and shivering. He kept touching them. He had embraced Tessa in the kitchen when she gasped at the sight of the bleeding hole in his forehead; he'd held her and leaned against her and assured her that he was okay. Primarily he seemed to be reassuring himself that she and Harry and Chrissie were okay, as if he had expected to come back and find them … changed. He hugged Chrissie, too, as if she were his own daughter, and he said, "It'll be all right, everything'll be all right," when he saw how frightened she was. Harry held out a hand in concern, and Sam grasped it and was reluctant to let go. In the bathroom, while Tessa dressed his wounds, he had repeatedly touched her hands, her arms, and had once put a hand against her cheek as if wondering at the softness and warmth of her skin. He reached out to touch Chrissie, too, where she stood inside the bathroom door, patting her shoulder, holding her hand for a moment and giving it a reassuring squeeze. Until now he had not been a toucher. He had been reserved, self-contained, cool, even distant. But during the quarter of an hour he'd spent in the Coltrane house, he had been so profoundly shaken by what he had seen that his shell of self-imposed isolation had cracked wide open; he had come to want and need the human contact that, only a short while ago, he had not even ranked as desirable as good Mexican food, Guinness Stout, and Goldie Hawn films.
When she contemplated the intensity of the horror necessary to transform him so completely and abruptly, Tessa was more frightened than ever because Sam Booker's redemption seemed akin to that of a sinner who, on his deathbed, glimpsing hell, turns desperately to the god he once shunned, seeking comfort and reassurance. Was he less sure now of their chances of escaping? Perhaps he was seeking human contact because, having denied it to himself for so many years, he believed that only hours remained in which to experience the communion of his own kind before the great, deep endless darkness settled over them.