I feel that, somehow, we will suffer for the destruction of the old race.

"That's backward thinking," Jessica said. She had read my mind, of course. Her telepathic talents are stronger and more developed than either Jonathan's or mine. "Their deaths meant nothing. We cannot feel remorse. We are the new ones, with new emotions and new hopes and new dreams and new rules."

"Sure," I said. "You're right."


WEDNESDAY, WE WENT DOWN TO THE BEACH AND BURNED THE CORPSES of the dead sunbathers. We all like the sea, and we do not want to be without a stretch of unpolluted sand. Putrefying bodies make for a very messy beach.

When we finished the job, Jonathan and I were weary. But Jessica wanted to do the nasty.

"Children our age shouldn't be capable of that," Jonathan said.

"But we are capable," Jessica said. "We were meant to do it. And I want to. Now."

So we did the nasty. Jonathan and her. Then me and her. She wanted more, but neither of us cared to oblige.

Jessica stretched out on the beach. Her shapeless, slender body was white against the white sand. "We'll wait," she said.

"For what?" Jonathan asked.

"For the two of you to be ready again."


FOUR WEEKS AFTER THE END OF THE WORLD, JONATHAN AND I WERE alone on the beach, soaking up the sun. He was oddly silent for a while, almost as if he was afraid to speak.

At last he said, "Do you think it's normal for a girl her age to be always ... wanting like that? Even if she is one of the new race?"


"She seems ... driven."


"There's a purpose we don't grasp."

He was right. I sensed it too.

"Trouble," he said.


"Trouble coming."

"Maybe. But what trouble can there be after the end of the world?"


TWO MONTHS AFTER THE END OF THE WORLD AND THE BURNING OF OUR parents, when Jonathan and I were getting bored with the house and wanted to strike out for more exotic places, Jessica let us in on the big news. "We can't leave here just yet," she said. Her voice was especially forceful. "We can't leave for several more months. I'm pregnant."


WE BECAME AWARE OF THAT FOURTH CONSCIOUSNESS WHEN JESSICA WAS in her fifth month of pregnancy. We all woke in the middle of the night, drenched with sweat, nauseated, sensing this new person.

"It's the baby," Jonathan said. "A boy."

"Yes," I said, wincing at the psychic impact of the new being. "And although he's inside of you, Jessica, he's aware. He's unborn but completely aware."

Jessica was racked with pain. She whimpered helplessly.


"THE BABY WILL BE OUR EQUAL, NOT OUR SUPERIOR," JESSICA INSISTED. "And I won't listen to any more of this nonsense of yours, Jonathan."

She was only a child herself, yet she was swollen with child. She was getting to be more grotesque with each passing day.

"How can you know he isn't our superior?" Jonathan asked. "None of us can read his mind. None of us can—"

"New species don't evolve that fast," she said.

"What about us?"

"Besides, he's safe—he came from us," she said. Apparently, she thought that this truth made Jonathan's theory even more the lie.

"We came from our parents," Jonathan said. "And where are they? Suppose we aren't the new race. Suppose we're a brief, intermediate step—the cocoon stage between caterpillar and butterfly. Maybe the baby is—"

"We have nothing to fear from the baby," she insisted, patting her revolting stomach with both hands. "Even if what you say is true, he needs us. For reproduction."

"He needs you," Jonathan said. "He doesn't need us."

I sat and listened to the argument, not knowing what to think. In truth, I found it all a bit amusing even as it frightened me. I tried to make them see the humor: "Maybe we have this wrong. Maybe the baby is the Second Coming—the one Yeats wrote about in his poem, the beast slouching toward Bethlehem to be born."

Neither of them thought that was funny.

"I never could stand Yeats," Jonathan said.

"Yes," Jessica said, "such a gloomy ass, he was. Anyway, we're above superstitions like that. We're the new race with new emotions and new dreams and new hopes and new rules."

"This is a serious threat, Jerry," Jonathan said. "It's not anything to joke about."

And they were at it again, screaming at each other—quite like Mother and Father used to do when they couldn't make the household budget work. Some things never change.


THE BABY WOKE US REPEATEDLY EVERY NIGHT, AS THOUGH IT ENJOYED disturbing our rest. In Jessica's seventh month of pregnancy, toward dawn, we all were jolted awake by a thunder of thought energy that poured from the womb-wrapped being-to-be.

"I think I was wrong," Jonathan said.

"About what?" I asked. I could barely see him in the dark bedroom.

"It's a girl, not a boy," he said.

I probed out with my mind and tried to get a picture of the creature inside Jessica's belly. It resisted me successfully, for the most part, just as it resisted Jonathan's and Jessica's psychic proddings. But I was sure it was male, not female. I said so.

Jessica sat up in bed, her back against the headboard, both hands on her moving stomach. "You're wrong, both of you. I think it's a boy and girl. Or maybe neither one."

Jonathan turned on the bedside lamp in the house by the sea and looked at her. "What is that supposed to mean?"

She winced as the child within her struck out hard against her. "I'm in closer contact with it than either of you. I sense into it. It isn't like us."

"Then I was right," Jonathan said.

Jessica said nothing.

"If it's both sexes, or neither, it doesn't need any of us," he said.

He turned off the light again. There was nothing else to do.

"Maybe we could kill it," I said.

"We couldn't," Jessica said. "It's too powerful."

"Jesus!" Jonathan said. "We can't even read its mind! If it can hold off all three of us like that, it can protect itself for sure. Jesus!"

In the darkness, as the blasphemy echoed in the room, Jessica said, "Don't use that word, Jonathan. It's beneath us. We're above those old superstitions. We're the new breed. We have new emotions, new beliefs, new rules."

"For another month or so," I said.



ARTERIES OF LIGHT PULSED THROUGH THE BLACK SKY. IN THAT STROBOscopic blaze, millions of cold raindrops appeared to have halted in midfall. The glistening street reflected the celestial fire and seemed to be paved with broken mirrors. Then the lightning-scored sky went black again, and the rain resumed. The pavement was dark. Once more the flesh of the night pressed close on all sides.

Clenching his teeth, striving to ignore the pain in his right side, squinting in the gloom, Detective Frank Shaw gripped the Smith & Wesson .38 Chief's Special in both hands. He assumed a shooter's stance and squeezed off two rounds.

Ahead of Frank, Karl Skagg sprinted around the corner of the nearest warehouse just in time to save himself. The first slug bored a hole in the empty air behind him, and the second clipped the corner of the building.

The relentless roar of the rain on metal warehouse roofs and on the pavement, combined with rumbling thunder, effectively muffled the shots. Even if private security guards were at work in the immediate area, they probably had not heard anything, so Frank could not expect assistance.

He would have welcomed assistance. Skagg was big, powerful, a serial killer who had committed at least twenty-two murders. The guy was incredibly dangerous even in his best moments, and right now he was about as approachable as a whirling buzzsaw. This was definitely not a job for one cop.

Frank considered returning to his car and putting in a call for backup, but he knew that Skagg would slip away before the area could be cordoned off. No cop would call off a chase merely out of concern for his own welfare—especially not Frank Shaw.

Splashing across the puddled serviceway between two of the huge warehouses, Frank took the corner wide, in case Skagg was waiting for him just around the bend. But Skagg was gone.

Unlike the front of the warehouse, where concrete loading ramps sloped to the enormous roll-up garage doors, this side was mostly blank. Two hundred feet away, below a dimly glowing bulb in a wire security cage, was a man-size metal door. It was half open but falling shut.

Wincing at the pain in his side, Frank hurried to the entrance. He was surprised to see that the handle was torn off and that the lock was shattered, as if Skagg had used a crowbar or sledgehammer. Had he found a tool leaning against the warehouse wall, and had he used it to batter his way inside? He had been out of sight for mere seconds, no more than half a minute, which surely wasn't enough time to break through a steel door.

Why hadn't the burglar alarm sounded? Surely the warehouse was protected by a security system. And clearly Skagg had not entered with sufficient finesse to circumvent an alarm.

Thoroughly soaked, Frank shivered involuntarily when he put his back to the cold wall beside the door. He gritted his teeth, willed himself to stop shaking, and listened intently.

He heard only the hollow drumming of rain on metal roofs and walls. The sizzle of rain dancing on the wet pavement. The gurgle and slurp and chuckle of rain in gutters and downspouts.

Wind bleating. Wind hissing.

Frank broke the cylinder out of his revolver, tipped the two unused cartridges into his hand, dropped them in a pocket, and used a speedloader to put him back in business, fully stocked.

His right side throbbed. Minutes ago Skagg had taken him by surprise, stepping out of shadows with a length of rebar picked up at a construction site, swinging it as Mickey Mantle might have swung a baseball bat. Frank felt as if chunks of broken glass were working against one another in his deep muscles and bones; the pain sharpened slightly each time he drew a breath. Maybe he had a broken rib or two. Probably not ... but maybe. He was wet, cold, and weary.

He was also having fun.


TO OTHER HOMICIDE DETECTIVES, FRANK WAS KNOWN AS HARDSHELL Shaw. That was also what his buddies had called him during Marine Corps basic training more than twenty-five years ago, for he was stoical, tough, and could not be cracked. The name had followed him when he left the service and joined the Los Angeles Police Department. He never encouraged anyone to use the sobriquet, but they used it anyway because it was apt.

Frank was tall, wide in the shoulders, narrow in the waist and hips, with a rock-solid body. His enormous hands, when curled into fists, were so formidable that he usually needed only to brandish them to assure an adversary's cooperation. His broad face appeared to have been carved out of granite—and with some difficulty, with much breaking of chisels and snapping of hammers.

His colleagues in the homicide division of the LAPD sometimes claimed that Frank had only two basic expressions: mean and meaner.

His pale-blue eyes, clear as rainwater, regarded the world with icy suspicion. When thinking, he frequently sat or stood perfectly still for long periods during which the quickness and alertness of his blue eyes, contrasted with his immobility, gave the impression that he was peering out from within a shell.

He had a damn hard shell, so his friends claimed. But that was only half of what they said about him.

Now, finished reloading his revolver, he stepped in front of the damaged door to the warehouse. He kicked it open. Crouched, head down, holding the .38 in front of him, he went in fast, looking left and right, expecting Skagg to rush at him with a crowbar, hammer, or whatever tool the scumbag had used to get into the building.

To Frank's left was a twenty-foot-high wall of metal shelving filled with thousands of small boxes. To his right were large wooden crates stacked in rows, towering thirty feet overhead, extending half the length of the building, alternating with avenues wide enough to admit forklifts.

The banks of overhead fluorescents suspended from the fifty-foot-high warehouse ceiling were switched off. Only a few security lamps in conical tin shades shed a wan glow over the stored goods below, leaving most of the place sheathed in shadows.

Frank moved cautiously and silently. His soggy shoes squished, but that sound was barely audible over the pounding rain on the roof. With water dripping off his brow, his jawline, and the barrel of his gun, he eased from one row of crates to another, peering into each passageway.

Skagg was at the far end of the third aisle, about a hundred and fifty feet away, half in shadow, half in milk-pale light, waiting to see if Frank had followed him. He could have kept out of the light, could have crouched entirely in the gloom against the crates, where he might not have been visible; by waiting in plain sight, he seemed to be taunting Frank. Skagg hesitated as if to be sure that he had been spotted, and then he disappeared around the corner.

For five minutes they played hide-and-seek, moving stealthily through the maze of cartons and crates. Three times, Skagg allowed himself to be seen, although he never let Frank get close.

He's having fun too, Frank thought.

That made him angry.

High on the walls, under the cobweb-festooned eaves, were slit windows that helped illuminate the cavernous building during the day. Now, only the flicker of lightning revealed the existence of those narrow panes. Although that inconstant pulse did not brighten the warehouse, it occasionally caused shadows to leap disconcertingly, and twice Frank nearly shot one of those harmless phantoms.

Easing along another avenue, scanning the gloom on both sides, Frank heard a noise, a hard scraping. He knew at once what it was: a crate sliding on a crate.

He looked up. In the grayness high above, a sofa-size box-visible only as a black silhouette—teetered on the edge of the crate beneath it. Then it tipped over and plummeted straight toward him.

Wile E. Coyote time.

Frank threw himself forward, hit the floor, and rolled just as the crate exploded against the concrete where he had been standing. He averted his face as wood disintegrated into hundreds of splintery shards of shrapnel. The box had contained plumbing fixtures; bright, chrome-plated faucets and shower heads bounced along the floor, and a couple thumped off Frank's back and thighs.

Hot tears of agony burned in his eyes, for the pain in his right side flared brighter. Further abused by all of this activity, his battered ribs now seemed not merely broken but pulverized.

Overhead, Skagg let out a sound that was one part a cry of rage, one part an animalistic ululation celebrating the thrill of the hunt, and one part insane laughter.