the dead town - Page 32

“Most of them are not that way,” the giant says. “But among them are enough like you, Victor, to lead them astray again and again, to be their conniving politicians and their self-sickened intellectuals, their self-satisfied elites who seduce them away from their better natures. There is a serpent in the world, and having signed a pledge with it, you spent your life—your lives—spreading its venom.”

Victor knows he has the right side of this debate, and he does not hesitate to press forward, face-to-face: “They think themselves exceptional, a part of them eternal, but consider the world they have made, a sewer of vice and self-interest, of worm-riddled bread and grotesque circuses that become more macabre year by year. They make a claim to lives of meaning, yet they pursue nothing but meaningless thrills.”

“Because it is your kind among them who bake the worms into the bread and write the scripts for the circuses. You repeat the same tired argument.”

“But if for no other reason,” Victor Immaculate says, “surely one as ancient and wise and intelligent as you must hate them for their riotous individuality, every personality different from the other, the whole vast, tumultuous sea of them, not a fraction as organized as the lowly crawling ants, seething with eccentricities, with an infinite variety of passions and prejudices, likes and dislikes, schemes—”

“Hopes and dreams,” says Deucalion.

“—quirks and useless idiosyncrasies—”

“Charms and talents,” Deucalion says, “gifts and graces.”

Waiting for his mental power to soar to unprecedented heights when the latest round of supplements kicks in, Victor Immaculate does not attempt to break free of the giant, but raises one hand to the undamaged half of the brute’s tattooed face, touching it tenderly, much as a loving father might touch it, and Deucalion doesn’t shrink from the contact.

“Surely you see,” Victor says, “that they will never be as one, work as one, unite without qualification in a quest for greatness. They will never sacrifice their individuality for the betterment of the race, will never bend their billions of minds and hearts to the same goal and thereby conquer nature and the universe forever.”

“God spare them that,” Deucalion replies.

And then a surprising and unpleasant thing begins to happen.

Deucalion didn’t know how the execution would transpire, only that this Victor, this self-proclaimed Immaculate, would perish and all of his foul work with him.

The end arrived when he began to be aware of the pulses of light passing through his eyes. Previously, he had seen the phenomenon only in mirrors or in pools of still water. Now, cold white waves of light passed across Victor’s upturned face. In the clone’s frightened eyes, incandescence throbbed, too, although it wasn’t an inner luminosity but a reflection of his executioner’s eyeshine.

In his mind’s ear, Deucalion heard the storm—and more—on the night that he had been born from the dead: the escalating crashes of thunder that shook the heavens as if to bring them down like vaults of quake-shocked stone, the burr and buzz of arcane machines echoing off the walls of the old windmill, his anguished cries as he resisted his creation, his maker’s shrieks of triumph, a mad cacophony. And in memory, he saw once more the first thing that he had seen when opening his eyes on that distant night: the colossal bolts of chain lightning turning the night to blazing day beyond the mill windows and crackling down the cables by which Victor induced it into his demonic machinery, not the usual lightning of an ordinary storm, but lightning of unprecedented explosiveness, light alive.

Now he felt that same raw power surging through him, along his arms and into his hands, into the body of this Victor Immaculate. The madman’s clothes smoked and burst into flames, but the flames didn’t burn Deucalion’s hands. Victor’s skin blackened and peeled, his eye sockets splashed full of fire, flames licked from his mouth, and in mere seconds, he collapsed out of Deucalion’s grip, reduced to ashes and fragments of charred bones.

More than two centuries of scheming toward utopia were at an end. The only thing of significance that Victor achieved was a death toll in the many thousands, and even that appeared insignificant when compared to the work of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and others, who murdered in the tens of millions. Under all his names, Leben and Helios and Frankenstein, Victor was a small man of small ideas, large only on the silver screen in the theater of his demented mind.

On a nearby gurney, the na*ed body of a replicant struggled to rise as Victor burned, but shuddered and fell back, dead. Until now, Deucalion had not realized that this particular Communitarian was a duplicate of the President of the United States.

As the three Builders approached the disabled Hummer, Sully York said, “Damn if I’ll let it end like this. Bryce, let’s me and you give these sonsofbitches such a case of indigestion that Grace and Travis will have time to run.”

He threw open the driver’s door and, issuing a muttered war cry, clambered out into the falling snow with his gun and with a lifetime of experience surviving hopeless situations. He heard Bryce getting out of the passenger door, and he thought, By God, it’s always good to give the blighters what-for with a good man at your back.

He was almost disappointed when, before the battle could begin, the Builders collapsed simultaneously into apparently inert piles of what appeared to be, but certainly wasn’t, gravel.

With the rattle of gunfire at the farther end of the building, Chief Jarmillo and Deputy Nelson Sternlagen reached the back door of KBOW, the two Builders immediately behind them. Jarmillo handed the key to Sternlagen—he wasn’t quite sure why—and Sternlagen handed it back to him, and they both stood for a moment, staring at the key in the chief’s hand. They never did get it in the lock.

The face in the abdomen of the headless woman declared, “I am your Builder.” The mouth stretched wide, and from it came a jet of silvery gray sludge—that halted inches from Rusty’s face, quivered in the air, and fell to the floor, as did the headless woman. This once phantasmagoric and threatening figure was now an apparently harmless pile of … something.

Heart racing nonetheless, Rusty noticed that the fragments of the glass-faced man had continued fracturing until they now formed little mounds of what might have been sand but probably wasn’t. And the door chimes were not ringing.

He switched on the porch lamp and hesitantly put his face to the window. The porch seemed to be deserted.

When he opened the door, the handsome man with the I-can-sell-you-anything smile was gone. Nothing remained but another strange pile of … something.

Rusty stood in the cold, on the porch, listening to the night. He heard no gunshots. No screams. No cadres of models were marching in the street. The handsome pair of German shepherds appeared, no longer fleeing in terror, wandering aimlessly, smelling this and that. One of them abruptly dropped and rolled onto its back in the freshly fallen snow, kicking its legs joyfully in the air.

As suddenly as the nightmare had begun, it was over.

Returning to the house, Rusty called, “Corrina, Corrina,” all the way up the stairs. By the time he reached the master bedroom, he was singing her name.

At the core computer in the Hive, in a room littered with the bodies of Victor’s people, for several hours Deucalion worked as a man possessed, which in a way he was. In his state of possession, he performed miracles with the trove of data, eliminating everything that revealed how Victor had created his Communitarians and Builders, while leaving ample proof of what he had done.

Unlike those in Rainbow Falls, the telephones in the Hive still functioned. With an ease that further suggested that he did not work unaided, Deucalion was able to make online contact with a trustworthy reporter at a major cable-news network, to whom he opened all the many digital files that he had just redacted.

Carson and Michael had to get out of that house of grief, in which four members of the Riders in the Sky Church had died—two men, one woman, and a child. Carson knew, as did Michael, that they could not have saved the little girl, that no one could have, not when their enemies were two colonies of nanoanimals against which no weapon could defend.

They walked together in the post-dawn shadows under the immense evergreens that shrouded the Samples property. Early light, clear and golden, speared down here and there between the laden boughs of the trees, spotlighting those portions of the ground where falling snow had reached, leaving dark those areas carpeted with dead needles.

The storm ended before first light. Now the chattering rotors of a helicopter grew louder, louder, and passed overhead, out of sight above the trees. She supposed the aircraft must be from the Montana State Police or another state law-enforcement agency. Soon the sky would be full of helicopters and the highways into town choked with the vehicles of first responders and the media.

Carson was inexpressibly grateful to be alive, hand in hand with Michael, but as never before in her life of close calls, she felt to a degree guilty for having lived when so many perished. Her sweet and thoughtful husband, usually quick with a funny line, was unable to amuse her now; but she would have been lost entirely without him at her side.

They passed between the massive trunks of two alpine firs, and ahead Deucalion walked toward them where he had not been walking an instant earlier. They met in a shaft of light.

“It’s over forever this time,” the giant said.

“We thought so before,” Michael reminded him.

“But this time, there is no slightest doubt. None whatsoever. I feel myself being … called back. I should have realized after New Orleans that if it was really over, my journey on this world would have come to an end, as well.”

“And now it will?” Carson asked.

“It is ending even now,” he said. “I’ve only returned to put your minds at ease, to assure you that Frankenstein is history and that your lives will never again be braided into his. Be happy, be at peace. Now I must go.”

Michael reached out for Deucalion’s hand.

The giant shook his head. “I didn’t come to say good-bye. There is no such thing as parting forever.”

A cloud occluded the shaft of sunshine, and shadow fell upon them.

Deucalion said, “Until we meet again,” and turned away from Carson and Michael.

She expected him to vanish in the turn, but he didn’t take his leave in his customary fashion. He walked away into the early-morning gloom beneath the trees, although he did not fade as a shadow into shadows. Instead, as he receded through the woods, a luminosity rose in him, soft at first but then brighter, brighter, until he was a shining figure, an apparition of pure light. When he reached a shaft of sunshine in the distance, he melded with it—and was gone.

Chapter 65

Nine nights after Deucalion delivered the truckload of children to St. Bartholomew’s Abbey, and five days after they were bused home, shortly before seven o’clock on that cold October evening, Brother Salvatore, also known as Brother Knuckles, went into the yard outside the guest wing and stood staring at the night sky, where no stars twinkled. Snow began to fall precisely on the hour. He stood in it for a while, feeling no chill.

The five weddings were in early December. Originally, they were supposed to be separate ceremonies, but in the wake of 3,298 deaths, the town of Rainbow Falls needed to be lifted up and motivated to get on with life. Who first suggested a group ceremony and how it came to pass, no one could quite remember. Clergymen of different faiths agreed on the manner in which the rites would be administered, the church was filled to capacity, and over two thousand gathered in the square outside to listen to the portable loudspeakers that had been set up to share the moment with them.

Sully was too old for his bride, a fact no one would dispute, but neither of his best men—Travis nor Bryce—would tolerate anyone saying so aloud, which no one did. All the brides seemed beautiful, not least of all Grace, and Addison Hawk’s Erika. By God, Sully’s favorite moment of the whole affair—aside from Grace’s “I do”—was when young Rusty Billingham sang the song he had written for Corrina.

Because he was one of the heroes—and so colorful—Mr. Lyss was in demand for interviews. People wanted to pay him to tell his story, but he told it for free. This made Nummy proud of the old man.

They sold Grandmama’s little house. When it was learned that Mr. Lyss once was something called a certified public accountant and hoped to return to that work, Grandmama’s attorney, who looked after Nummy’s inheritance, wasn’t so suspicious of the old man. Besides, Mr. Lyss cleaned up really well. Sometimes Nummy thought Mr. Lyss almost didn’t look like Mr. Lyss anymore, but kind of like Mr. Chips in that old movie about a boys’ school.

So first Mr. Lyss took Nummy to see somewhere warm, with palm trees and everything, which was called California. They stayed in a little motel where everything was amazing to Nummy, until Mr. Lyss bought a lottery ticket. He’d always said he had a winning ticket in his wallet, but that was a lie. No surprise. Mr. Lyss tried not to lie anymore, and mostly he didn’t. But he didn’t have to lie when the new ticket won. The giant at KBOW told Nummy everything would change in fifty days, and it sure did, when Mr. Lyss won more money than Nummy could count if he lived a thousand years.

Mr. Lyss bought a house with a view of the sea. He and Nummy spent a lot of time on the patio, talking about just everything, which was nice. Mr. Lyss bought Nummy a real dog, instead of the stuffed dog he used to have. This one didn’t talk to you when you pushed the button behind its ear, but it was a lot more fun than the stuffed one. Maybe the best thing of all was when Mr. Lyss brought Grandmama’s body all the way from Rainbow Falls and buried her again in a cemetery with palm trees, close enough so they could go visit her every week.

At the little service, when they put Grandmama in the ground a second time, Mr. Lyss said something that Nummy didn’t understand and that Mr. Lyss wouldn’t explain. The old man looked down at her coffin in the grave, and he said, “Ma’am, I can never thank you enough for what you did for me. Nobody in my whole life ever did as much. Any joy I have, as long as I live, is because of you.”

This made no sense to Nummy because Grandmama died before Mr. Lyss came to Rainbow Falls. She never met the old man. But Mr. Lyss meant what he said so much that when he said it, his eyes were full of tears.

It was what they called a mystery.

When the reporters came, Jocko thought his life would be all sticks again. Sticks and buckets and clubs. People beating him with umbrellas. Didn’t imagine he would become the star of a TV show for kids. Famous coast-to-coast. Jumpin’ with Jocko! Nicest part—they filmed it in Rainbow Falls. Brought the studio to him. Didn’t have to move out of the pretty little house to Hollywood. Hollywood: Yuck. Blech. Gaaaah. Gaaaah. Kack. Feh. Fah. Foo. And hats! He had hundreds of funny hats with bells, each of them funnier than the others! He lived with Erika and Addison and Princess Chrissy, as he always would. But now he had his first best friend, who was also the producer and director of his hit TV show. Sammy Chakrabarty! TV genius! One hundred thirty pounds of fabulous entertainment ideas! Hard to believe Jocko was once a tumor. Once lived in a sewer. Once ate soap. Life is strange. And wonderful.