The Dark Tower



As the baby's time neared, Susannah Dean looked around, once more counting her enemies as Roland had taught her.
You must never draw, he'd said, until you knoio how many are against you, or you've satisfied yourself that you can never know, or you 've decided it's your day to die. She wished she didn't also have to cope with the terrible thought-invading helmet on her head, but whatever that thing was, it didn't seem concerned with Susannah's effort to count those present at the arrival of Mia's chap. And that was good.
There was Sayre, the man in charge. The low man, with one of those red spots pulsing in the center of his forehead. There was Scowther, the doctor between Mia's legs, getting ready to officiate at the delivery. Sayre had roughed the doc up when Scowther had displayed a little too much arrogance, but probably not enough to interfere with his efficiency. There were five other low men in addition to Sayre, but she'd only picked out two names. The one with the bulldogjowls and the heavy, sloping gut was Haber. Next to Haber was a bird-thing with the brown feathered head and vicious beebee eyes of a hawk. This creature's name seemed to be Jey, or possibly Gee. That was seven, all armed with what looked like automatic pistols in docker's clutches. Scowther's swung carelessly out from beneath his white coat each time he bent down. Susannah had already marked that one as hers.
There were also three pallid, watchful humanoid things standing beyond Mia. These, buried in dark blue auras, were vampires, Susannah was quite sure. Probably of the sort Callahan had called Type Threes. (The Pere had once referred to them as pilot sharks.) That made ten. Two of the vampires carried bahs, the third some sort of electrical sword now turned down to no more than a guttering core of light. If she managed to get Scowther's gun (when you get it, sweetie, she amended-she'd read The Power of Positive Thinkingand still believed every word the Rev. Peale had written), she would turn it on the man with the electric sword first. God might know how much damage such a weapon could inflict, but Susannah Dean didn't want to find out.
Also present was a nurse with the head of a great brown rat.
The pulsing red eye in the center of her forehead made Susannah believe that most of the other low folken were wearing humanizing masks, probably so they wouldn't scare the game while out and about on die sidewalks of New York. They might not all look like rats underneath, but she was pretty sure that none of them looked like Robert Goulet. The rathead nurse was the only one present who wore no weapon that Susannah could see.
Eleven in all. Eleven in this vast and mostly deserted infirmary that wasn't, she felt quite sure, under die borough of Manhattan.
And if she was going to setde their hash, it would have to be while they were occupied with Mia's baby-her precious chap.
"It's coming, doctor!" the nurse cried in nervous ecstasy.
It was. Susannah's counting stopped as the worst pain yet rolled over her. Over both of them. Burying them. They screamed in tandem. Scowther was commanding Mia to push, to push NOW!
Susannah closed her eyes and also bore down, for it was her baby, too... or had been. As she felt the pain flow out of her like water whirlpooling its way down a dark drain, she experienced the deepest sorrow she had ever known. For it was Mia the baby was flowing into; die last few lines of the living message Susannah's body had somehow been made to transmit. It was ending. Whatever happened next, this part was ending, and Susannah Dean let out a cry of mingled relief and regret; a cry that was itself like a song.
And then, before the horror began-something so terrible she would remember each detail as if in the glare of a brilliant light until the day of her entry into the clearing-she felt a small hot hand grip her wrist. Susannah turned her head, rolling the unpleasant weight of the helmet with it. She could hear herself gasping. Her eyes met Mia's. Mia opened her lips and spoke a single word. Susannah couldn't hear it over Scowther's roaring (he was bending now, peering between Mia's legs and holding the forceps up and against his brow). Yet she did hear it, and understood that Mia was trying to fulfill her promise.
I'd free you, if chance allows, her kidnapper had said, and the word Susannah now heard in her mind and saw on the laboring woman's lips was chassit.
Susannah, do you hear me?
I hear you very well, Susannah said.
And you understand our compact?"
Aye. I'll help you get away from these with your chap, if I can.
Kill us if you can't! the voice finished fiercely. It had never been so loud. That was partly the work of the connecting cable,
Susannah felt sure. Say it, Susannah, daughter of Dan!
I'll kill you both if you-
She stopped there. Mia seemed satisfied, however, and that was well, because Susannah couldn't have gone on if both their lives had depended on it. Her eye had happened on the ceiling of this enormous room, over the aisles of beds halfway down. And there she saw Eddie and Roland. They were hazy, floating in and out of the ceiling, looking down at her like phantom fish.
Another pain, but this one not as severe. She could feel her thighs hardening, pushing, but that seemed far away. Not important. What mattered was whether or not she was really seeing what she thought she was seeing. Could it be that her overstressed mind, wishing for rescue, had created this hallucination to comfort her?
She could almost believe it. Would have, very likely, they not both been naked, and surrounded by an odd collection of floating junk: a matchbook, a peanut, ashes, a penny. And a floormat, by God! A car floormat with FORD printed on it.
"Doctor, I can see the hea-"
A breathless squawk as Dr. Scowther, no gentleman he, elbowed Nurse Ratty unceremoniously aside and bent even closer to the juncture of Mia's thighs. As if he meant to pull her chap out with his teeth, perhaps. The hawk-thing, Jey or Gee, was speaking to the one called Haber in an excited, buzzing dialect.
They're really there, Susannah thought. The floormat proves it.
She wasn't sure how the floormat proved it, only that it did. And she mouthed the word Mia had given her: chassit. It was a password.
It would open at least one door and perhaps many. To wonder if Mia had told the truth never even crossed Susannah's mind. They were tied togedier, not just by the cable and the helmets, but by the more primitive (and far more powerful) act of childbirth. No, Mia hadn't lied.
"Push, you gods-damned lazy bitch!" Scowther almost howled, and Roland and Eddie suddenly disappeared through the ceiling for good, as if blown away by the force of the man's breath.
For all Susannah knew, they had been.
She turned on her side, feeling her hair stuck to her head in clumps, aware that her body was pouring out sweat in what could have been gallons. She pulled herself a little closer to Mia; a little closer to Scowther; a little closer to the crosshatched butt of Scowther's dangling automatic.
"Be still, sissa, hear me I beg," said one of the low men, and touched Susannah's arm. The hand was cold and flabby, covered with fat rings. The caress made her skin crawl. "This will be over in a minute and then all the worlds change. When this one joins the Breakers in Thunderclap-"
"Shut up, Straw!" Haber snapped, and pushed Susannah's would-be comforter backward. Then he turned eagerly to the delivery again.
Mia arched her back, groaning. The rathead nurse put her hands on Mia's hips and pushed them gently back down to the bed. "Nawthee, nawthee, push 'ith thy belly."
"Eat shit, you bitch!" Mia screamed, and while Susannah felt a faint tug of her pain, that was all. The connection between them was fading.
Summoning her own concentration, Susannah cried into the well of her own mind. Hey! Hey Positronics lady! You still there?
"The link... is down," said the pleasant female voice.
As before, it spoke in the middle of Susannah's head, but unlike before, it seemed dim, no more dangerous than a voice on the radio that comes from far away due to some atmospheric flaw. "Repeat: the link... is down. We hope you'll remember North Central Positronics for all your mental enhancement needs. And Sombra Corporation! A leader in mind-to-mind communication since the ten thousands!"
There was a tooth-rattling BEE-EEEEP far down in Susannah's mind, and then the link was gone. It wasn't just the absence of the horridly pleasant female voice; it was everything.
She felt as if she'd been let out of some painful bodycompressing trap.
Mia screamed again, and Susannah let out a cry of her own. Part of this was not wanting Sayre and his mates to know the link between her and Mia had been broken; part was genuine sorrow. She had lost a woman who had become, in a way, her true sister.
Susannah! Suze, are you there?
She started up on her elbows at this new voice, for a moment almost forgetting the woman beside her. That had been-
Jake? Is it you, honey? It is, isn't it? Can you hear me?
YES! he cried. Finally! God, who've you been talking to? Keep yelling so I can home in on y-
The voice broke off, but not before she heard a ghostly rattle of distant gunfire. Jake shooting at someone? She thought not. She thought someone was shooting at him.
"Now!" Scowther shouted. "'Now, Mia! Push! For your life! Give it all you have! PUSH!"
Susannah tried to roll closer to the other woman-Oh, I'm concerned and wanting comfort, see how concerned I am, concern and wanting comfort is all it is-but the one called Straw pulled her back. The segmented steel cable swung and stretched out between them. "Keep your distance, bitch," Straw said, and for the first time Susannah faced the possibility that they weren't going to let her get hold of Scowther's gun. Or any gun.
Mia screamed again, crying out to a strange god in a strange language. When she tried to raise her midsection from the table, the nurse-Alia, Susannah thought the nurse's name was Alia-forced her down again, and Scowther gave a short, curt cry of what sounded like satisfaction. He tossed aside the forceps he'd been holding.
"Why d'ye do that?" Sayre demanded. The sheets beneath Mia's spread legs were now damp with blood, and the boss sounded flustered.
"Won't need them!" Scowther returned breezily. "She was built for babies, could have a dozen in the rice-patch and never miss a row's worth of picking. Here it comes, neat as you please!"
Scowther made as if to grab the largish basin sitting on the next bed, decided he didn't have quite enough time, and slipped his pink, gloveless hands up the inside of Mia's thighs, instead. This time when Susannah made an effort to move closer to Mia, Straw didn't stop her. All of them, low men and vampires alike, were watching the last stage of the birth with complete fascination, most of them clustered at the end of the two beds which had been pushed together to make one. Only Straw was still close to Susannah. The vampire with the firesword had just been demoted; she decided that Straw would be the first to go.
"Once more!" Scowther cried. "Foryour baby!"
Like the low men and the vampires, Mia had forgotten Susannah. Her wounded, pain-filled eyes fixed on Sayre. "May I have him, sir? Please say I may have him, if only for a little while!"
Sayre took her hand. The mask which covered his real face smiled. "Yes, my darling," he said. "The chap is yours for years and years. Only push this one last time."
Mia, don't believe his lies! Susannah cried, but the cry went nowhere. Likely that was just as well. Best she be entirely forgotten for the time being.
Susannah turned her thoughts in a new direction. Jake!
Jake, where are you?
No answer. Not good. Please God he was still alive.
Maybe he's only busy. Running... hiding...fighting. Silence doesn't necessarily mean he's-
Mia howled what sounded like a string of obscenities, pushing as she did so. The lips of her already distended vagina spread further. A freshet of blood poured out, widening the muddy delta-shape on the sheet beneath her. And then, through the welter of crimson, Susannah saw a crown of white and black. The white was skin. The black was hair.
The mottle of white and black began to retreat into the crimson and Susannah thought the baby would settle back, still not quite ready to come into the world, but Mia was done waiting.
She pushed with all her considerable might, her hands held up before her eyes in clenched and trembling fists, her eyes slitted, her teeth bared. A vein pulsed alarmingly in the center of her forehead; another stood out on the column of her throat.
"Dan-tete," murmured Jey, the hawk-thing, and the others picked it up in a kind of reverent whisper: Dan-tete... dantete... commala dan-tete. The coming of the little god.
This time the baby's head did not just crown but rushed forward.
Susannah saw his hands held against his blood-spattered chest in tiny fists that trembled with life. She saw blue eyes, wide open and startling in both their awareness and their similarity to Roland's. She saw sooty black lashes. Tiny beads of blood jeweled them, barbaric natal finery. Susannah saw-and would never forget-how the baby's lower lip momentarily caught on the inner lip of his mother's vulva. The baby's mouth was pulled briefly open, revealing a perfect row of litde teeth in the lower jaw. They were teeth-not fangs but perfect little teeth-yet still, to see them in the mouth of a newborn gave Susannah a chill. So did the sight of the chap's penis, disproportionately large and fully erect. Susannah guessed it was longer than her little finger.
Howling in pain and triumph, Mia surged up on her elbows, her eyes bulging and streaming tears. She reached out and seized Sayre's hand in a grip of iron as Scowther deftly caught the baby. Sayre yelped and tried to pull away, but he might as well have tried to... well, to pull away from a Deputy Sheriff in Oxford, Mississippi. The litde chant had died and there was a moment of shocked silence. In it, Susannah's overstrained ears clearly heard the sound of bones grinding in Sayre's wrist.
"DOES HE LIVE?" Mia shrieked into Sayre's starded face.
Spitde flew from her lips. "TELL ME, YOU POXY WHORESON, IE MY CHAP LIVES!"
Scowther lifted the chap so that he and the child were face to face. The doctor's brown eyes met the baby's blue ones.
And as die chap hung diere in Scowdier's grip widi its penis jutting defiantly upward, Susannah clearly saw the crimson mark on the babe's left heel. It was as if that foot had been dipped in blood just before the baby left Mia's womb.
Rather dian spanking die baby's buttocks, Scowther drew in a breath and blew it in puffs direcdy into the chap's eyes. Mia's chap blinked in comical (and undeniably human) surprise. It drew in a breath of its own, held it for a moment, then let it out.
King of Kings he might be, or the destroyer of worlds, but he embarked upon life as had so many before him, squalling with outrage. Mia burst into glad tears at the sound of that cry. The devilish creatures gathered around the new modier were bondservants of the Crimson King, but that didn't make them immune to what they had just witnessed. They broke into applause and laughter. Susannah was not a little disgusted to find herself joining them. The baby looked around at the sound, his expression one of clear amazement.
Weeping, with tears running down her cheeks and clear snot dripping from her nose, Mia held out her arms. "Give him to me!" wept she; so wept Mia, daughter of none and mother of one. "Let me hold him, I beg, let me hold my son! Let me hold my chap! Let me hold my precious!"
And the baby turned its head to the sound of his mother's voice. Susannah would have said such a thing was impossible, but of course she would have said a baby born wide awake, with a mouthful of teeth and a boner, was impossible, as well. Yet in every other way the babe seemed completely normal to her: chubby and well-formed, human and thus dear. There was the red mark on his heel, yes, but how many children, normal in every other regard, were born with some sort of birthmark?
Hadn't her own father been born red-handed, according to family legend? This mark wouldn't even show, unless the kid was at the beach.
Still holding die newborn up to his face, Scowther looked at Sayre. There was a momentary pause during which Susannah could easily have seized Scowther's automatic. She didn't even think of doing it. She'd forgotten Jake's telepathic cry; had likewise forgotten her weird visit from Roland and her husband.
She was as enrapt as Jey and Straw and Haber and all the rest, enrapt at this moment of a child's arrival in a worn-out world.
Sayre nodded, almost imperceptibly, and Scowther lowered baby Mordred, still wailing (and still looking over his shoulder, apparently for his mother), into Mia's waiting arms.
Mia turned him around at once so she could look at him, and Susannah's heart froze with dismay and horror. For Mia had run mad. It was brilliant in her eyes; it was in the way her mouth managed to sneer and smile at the same time while drool, pinked and thickened with blood from her bitten tongue, trickled down the sides of her chin; most of all it was in ner triumphant laughter. She might come back to sanity in the days ahead, but-
Bitch ain't nevah comin back, Detta said, not without sympathy.
Gittin this far n den gittin shed of it done broke her. She busted, n you know it as well's Ah do!
"O, such beauty!" Mia crooned. "O, see thy blue eyes, thy skin as white as the sky before Wide Earth's first snow! See thy nipples, such perfect berries they are, see thy prick and thy balls as smooth as new peaches!" She looked around, first at Susannah-her eyes skating over Susannah's face with absolutely no recognition-and then at the others. "See my chap, ye unfortunates, ye gonicks, my precious, my baby, my boy!" She shouted to them, demanded of them, laughing with her mad eyes and crying with her crooked mouth. "See what I gave up eternity for! See my Mordred, see him very well, for never will you see another his like!"
Panting harshly, she covered the baby's bloody, staring face with kisses, smearing her mouth until she looked like a drunk who has tried to put on lipstick. She laughed and kissed the chubby flap of his infant's double chin, his nipples, his navel, the jutting tip of his penis, and-holding him up higher and higher in her trembling arms, the child she meant to call Mordred goggling down at her with that comic look of astonishment-she kissed his knees and then each tiny foot. Susannah heard that room's first suckle: not the baby at his mother's breast but Mia's mouth on each perfectly shaped toe.
Yon child's my dinh's doom, Susannah thought coldly. If I do nothing else, I could seize Scowther's gun and shoot it. T'would be the work of two seconds.
With her speed-her uncanny gunslinger's speed-this was likely true. But she found herself unable to move. She had foreseen many outcomes to this act of the play, but not Mia's madness, never that, and it had caught her entirely by surprise.
It crossed Susannah's mind that she was lucky indeed that the Positronics link had gone down when it had. If it hadn't, she might be as mad as Mia.
And that link could kick back in, sister-don't you think you better make your move while you still can?
But she couldn't be shure that was the thing. She was frozen in wonder, held in thrall.
"Stop that!" Sayre snapped at her. "Your job isn't to slurp at him but to feed him! If you'd keep him, hurry up! Give him suck! Or should I summon a wetnurse? There are many who'd give their eyes for the opportunity!"
"Never... in... your... UFEF Mia cried, laughing, but she lowered the child to her chest and impatiently brushed aside the bodice of the plain white gown she wore, baring her right breast. Susannah could see why men would be taken by her; even now that breast was a perfect, coral-tipped globe that seemed more fit for a man's hand and a man's lust than a baby's nourishment. Mia lowered the chap to it. For a moment he rooted as comically as he'd goggled at her, his face striking the nipple and then seeming to bounce off. When it came down again, however, the pink rose of his mouth closed on the erect pink bud of her breast and began to suck.
Mia stroked the chap's tangled and blood-soaked black curls, still laughing. To Susannah, her laughter sounded like screams.
There was a clumping on the floor as a robot approached.
It looked quite a bit like Andy the Messenger Robot-same skinny seven- or eight-foot height, same electric-blue eyes, same many-jointed, gleaming body. In its arms it bore a large glass box filled with green light.
"What's that fucking thing for?" Sayre snapped. He sounded both pissed off and incredulous.
"An incubator," Scowther said. "I felt it would be better to be safe than sorry."
When he turned to look, his shoulder-holstered gun swung toward Susannah. It was an even better chance, the best she'd ever have, and she knew it, but before she could take it, Mia's chap changed.
Susannah saw red light run down the child's smooth skin, from the crown of its head to the stained heel of its right foot. It was not a flush but a. flash, lighting the child from without: Susannah would have sworn it. And then, as it lay upon Mia's deflated stomach with its lips clamped around her nipple, the red flash was followed by a blackness that rose up and spread, turning the child into a lightless gnome, a negative of the rosy baby that had escaped Mia's womb. At the same time its body began to shrivel, its legs pulling up and melting into its belly, its head sliding down-and pulling Mia's breast with it-into its neck, which puffed up like the throat of a toad. Its blue eyes turned to tar, then back to blue again.
Susannah tried to scream and could not.
Tumors swelled along the black thing's sides, then burst and extruded legs. The red mark which had ridden the heel was still visible, but now had become a blob like the crimson brand on a black widow spider's belly. For that was what this thing was: a spider. Yet the baby was not entirely gone. A white excrescence rose from the spider's back. In it Susannah could see a tiny, deformed face and blue sparks that were eyes.
"What-?" Mia asked, and started up on her elbows once again. Blood had begun to pour from her breast. The baby drank it like milk, losing not a drop. Beside Mia, Sayre was standing as still as a graven image, his mouth open and his eyes bulging from their sockets. Whatever he'd expected from this birth-whatever he'd been told to expect-it wasn't this.
The Detta part of Susannah took a child's vicious pleasure in the man's shocked expression: he looked like the comedian Jack Benny milking a laugh.
For a moment only Mia seemed to realize what had happened, for her face began to lengthen with a kind of informed horror-and, perhaps, pain. Then her smile returned, that angelic madonna's smile. She reached out and stroked the still-changing freak at her breast, the black spider with the tiny human head and the red mark on its bristly gut.
"Is he not beautiful?" she cried. "Is my son not beautiful, as fair as the summer sun."
These were her last words.
Her face didn't freeze, exactly, but stilled. Her cheeks and brow and throat, flushed dark with the exertions of childbirth only a moment before, faded to the waxy whiteness of orchid petals.
Her shining eyes grew still and fixed in their sockets. And suddenly it was as if Susannah were looking not at a woman lying on a bed but the rfratwng- of a woman. An extraordinarily good one, but still something that had been created on paper with strokes of charcoal and a few pale colors.
Susannah remembered how she had returned to the Plaza-Park Hyatt Hotel after her first visit to the allure of Castle Discordia, and how she'd come here to Fedic after her last palaver with Mia, in the shelter of the merlon. How the sky and the castle and the very stone of the merlon had torn open. And then, as if her thought had caused it, Mia's face was ripped apart from hairline to chin. Her fixed and dulling eyes fell crookedly away to either side. Her lips split into a crazy double twin-grin.
And it wasn't blood that poured out of that widening fissure in her face but a stale^melling white powder. Susannah had a fragmented memory of T. S. Eliot
(hollow men stuffed men headpiece filled with straw)
and Lewis Carroll
(why you 're nothing but a pack of cards)
before Mia's dan-tete raised its unspeakable head from its first meal. Its blood-smeared mouth opened and it hoisted itself, lower legs scrabbling for purchase on its mother's deflating belly, upper ones almost seeming to shadowbox at Susannah.
It squealed with triumph, and if it had at that moment chosen to attack the other woman who had given it nurture, Susannah Dean would surely have died next to Mia. Instead, it returned to the deflated sac of breast from which it had taken its first suck, and tore it off. The sound of its chewing was wet and loose. A moment later it burrowed into the hole it had made, the white human face disappearing while Mia's was obliterated by the dust boiling out of her deflating head. There was a harsh, almost industrial sucking sound and Susannah thought, It's taking all the moisture out of her, all the moisture that's left. And look at it! Look at it swell! Like a leech on a horse's neck!
Just then a ridiculously English voice-it was the plummy intonation of the lifelong gentleman's gentleman-said: "Pardon me, sirs, but will you be wanting this incubator after all? For the situation seems to have altered somewhat, if you don't mind my saying."
It broke Susannah's paralysis. She pushed herself upward with one hand and seized Scowther's automatic pistol with the other. She yanked, but the gun was strapped across the butt and wouldn't come free. Her questing index finger found the little sliding knob that was the safety and pushed it. She turned the gun, holster and all, toward Scowther's ribcage.
"What the dev-" he began, and then she pulled the trigger with her middle finger, at the same time yanking back on the shoulder-rig with all her force. The straps binding the holster to Scowther's body held, but the thinner one holding the automatic in place snapped, and as Scowther fell sideways, trying to look down at the smoking black hole in his white labcoat,
Susannah took full possession of his gun. She shot Straw and the vampire beside him, the one with the electric sword.
For a moment the vampire was there, still staring at the spidergod that had looked so much like a baby to begin with, and then its aura whiffed out. The thing's flesh went with it. For a moment there was nothing where it had been but an empty shirt tucked into an empty pair of bluejeans. Then the clothes collapsed.
"Kill her!" Sayre screamed, reaching for his own gun. "Kill that bitch!"
Susannah rolled away from the spider crouched on the body of its rapidly deflating mother, raking at the helmet she was wearing even as she tumbled off the side of the bed. There was a moment of excruciating pain when she thought it wasn't going to come away and then she hit the floor, free of it. It hung over the side of the bed, fringed with her hair. The spider-thing, momentarily pulled off its roost when its mother's body jerked, chittered angrily.
Susannah rolled beneath the bed as a series of gunshots went off above her. She heard a loud SPROINK as one of the slugs hit a spring. She saw the rathead nurse's feet and hairy lower legs and put a bullet into one of her knees. The nurse gave a scream, turned, and began to limp away, squalling.
Sayre leaned forward, pointing the gun at the makeshift double bed just beyond Mia's deflating body. There were already three smoking, smoldering holes in the groundsheet. Before he could add a fourth, one of the spider's legs caressed his cheek, tearing open the mask he wore and revealing the hairy cheek beneath. Sayre recoiled, crying out. The spider turned to him and made a mewling noise. The white thing high on its back-a node with a human face-glared, as if to warn Sayre away from its meal. Then it turned back to the woman, who was really not recognizable as a woman any longer; she looked like the ruins of some incredibly ancient mummy which had now turned to rags and powder.
"I say, this is a bit confusing," the robot with the incubator remarked. "Shall I retire? Perhaps I might return when matters have clarified somewhat."
Susannah reversed direction, rolling out from beneath the bed. She saw that two of the low men had taken to their heels.
Jey, the hawkman, didn't seem to be able to make up his mind.
Stay or go? Susannah made it up for him, putting a single shot into the sleek brown head. Blood and feathers flew.
Susannah got up as well as she could, gripping the side of the bed for balance, holding Scowther's gun out in front of her.
khe had gotten four. The rathead nurse and one other had run.
Sayre had dropped his gun and was trying to hide behind the robot with the incubator.
Susannah shot the two remaining vampires and the low man with the bulldog face. That one-Haber-hadn't forgotten Susannah; he'd been holding his ground and waiting for a clear shot. She got hers first and watched him fall backward with deep satisfaction. Haber, she thought, had been the most dangerous.
"Madam, I wonder if you could tell me-" began the robot, and Susannah put two quick shots into its steel face, darkening the blue electric eyes. This trick she had learned from Eddie. A gigantic siren immediately went off. Susannah felt that if she listened to it long, she would be deafened.
"I HAVE BEEN BLINDED BY GUNFIRE!" the robot bellowed, still in its absurd would-you-like-another-cup-of-tea-madam accent. "VISION ZERO, I NEED HELP, CODE 7,1 SAY, HELP!"
Sayre stepped away from it, hands held high. Susannah couldn't hear him over the siren and the robot's blatting, but she could read the words as they came off the bastard's lips: surrender, will you accept my parole?
She smiled at this amusing idea, unaware that she smiled. It was without humor and without mercy and meant only one thing: she wished she could get him to lick her stumps, as he had forced Mia to lick his boots. But there wasn't time enough.
He saw his doom in her grin and turned to run and Susannah shot him twice in the back of the head-once for Mia, once for Pere Callahan. Sayre's skull shattered in a fury of blood and brains. He grabbed the wall, scrabbled at a shelf loaded with equipment and supplies, and then went down dead.
Susannah now took aim at the spider-god. The tiny white human head on its black and bristly back turned to look at her.
The blue eyes, so uncannily like Roland's, blazed.
No, you cannot! You must not! For I am the King's only son!
I can't? she sent back, leveling the automatic. Oh, sugar, you are just... so... WRONG!
But before she could pull the trigger, there was a gunshot from behind her. A slug burned across the side of her neck.
Susannah reacted instantly, turning and throwing herself sideways into the aisle. One of the low men who'd run had had a change of heart and come back. Susannah put two bullets into his chest and made him mortally sorry.
She turned, eager for more-yes, this was what she wanted, what she had been made for, and she'd always revere Roland for showing her-but the others were either dead or fled. The spider raced down the side of its birthbed on its many legs, leaving the papier-mache corpse of its mother behind. It turned its white infant's head briefly toward her.
You'd do ivell to let me pass, Blackie, or-
She fired at it, but stumbled over the hawkman's outstretched hand as she did. The bullet that would have killed the abomination went a little awry, clipping off one of its eight hairy legs instead. A yellowish-red fluid, more like pus than blood, poured from the place where the leg had joined the body. The thing screamed at her in pain and surprise. The audible portion of that scream was hard to hear over the endless cycling blat of the robot's siren, but she heard it in her head loud and clear.
I'll pay you back for that! My father and I, we'll pay you back!
Make you cry for death, so we will!
You ain't gonna have a chance, sugar, Susannah sent back, trying to project all the confidence she possibly could, not wanting the thing to know what she believed: that Scowther's automatic might have been shot dry. She aimed with a deliberation that was unnecessary, and the spider scuttled rapidly away from her, darting first behind the endlessly sirening robot and then through a dark doorway.
All right. Not great, not the best solution by any means, but she was still alive, and that much was grand.
And the fact that all of sai Sayre's crew were dead or run off? That wasn't bad, either.
Susannah tossed Scowther's gun aside and selected another, this one a Walther PPK. She took it from the docker's clutch ktraw had been wearing, then rummaged in his pockets, where she found half a dozen extra clips. She briefly considered adding the vampire's electric sword to her armory and decided to leave it where it was. Better the tools you knew than those you didn't.
She tried to get in touch with Jake, couldn't hear herself think, and turned to the robot. "Hey, big boy! Shut off that damn sireen, what do you say?"
She had no idea if it would work, but it did. The silence was immediate and wonderful, with the sensuous texture of moire silk. Silence might be useful. If there was a counterattack, she'd hear them coming. And the dirty truth? She hoped for a counterattack, wanted them to come, and never mind whether that made sense or not. She had a gun and her blood was up. That was all that mattered.
(Jake! Jake, do you hear me, kiddo? If you hear, answer your big sis!)
Nothing. Not even that rattle of distant gunfire. He was out of...
Then, a single word-was it a word?
More important, was it Jake?
She didn't know for sure, but she thought yes. And the word seemed familiar to her, somehow.
Susannah gathered her concentration, meaning to call louder this time, and then a queer idea came to her, one too strong to be called intuition. Jake was trying to be quiet. He was... hiding? Maybe getting ready to spring an ambush? The idea sounded crazy, but maybe his blood was up, too. She didn't know, but thought he'd either sent her that one odd word
on purpose, or it had slipped out. Either way, it might be better to let him roll his own oats for awhile.
"I say, I have been blinded by gunfire!" the robot insisted.
Its voice was still loud, but had dropped to a range at least approaching normal. "I can't see a bloody thing and I have this incubator-"
"Drop it," Susannah said.
"Drop it, Chumley."
"I beg pawdon, madam, but my name is Nigel the Butler and I really can't-"
Susannah had been hauling herself closer during this little exchange-you didn't forget the old means of locomotion just because you'd been granted a brief vacation with legs, she was discovering-and read both the name and the serial number stamped on the robot's chrome-steel midsection.
"Nigel DNK 45932, drop that fucking glass box, say thankya!"
The robot (DOMESTIC was stamped just below its serial number) dropped the incubator and then whimpered when it shattered at its steel feet.
Susannah worked her way over to Nigel, and found she had to conquer a moment's fear before reaching up and taking one three-fingered steel hand. She needed to remind herself that this wasn't Andy from Calla Bryn Sturgis, nor could Nigel know about Andy. The butler-robot might or might not be sophisticated enough to crave revenge-certainly Andy had been-but you couldn't crave what you didn't know about.
She hoped.
"Nigel, pick me up."
There was a whine of servomotors as the robot bent.
"No, hon, you have to come forward a litde bit. There's broken glass where you are."
"Pawdon, madam, but I'm blind. I believe it was you who shot my eyes out."
Oh. That.
"Well," she said, hoping her tone of irritation would disguise the fear beneath, "I can't very well get you new ones if you don't pick me up, can I? Now get a wiggle on, may it do ya.
Time's wasting."
Nigel stepped forward, crushing broken glass beneath its teet, and came to the sound of her voice. Susannah controlled the urge to cringe back, but once the Domestic Robot had set its grip on her, its touch was quite gentle. It lifted her into its arms.
"Now take me to the door."
Madam, beg pawdon but there are many doors in Sixteen.
More still beneath the castle."
Susannah couldn't help being curious. "How many?"
A brief pause. "I should say five hundred and ninety-five are currently operational." She immediately noticed that fiveninety-five added up to nineteen. Added up to chassit.
"Do you mind giving me a carry to the one I came through before the shooting started?" Susannah pointed toward the far end of the room.
"No, madam, I don't mind at all, but I'm sorry to tell you that it will do you no good," Nigel said in his plummy voice.
"That door, NEW YORK #7/FEDIC, is one-way." A pause. Relays clicking in the steel dome of its head. "Also, it burned out after its last use. It has, as you might say, gone to the clearing at the end of the path."
"Oh, that's just wonderfull" Susannah cried, but realized she wasn't exactly surprised by Nigel's news. She remembered the ragged humming sound she'd heard it makingjust before Sayre had pushed her rudely through it, remembered thinking, even in her distress, that it was a dying thing. And yes, it had died. "Just wonderful!"
"I sense you are distressed, madam."
"You're goddamned right I'm distressed! Bad enough the damned thing only opened one-way! Now it's shut down completely!"
"Except for the default," Nigel agreed.
"Default? What do you mean, default?"
"That would be NEW YORK #9/FEDIC," Nigel told her. "At one time there were over thirty one-way New York-to-Fedic ports, but I believe #9 is the only one that remains. All commands pertaining to NEW YORK #7/FEDIC will now have defaulted to #9."
Chassit, she thought... almost prayed. He's talking about chassit, I think. Oh God, I hope he is.
"Do you mean passwords and such, Nigel?"
"Why, yes, madam."
"Take me to Door #9."
"As you wish."
Nigel began to move rapidly up the aisle between the hundreds of empty beds, their taut white sheets gleaming under the brilliant overhead lamps. Susannah's imagination momentarily populated this room with screaming, frightened children, freshly arrived from Calla Bryn Sturgis, maybe from the neighboring Callas, as well. She saw not just a single rathead nurse but battalions of them, eager to clamp the helmets over the heads of the kidnapped children and start the process that... that did what? Ruined them in some way. Sucked the intelligence out of their heads and knocked their growth-hormones out of whack and ruined them forever. Susannah supposed that at first they would be cheered up to hear such a pleasant voice in their heads, a voice welcoming them to the wonderful world of North Central Positronics and the Sombra Group. Their crying would stop, their eyes fill with hope. Perhaps, they would think the nurses in their white uniforms were good in spite of their hairy, scary faces and yellow fangs. As good as the voice of the nice lady.
Then the hum would begin, quickly building in volume as it moved toward the middle of their heads, and this room would again fill with their frightened screams-
"Madam? Are you all right?"
"Yes. Why do you ask, Nigel?"
"I believe you shivered."
"Never mind. Just get me to the door to New York, the one that still works."
Once they left the infirmary, Nigel bore her rapidly down first one corridor and then another. They came to escalators that looked as if they had been frozen in place for centuries. Halfway down one of them, a steel ball on legs flashed its amber eyes at Nigel and cried, "Hmop! Hmvp!" Nigel responded "Howp, hmvp!"
in return and then said to Susannah (in the confidential tone certain gossipy people adopt when discussing Those Who Are Unfortunate), "He's a Mech Foreman and has been stuck there tor over eight hundred years-fried boards, I imagine. Poor soul! But he still tries to do his best."
Twice Nigel asked her if she believed his eyes could be replaced. The first time Susannah told him she didn't know.
The second time-feeling a little sorry for him (definitely him now, not it)-she asked what he thought.
"I think my days of service are nearly over," he said, and then added something that made her arms tingle with gooseflesh:
"O Discordia!"
The Diem Brothers are dead, she thought, remembering-had it been a dream? a vision? a glimpse of her Tower?-something from her time with Mia. Or had it been her time in Oxford, Mississippi? Or both? Papa Doc Duvalier is dead. Christa McAuliffe is dead. Stephen King is dead, popular writer killed while taking afternoon walk, O Discordia, O lost!
But who was Stephen King? Who was Christa McAuliffe, for that matter?
Once they passed a low man who had been present at the birth of Mia's monster. He lay curled on a dusty corridor floor like a human shrimp with his gun in one hand and a hole in his head. Susannah thought he'd committed suicide. In a way, she supposed that made sense. Because things had gone wrong, hadn't they? And unless Mia's baby found its way to where it belonged on its own, Big Red Daddy was going to be mad.
Might be mad even if Mordred somehow found his way home.
His other father. For this was a world of twins and mirror images, and Susannah now understood more about what she'd seen than she really wanted to. Mordred too was a twin, a Jekyll-and-Hyde creature with two selves, and he-or it-had the faces of two fathers to remember.
They came upon a number of other corpses; all looked like suicides to Susannah. She asked Nigel if he could tell-by their smells, or something-but he claimed he could not.
"How many are still here, do you think?" she asked. Her blood had had time to cool a litde, and now she felt nervous.
"Not many, madam. I believe that most have moved on.
Very likely to the Derva."
"What's the Derva?"
Nigel said he was dreadfully sorry, but that information was restricted and could be accessed only with the proper password.
Susannah tried chassit, but it was no good. Neither was nineteen or, her final try, ninety-nine. She supposed she'd have to be content with just knowing most of them were gone.
Nigel turned left, into a new corridor with doors on both sides. She got him to stop long enough to try one of them, but there was nothing of particular note inside. It was an office, and long-abandoned, judging by the thick fall of dust. She was interested to see a poster of madly jitterbugging teenagers on one wall. Beneath it, in large blue letters, was this:
Susannah was pretty sure that the performer on stage was Richard Penniman. Club-crawling folkies such as herself affected disdain for anyone who rocked harder than Phil Ochs, but Suze had always had a soft spot in her heart for Little Richard; good golly, Miss Molly, you sure like to ball. She guessed it was a Detta thing.
Did these people once upon a time use their doors to vacation in various tuheres and whens of their choice? Did they use the power of the Beams to turn certain levels of the Tower into tourist attractions?
She asked Nigel, who told her he was sure he did not know.
Nigel still sounded sad about the loss of his eyes.
Finally they came into an echoing rotunda with doors marching all around its mighty circumference. The marble tiles on the floor were laid in a black-and-white checkerboard pattern Susannah remembered from certain troubled dreams m which Mia had fed her chap. Above, high and high, constellations of electric stars winked in a blue firmament that was now showing plenty of cracks. This place reminded her of the Cradle of Lud, and even more strongly of Grand Central Station.
Somewhere in the walls, air-conditioners or -exchangers ran rustily. The smell in the air was weirdly familiar, and after a short struggle, Susannah identified it: Comet Cleanser. They sponsored The Price Is Right, which she sometimes watched on TV if she happened to be home in the morning. "I'm Don Pardo, now please welcome your host, Mr. Bill Cullen." Susannah felt a moment of vertigo and closed her eyes.
Bill Cullen is dead. Don Pardo is dead. Martin Luther King is dead, shot down in Memphis. Rule Discordia!
O Christ, those voices, would they never stop?
She opened her eyes and saw doors marked SHANGHAI/FEDIC and BOMBAY/FEDIC and one marked DALLAS (NOVEMBER 1963)/FEDIC. Others were written in runes that meant nothing to her. At last Nigel stopped in front of one she recognized.
... New librk/Fedic Maximum Security All of this Susannah recognized from the other side, but below VERBAL ENTRY CODE REQUIRED was this message, flashing ominous red:
"What would you like to do next, madam?" Nigel asked.
"Set me down, sugarpie."
She had time to wonder what her response would be if I
Nigel declined to do so, but he didn't even hesitate. She walk-hopped-scuttled to the door in her old way and put her hands on it. Beneath them she felt a texture that was neither wood nor metal. She thought she could hear a very faint hum. She considered trying chassit-her version of Ali Baba's Open, sesame-I and didn't bother. There wasn't even a doorknob. One-way meant one-way, she reckoned; no kidding around.
She sent it with all her might...
No answer. Not even that faint
nonsense word. She waited a moment longer, then turned around and sat with her back propped against the door. She dropped the extra ammo clips between her spread knees and then held the Walther PPK up in her right hand. A good weapon to have with your back to a locked door, she reckoned; she liked the weight of it. Once upon a time, she and others had been trained in a protest technique called passive resistance. Lie down on the lunchroom floor, cover your soft middle and softer privates. Do not respond to those who strike you and revile you and curse your parents. Sing in your chains like the sea.
What would her old friends make of what she had become?
Susannah said: "You know what? I don't give shit one. Passive resistance is also dead."
"Nothing, Nigel."
"Madam, may I ask-"
"What I'm doing?"
"Exactly, madam."
"Waiting on a friend, Chumley. Just waiting on a friend."
She thought that DNK 45932 would remind her that his name was Nigel, but he didn't. Instead, he asked how long she would wait for her friend. Susannah told him until hell froze over. This elicited a long silence. Finally Nigel asked: "May I go, then, madam?"
"How will you see?"
"I have switched to infrared. It is less satisfying than three-X macrovision, but it will suffice to get me to the repair bays."
Is there anyone in the repair bays who can fix you?" Susannah asked with mild curiosity. She pushed the button that dropped the clip out of the Walther's butt, then rammed it back In taking a certain elemental pleasure in the oily, metallic sound it made.
I m sure I can't say, madam," Nigel replied, "although the probability of such a thing is very low, certainly less than one Pe r cent. If no one comes, then I, like you, will wait."
She nodded, suddenly tired and very sure that this was where the grand quest ended-here, leaning against this door.
But you didn't give up, did you? Giving up was for cowards, not gunslingers.
"May ya do fine, Nigel-thanks for the piggyback. Long days and pleasant nights. Hope you get your eyes back. Sorry I shot em out, but I was in a bit of a tight and didn't know whose side you were on."
"And good wishes to you, madam."
Susannah nodded. Nigel clumped off and then she was alone, leaning against the door to New York. Waiting for Jake.
Listening for Jake.
All she heard was the rusty, dying wheeze of the machinery in the walls.