The Dark Tower



The four reunited travelers (five, counting Oy of Mid-World) stood at the foot of Mia's bed, looking at what remained of Susannah's tioim, which was to say her twin. Without the deflated clothes to give the corpse some definition, probably none of them could have said for certain what it had once been. Even the snarl of hair above the split gourd of Mia's head looked like nothing human; it could have been an exceptionally large dust-bunny.
Roland looked down at the disappearing features, wondering that so little remained of the woman whose obsession-the chap, the chap, always the chap-had come so near to wrecking their enterprise for good. And without them, who would remain to stand against the Crimson King and his infernally clever chancellor? John Cullum, Aaron Deepneau, and Moses Carver.
Three old men, one of them with blackmouth disease, which Eddie called can't, sir.
So much you did, he thought, gazing raptly at the dusty, dissolving face. So much you did and so much more you would have done, aye, and all without a check or qualm, and so will the world end,
I think, a victim of love rather than hate. For love's ever been the more destructive weapon, sure.
He leaned forward, smelling what could have been old flowers or ancient spices, and exhaled. The thing that looked vaguely like a head even now blew away like milkweed fluff or a dandy-o ball.
"She meant no harm to the universe," Susannah said, her voice not quite steady. "She only wanted any woman's privilege: to have a baby. Someone to love and raise."
"Aye," Roland agreed, "you say true. Which is what makes her end so black."
Eddie said, "Sometimes I think we'd all be better off if the people who mean well would just creep away and die."
"That'd be the end of us, Big Ed," Jake pointed out.
They all considered this, and Eddie found himself wondering how many they'd already killed with their well-intentioned meddling. The bad ones he didn't care about, but there had been others, too-Roland's lost love, Susan, was only one.
Then Roland left the powdery remains of Mia's corpse and came to Susannah, who was sitting on one of the nearby beds with her hands clasped between her thighs. "Tell me everything that befell since you left us on the East Road, after the battle,"
he said. "We need to-"
"Roland, I never meant to leave you. It was Mia. She took over. If I hadn't had a place to go-a Dogan-she might've taken over completely."
Roland nodded to show he understood that. "Nevertheless, tell me how you came to this devar-tete. And Jake, I'd hear the same from you."
"Devar-tete," Eddie said. The phrase held some faint familiarity.
Did it have something to do with Chevin of Chayven, the slow mutie Roland had put out of its misery in Lovell? He thought so. "What's that?"
Roland swept a hand at the room with all its beds, each with its helmet-like machine and segmented steel hose; beds where the gods only knew how many children from the Callas had lain, and been ruined. "It means little prison, or torture-chamber."
"Doesn't look so little to me," Jake said. He couldn't tell how many beds there were, but he guessed the number at three hundred. Three hundred at least.
"Mayhap we'll come upon a larger one before we're finished.
Tell your tale, Susannah, and you too, Jake."
"Where do we go from here?" Eddie asked.
"Perhaps the tale will tell," Roland answered.
Roland and Eddie listened in silent fascination as Susannah and Jake recounted their adventures, turn and turn about. Roland first halted Susannah while she was telling them of Mathiessen van Wyck, who had given her his money and rented her a hotel room. The gunslinger asked Eddie about the turtle in the lining of the bag.
"I didn't know it was a turtle. I thought it might be a stone."
"If you'd tell this part again, I'd hear," Roland said.
So, thinking carefully, trying to remember completely (for it all seemed a very long time ago), Eddie related how he and Pere Callahan had gone up to the Doorway Cave and opened the ghostwood box with Black Thirteen inside. They'd expected Black Thirteen to open the door, and so it had, but first-
"We put the box in the bag," Eddie said. "The one that said NOTHING BUT STRIKES AT MIDTOWN LANES in New York and NOTHING BUT STRIKES AT MID-WORLD LANES on the Calla Bryn Sturgis side. Remember?"
They all did.
"And I felt something in the lining of the bag. I told Callahan, and he said..." Eddie mulled it over. "He said, 'This isn't the time to investigate it.' Or something like that. I agreed.
I remember thinking we had enough mysteries on our hands already, we'd save this one for another day. Roland, who in God's name put that thing in the bag, do you think?"
"For that matter, who left the bag in the vacant lot?" Susannah asked.
"Or the key?" Jake chimed in. "I found the key to the house in Dutch Hill in that same lot. Was it the rose? Did the rose somehow... I dunno... make them?"
Roland thought about it. "Were I to guess," he said, "I'd say that sai King left those signs and siguls."
"The writer," Eddie said. He weighed the idea, then nodded slowly. He vaguely remembered a concept from high school-the god from the machine, it was called. There was a fancy Latin term for it as well, but that one he couldn't remember.
Had probably been writing Mary Lou Kenopensky's name on his desk while the other kids had been obediently taking notes.
The basic concept was that if a playwright got himself into a corner he could send down the god, who arrived in a flowerdecked bucka wagon from overhead and rescued the characters who were in trouble. This no doubt pleased the more religious playgoers, who believed that God-not the specialeffects version who came down from some overhead platform the audience couldn't see but the One who wert in heaven-really did save people who deserved it. Such ideas had undoubtedly gone out of fashion in the modern age, but Eddie thought that popular novelists-of the sort sai King seemed on his way to becoming-probably still used the technique, only disguising it better. Litde escape hatches. Cards that read GET OUT OF JAIL FREE or ESCAPE THE PIRATES Or FREAK STORM CUTS ELECTRICAL POWER, EXECUTION POSTPONED. The god from die machine (who was actually the writer), patiently working to keep the characters safe so his tale wouldn't end with an unsatisfying line like
"And so the ka-tet was wiped out on Jericho Hill and the bad guys won, rule Discordia, so sorry, better luck next time (what next time, ha-ha), THE END."
Little safety nets, like a key. Not to mention a scrimshaw turde.
"If he wrote those things into his story," Eddie said, "it was long after we saw him in 1977."
"Aye," Roland agreed.
"And I don't think he thought them up," Eddie said. "Not really. He's just... I dunno, just a..."
"A bumhug?" Susannah asked, smiling.
"No!" Jake said, sounding a litde shocked. "Not diat. He's a sender. A telecaster." He was thinking about his father and his father's job at the Network.
"Bingo," Eddie said, and leveled a finger at die boy. This idea led him to another: that if Stephen King did not remain alive long enough to write those things into his tale, the key and the turde would not be there when they were needed. Jake would have been eaten by the Doorkeeper in the house on Dutch Hill... always assuming he got that far, which he probably wouldn't have done. And if he escaped the Dutch Hill monster, he would've been eaten by the Grandfathers-Callahan's Type One vampires-in the Dixie Pig.
Susannah thought to tell them about the vision she'd had as Mia was beginning her final journey from the Plaza-Park Hotel to the Dixie Pig. In this vision she'd been jugged in ajail cell in Oxford, Mississippi, and there had been voices coming from a TV somewhere. Chet Huntley, Walter Cronkite, Frank McGee: newscasters chanting the names of the dead. Some of those names, like President Kennedy and the Diem brothers, she'd known. Others, like Christa McAuliffe, she had not. But one of the names had been Stephen King's, she was quite sure of it.
Chet Huntley's partner
(good night Chet good night David)
saying that Stephen King had been struck and killed by a Dodge minivan while walking near his house. King had been fifty-two, according to Brinkley.
Had Susannah told them that, a great many things might have happened differently, or not at all. She was opening her mouth to add it into the conversation-a falling chip on a hillside strikes a stone which strikes a larger stone which then strikes two others and starts a landslide-when there was the clunk of an opening door and the clack of approaching footsteps.
They all turned, Jake reaching for a 'Riza, the others for their guns.
"Relax, fellas," Susannah murmured. "It's all right. I know this guy." And then to DNK 45932, DOMESTIC, she said: "I didn't expect to see you again so soon. In fact, I didn't expect to see you at all. What's up, Nigel old buddy?"
So this time something which might have been spoken was not, and the deus ex machina which might have descended to rescue a writer who had a date with a Dodge minivan on a latespring day in the year of '99 remained where it was, high above the mortals who acted their parts below.
The nice thing about robots, in Susannah's opinion, was that most of them didn't hold grudges. Nigel told her that no one had been available to fix his visual equipment (although he might be able to do it himself, he said, given access to the right components, discs, and repair tutorials), so he had come back here, relying on the infrared, to pick up the remains of the shattered (and completely unneeded) incubator. He thanked her for her interest and introduced himself to her friends.
"Nice to meet you, Nige," Eddie said, "but you'll want to get started on those repairs, I kennit, so we won't keep you."
Eddie's voice was pleasant and he'd reholstered his gun, but he kept his hand on the butt. In truth he was a little bit freaked by the resemblance Nigel bore to a certain messenger robot in the town of Calla Bryn Sturgis. That one hadheld a grudge.
"No, stay," Roland said. "We may have chores for you, but for the time being I'd as soon you were quiet. Turned off, if it please you." And if it doesn't, his tone implied.
"Certainly, sai," Nigel replied in his plummy British accent.
"You may reactivate me with the words Nigel, I need you."
"Very good," Roland said.
Nigel folded his scrawny (but undoubtedly powerful)
stainless-steel arms across his chest and went still.
"Came back to pick up the broken glass," Eddie marveled.
"Maybe the Tet Corporation could sell em. Every housewife in America would want two-one for the house and one for the yard."
"The less we're involved with science, the better," Susannah said darkly. In spite of her brief nap while leaning against the door between Fedic and New York, she looked haggard, done almost to death. "Look where it's gotten this world."
Roland nodded to Jake, who told of his and Pere Callahan's adventures in the New York of 1999, beginning with the taxi that had almost hit Oy and ending with their two-man attack on the low men and the vampires in the dining room of the Dixie pig. He did not neglect to tell how they had disposed of Black Thirteen by putting it in a storage locker at the World Trade Center, where it would be safe until early June of 2002, and how they had found the turtle, which Susannah had dropped, like a message in a bottle, in the gutter outside the Dixie Pig.
"So brave," Susannah said, and ruffled Jake's hair. Then she bent to stroke Oy's head. The bumbler stretched his long neck to maximize the caress, his eyes half-closed and a grin on his foxy little face. "So damned brave. Thankee-sai, Jake."
"Thank Ake!" Oy agreed.
"If it hadn't been for the turtle, they would have gotten us both." Jake's voice was steady, but he had gone pale. "As it was, the Pere... he..."Jake wiped away a tear with the heel of his hand and gazed at Roland. 'You used his voice to send me on. I heard you."
"Aye, I had to," the gunslinger agreed. "'Twas no more than what he wanted."
Jake said, "The vampires didn't get him. He used my Ruger before they could take his blood and change him into one of them. I don't think they would've done that, anyway. They would have torn him apart and eaten him. They were mad."
Roland was nodding.
"The last thing he sent-I think he said it out loud, although I'm not sure-it was..."Jake considered it. He was weeping freely now. "He said 'May you find your Tower, Roland, and breach it, and may you climb to the top.' Then..."Jake made a little puffing sound between his pursed lips. "Gone. like a candle-flame. To whatever worlds there are."
He fell silent. For several moments they all did, and the quiet had the feel of a deliberate thing. Then Eddie said, "All right, we're back together again. What the hell do we do next?"
Roland sat down with a grimace, then gave Eddie Dean a look which said-clearer than any words ever could have done-
Why do you try my patience?
"All right," Eddie said, "it's just a habit. Quit giving me the look."
"What's a habit, Eddie?"
Eddie thought of his final bruising, addictive year with Henry less frequently these days, but he thought of it now.
Only he didn't like to say so, not because he was ashamed-
Eddie really thought he might be past that-but because he sensed the gunslinger's growing impatience with Eddie's explaining things in terms of his big brother. And maybe that was fair. Henry had been the defining, shaping force in Eddie's life, okay. Just as Cort had been the defining, shaping force in Roland's... but the gunslinger didn't talk about his old teacher all the time.
"Asking questions when I already know the answer," Eddie said.
"And what's the answer this time?"
"We're going to backtrack to Thunderclap before we go on to the Tower. We're either going to kill the Breakers or set them free. Whatever it takes to make the Beams safe. We'll kill Walter, or Flagg, or whatever he's calling himself. Because he's the field marshal, isn't he?"
"He was," Roland agreed, "but now a new player has come on the scene." He looked at the robot. "Nigel, I need you."
Nigel unfolded his arms and raised his head. "How may I serve?"
"By getting me something to write with. Is there such?"
"Pens, pencils, and chalk in the Supervisor's cubicle at the far end of the Extraction Room, sai. Or so there was, the last time I had occasion to be there."
"The Extraction Room," Roland mused, studying the serried ranks of beds. "Do you call it so?"
"Yes, sai." And then, almost timidly: "Vocal elisions and fricatives suggest that you're angry. Is that the case?"
"They brought children here by the hundreds and thousands-healthy ones, for the most part, from a world where too many are still born twisted-and sucked away their minds.
Why would I be angry?"
"Sai, I'm sure I don't know," Nigel said. He was, perhaps, repenting his decision to come back here. "But I had no part in the extraction procedures, I assure you. I am in charge of domestic services, including maintenance."
"Bring me a pencil and a piece of chalk."
"Sai, you won't destroy me, will you? It was Dr. Scowther who was in charge of the extractions over the last twelve or fourteen years, and Dr. Scowther is dead. This lady-sai shot him, and with his own gun." There was a touch of reproach in Nigel's voice, which was quite expressive within its narrow range.
Roland only repeated: "Bring me a pencil and a piece of chalk, and do itjin-jin."
Nigel went off on his errand.
"When yovi say a new player, you mean the baby," Susannah said.
"Certainly. He has two fathers, that bah-bo."
Susannah nodded. She was thinking about the tale Mia had told her during their todash visit to the abandoned town of Fedic-abandoned, that was, except for the likes of Sayre and Scowther and the marauding Wolves. Two women, one white and one black, one pregnant and one not, sitting in chairs outside the Gin-Puppy Saloon. There Mia had told Eddie Dean's wife a great deal-more than either of them had known, perhaps.
That's where they changed me, Mia had told her, "they" presumably meaning Scowther and a team of other doctors. Plus magicians? Folk like the Manni, only gone over to the other side? Maybe. Who could say? In the Extraction Room she'd been made mortal. Then, with Roland's sperm already in her, something else had happened. Mia didn't remember much about that part, only a red darkness. Susannah wondered now if the Crimson King had come to her in person, mounting her with its huge and ancient spider's body, or if its unspeakable sperm had been transported somehow to mix with Roland's. In either case, the baby grew into the loathsome hybrid Susannah had seen: not a werewolf but a -were-spider. And now it was out there, somewhere. Or perhaps it was here, watching them even as they palavered and Nigel returned with various writing implements.
Yes, she thought. It's watching us. And hating us... but not equally. Mostly it's Roland the dan-tete hates. Its first father.
She shivered.
"Mordred means to kill you, Roland," she said. "That's its job. What it was made for. To end you, and your quest, and the Tower."
"Yes," Roland said, "and to rule in his father's place. For the Crimson King is old, and I have come more and more to believe that he is imprisoned, somehow. If that's so, then he's no longer our real enemy."
"Will we go to his castle on the other side of the Discordia?"
Jake asked. It was the first time he'd spoken in half an hour.
"We will, won't we?"
"I think so, yes," Roland said. "Le Casse Roi Russe, the old legends call it. We'll go there ka-tet and slay what lives there."
"Let it be so," Eddie said. "By God, let that be so."
"Aye," Roland agreed. "But our first job is the Breakers. The Beamquake we felt in Calla Bryn Sturgis, just before we came here, suggests that their work is nearly done. Yet even if it isn't-"
"Ending what they're doing is our job," Eddie said.
Roland nodded. He looked more tired than ever. "Aye," he said. "Killing them or setting them free. Either way, we must finish their meddling with the two Beams that remain. And we must finish off the dan-tete. The one that belongs to the Crimson King... and to me."
Nigel ended up being quite helpful (although not just to Roland and his ka-tet, as things fell). To begin with he brought two pencils, two pens (one of them a great old thing that would have looked at home in the hand of a Dickens scrivener), and three pieces of chalk, one of them in a silver holder that looked like a lady's lipstick, Roland chose this and gave Jake another piece. "I can't write words you'd understand easily," he said, "but our numbers are the same, or close enough. Print what I say to one side, Jake, and fair."
Jake did as he was bid. The result was crude but understandable enough, a map with a legend.
2- Castle
3 -M-'R.a-WadTroi.Ks
5- Do^o-n
(o - R,'wer
7- CcxItaS
8 - DcvO-r-To!
"Fedic," Roland said, pointing to 1, and then drew a short chalk line to 2. "And here's Castle Discordia, with the doors beneath. An almighty tangle of em, from what we hear. There'll be a passage that'll take us from here to there, under the castle.
Now, Susannah, tell again how die Wolves go, and what they do."
He handed her the chalk in its holder.
She took it, noticing with some admiration that it sharpened itself as it was used. A small trick but a neat one.
"They ride through a one-way door that brings them out here," she said, drawing a line from 2 to 3, which Jake had dubbed Thunderclap Station. "We ought to know this door when we see it, because it'll be big, unless they go through single-file."
"Maybe they do," Eddie said. "Unless I'm wrong, they're pretty well stuck with what the old people left them."
"You're not wrong," Roland said. "Go on, Susannah." He wasn't hunkering but sitting with his right leg stretched stiffly out. Eddie wondered how badly his hip was hurting him, and if he had any of Rosalita's cat-oil in his newly recovered purse. He doubted it.
She said, "The Wolves ride from Thunderclap along the course of the railroad tracks, at least until they're out of the shadow... or the darkness... or whatever it is. Do you know,
"No, but we'll see soon enough." He made his impatient twirling gesture with his left hand.
"They cross the river to the Callas and take the children.
When they get back to the Thunderclap Station, I think they must board their horses and their prisoners on a train and go back to Fedic that way, for the door's no good to them."
"Aye, I think that's the way of it," Roland agreed. "They bypass the devar-toi-the prison we've marked with an 8-for the time being."
Susannah said: "Scowther and his Nazi doctors used the hood-things on these beds to extract something from the kids.
It's the stuff they give to the Breakers. Feed it to em or inject em with it, I guess. The kids and the brain-stuff go back to Thunderclap Station by the door. The kiddies are sent back to Calla Bryn Sturgis, maybe the other Callas as well, and at what you call the devar-toi-"
"Mawster, dinnah is served," Eddie said bleakly.
Nigel chipped in at this point, sounding absolutely cheerful.
"Would you care for a bite, sais?"
Jake consulted his stomach and found it was rumbling. It was horrible to be this hungry so soon after the Pere's death-and after the things he had seen in the Dixie Pig-but he was, nevertheless. "Is there food, Nigel? Is there really?"
"Yes, indeed, young man," Nigel said. "Only tinned goods,
I'm afraid, but I can offer better than two dozen choices, including baked beans, tuna-fish, several kinds of soup-"
"Tooter-fish for me," Roland said, "but bring an array, if you will."
"Certainly, sai."
"I don't suppose you could rustle me up an Elvis Special,"
Jake said longingly. "That's peanut bvitter, banana, and bacon."
"Jesus, kid," Eddie said. "I don't know if you can tell in this light, but I'm turning green."
"I have no bacon or bananas, unfortunately," Nigel said
(pronouncing the latter ba-NAW-nas), "but I do have peanut butter and three kinds of jelly. Also apple butter."
"Apple butter'd be good," Jake said.
"Go on, Susannah," Roland said as Nigel moved off on his errand. "Although I suppose I needn't speed you along so; after we eat, we'll need to take some rest." He sounded far from pleased with the idea.
"I don't think there's any more to tell," she said. "It sounds confusing-looks confusing, too, mosdy because our litde map doesn't have any scale-but it's essentially just a loop they make every twenty-four years or so: from Fedic to Calla Bryn Sturgis, then back to Fedic with the kids, so they can do the extraction. Then they take the kids back to the Callas and the brainfood to this prison where the Breakers are."
"The devar-toi," Jake said.
Susannah nodded. "The question is what we do to interrupt the cycle."
"We go through the door to Thunderclap station," Roland said, "and from the station to where the Breakers are kept. And there..." He looked at each of his ka-tet in turn, then raised his finger and made a dryly expressive shooting gesture.
"There'll be guards," Eddie said. "Maybe a lot of them.
What if we're outnumbered?"
"It won't be the first time," Roland said.