The Dark Tower



When Nigel returned, he was bearing a tray the size of a wagonwheel.
On it were stacks of sandwiches, two Thermoses filled with soup (beef and chicken), plus canned drinks. There was Coke, Sprite, Nozz-A-La, and something called Wit Green Wit.
Eddie tried tfiis last and pronounced it foul beyond description.
All of them could see that Nigel was no longer the same pippip, jolly-good fellow he'd been for God alone knew how many decades and centuries. His lozenge-shaped head kept jerking to one side or the other. When it went to the left he would mutter
"Un, deux, trois!" To the right it was "Ein, zwei, drei!" A constant low clacking had begun in his diaphragm.
"Sugar, what's wrong with you?" Susannah asked as the domestic robot lowered the tray to the floor amidst them.
"Self-diagnostic exam series suggests total systemic breakdown during the next two to six hours," Nigel said, sounding glum but otherwise calm. "Pre-existing logic faults, quarantined until now, have leaked into the GMS." He then twisted his head viciously to the right. "Ein, zioei, drei! Live free or die, here's Greg in your eye!"
"What's GMS?" Jake asked.
"And who's Greg?" Eddie added.
"GMS stands for general mentation systems," said Nigel.
"There are two such systems, rational and irrational. Conscious and subconscious, as you might say. As for Greg, that would be Greg Stillson, a character in a novel I'm reading. Quite enjoyable.
It's called The Dead Zone, by Stephen King. As to why I bring him up in this context, I have no idea."
Nigel explained that logic faults were common in what he called Asimov Robots. The smarter the robot, the more the logic faults... and the sooner they started showing up. The old people (Nigel called them the Makers) compensated for this by setting up a stringent quarantine system, treating mental glitches as though they were smallpox or cholera. (Jake thought this sounded like a really fine way of dealing with insanity, although he supposed that psychiatrists wouldn't care for the idea much; it would put them out of business.) Nigel believed that the trauma of having his eyes shot out had weakened his mental survival-systems somehow, and now all sorts of bad stuff was loose in his circuits, eroding his deductive and inductive reasoning capabilities, gobbling logic^systems left and right. He told Susannah he didn't hold this against her in the slightest. Susannah raised a fist to her forehead and thanked him big-big. In truth, she did not completely believe good old DNK 45932, although she was damned if she knew why. Maybe it was just a holdover from their time in Calla Bryn Sturgis, where a robot not much different from Nigel had turned out to be a nasty, grudge-holding cully indeed. And there was something else.
I spy with my little eye, Susannah thought.
"Hold out thy hands, Nigel."
When die robot did, diey all saw the wiry hairs caught in the joints of his steel fingers. There was also a drop of blood on a...
would you call it a knuckle? "What's this?" she asked, holding several of the hairs up.
"I'm sorry, mum, I cawn't-"
Couldn't see. No, of course not. Nigel had infrared, but his actual eyesight was gone, courtesy of Susannah Dean, daughter of Dan, gunslinger in the Ka-Tet of Nineteen.
"They're hairs. I also spy some blood."
"Ah, yes," Nigel said. "Rats in the kitchen, mum. I'm programmed to dispose of vermin when I detect them. There are a great many these days, I'm sorry to say; the world is moving on." And then, snapping his head violently to the left: "Un-deuxtrois!
Minnie Mouse est la mouse pour moi!n
"Um... did you kill Minnie and Mickey before or after you made the sandwiches, Nige old buddy?" Eddie asked.
"After, sai, I assure you."
"Well, I might pass, anyway," Eddie said. "I had a poorboy back in Maine, and it's sticking to my ribs like a motherfucker."
"You should say un, deux, trois," Susannah told him. The words were out before she knew she was going to say them.
"Cry pardon?" Eddie was sitting with his arm around her.
Since the four of them had gotten back together, he touched Susannah at every opportunity, as if needing to confirm the fact that she was more than just wishful thinking.
"Nothing." Later, when Nigel was either out of the room or completely broken down, she'd tell him her intuition. She thought that robots of Nigel and Andy's type, like those in the Isaac Asimov stories she'd read as a teenager, weren't supposed to lie. Perhaps Andy had either been modified or had modified himself so that wasn't a problem. With Nigel, she thought it was a problem, indeed: can ya say problem big-big. She had an idea that, unlike Andy, Nigel was essentially goodhearted, but yes-he'd either lied or gilded the truth about the rats in the larder.
Maybe about other things, as well. Ein, zwei, drei and Un, deux, trois was his method of letting off the pressure. For awhile, anyway.
It's Mordred, she thought, looking around. She took a sandwich because she had to eat-like Jake, she was ravenous-but her appetite was gone and she knew she'd take no enjoyment from what she plugged grimly down her throat. He's been at Nigel, and now he's watching us somewhere. I know it-I feel it.
And, as she took her first bite of some long-preserved, vacuum-packed mystery-meat:
A mother always knows.
None of them wanted to sleep in the Extraction Room 1 (although they would have had their pick of three hundred or more freshly made beds) nor in the deserted town outside, so Nigel took them to his quarters, pausing every now and then for a vicious head-clearing shake and to count off in either German or French. To this he began adding numbers in some other language none of them knew.
Their way led them through a kitchen-all stainless steel and smoothly humming machines, quite different from the ancient cookhouse Susannah had visited todash beneath Castle Discordia-and although they saw the moderate clutter of the meal Nigel had prepared them, there was no sign of rats, living or dead. None of them commented on this.
Susannah's sense of being observed came and went.
Beyond the pantry was a neat little three-room apartment where Nigel presumably hung his hat. There was no bedroom, but beyond the living room and a butler's pantry full of monitoring equipment was a neat book-lined study with an oak desk and an easy chair beneath a halogen reading lamp. The computer on the desk had been manufactured by North Central Positronics, no surprise diere. Nigel brought them blankets and pillows which he assured them were fresh and clean.
"Maybe you sleep on your feet, but I guess you like to sit down to read like anyone else," Eddie said.
"Oh, yes indeedy, one-two-threedy," Nigel said. "I enjoy a good book. It's part of my programming."
"We'll sleep six hours, then push on," Roland told them.
Jake, meanwhile, was examining the books more closely. Oy moved beside him, always at heel, as Jake checked the spines, occasionally pulling one out for a closer peek. "He's got all of Dickens, it looks like," he said. "Also Steinbeck... Thomas Wolfe... a lot of Zane Grey... somebody named Max Brand... a guy named Elmore Leonard... and the always popular Steve King."
They all took time to look at the two shelves of King books, better than thirty in all, at least four of them very large and two the size of doorstops. King had been an extremely busy writerbee since his Bridgton days, it appeared. The newest volume was called Hearts in Atlantis and had been published in a year with which they were very familiar: 1999. The only ones missing, so far as they could tell, were the ones about them. Assuming King had gone ahead and written them. Jake checked the copyright pages, but there were few obvious holes. That might mean nothing, however, because he had written so much.
Susannah inquired of Nigel, who said he had never seen any books by Stephen King concerning Roland of Gilead or the Dark Tower. Then, having said so, he twisted his head viciously to the left and counted off in French, this time all the way to ten.
"Still," Eddie said after Nigel had retired, clicking and clacking and clucking his way out of the room, "I bet there's a lot of information here we could use. Roland, do you think we could pack the works of Stephen King and take them with us?"
"Maybe," Roland said, "but we won't. They might confuse us."
"Why do you say so?"
Roland only shook his head. He didn't know why he said so, but he knew it was true.
The Arc 16 Experimental Station's nerve-center was four levels down from the Extraction Room, the kitchen, and Nigel's study. One entered the Control Suite through a capsule-shaped vestibule. The vestibule could only be opened from the outside by using three ID slides, one after the other. The piped-in Muzak on this lowest level of the Fedic Dogan sounded like Beatles tunes as rendered by The Comatose String Quartet.
Inside the Control Suite were over a dozen rooms, but the only one with which we need concern ourselves was the one filled with TV screens and security devices. One of these latter devices ran a small but vicious army of hunter-killer robots equipped with sneetches and laser pistols; another was supposed to release poison gas (the same kind Blaine had used to slaughter the people of Lud) in the event of a hostile takeover.
Which, in the view of Mordred Deschain, had happened. He had tried to activate both the hunter-killers and the gas; neither had responded. Now Mordred had a bloody nose, a blue bruise on his forehead, and a swollen lower lip, for he'd fallen out of the chair in which he sat and rolled about on the floor, bellowing reedy, childish cries which in no way reflected the true depth of his fury.
To be able to see them on at least five different screens and not be able to kill or even hurt them! No wonder he was in a fury! He had felt the living darkness closing in on him, the darkness which signaled his change, and had forced himself to be calm so the change wouldn't happen. He had already discovered that the transformation from his human self to his spider self (and back again) consumed shocking amounts of energy.
Later on that might not matter, but for the time being he had to be careful, lest he starve like a bee in a burned-over tract of forest.
What I'd show you is much more bizarre than anything we have looked at so far, and I warn you in advance that your first impulse will be to laugh. That's all right. Laugh if you must. Just don't take your eye off what you see, for even in your imagination, here is a creature which can do you damage. Remember that it came of two fathers, both of them killers.
Now, only a few hours after his birth, Mia's chap already weighed twenty pounds and had the look of a healthy six-months' baby.
Mordred wore a single garment, a makeshift towel diaper which Nigel had put on when he had brought the baby his first meal of Dogan wildlife. The child needed a diaper, for he could not as yet hold his waste. He understood that control over these functions would be his soon-perhaps before the day was out, if he continued to grow at his current rate-but it couldn't happen soon enough to suit him. He was for the nonce imprisoned in this idiotic infant's body.
To be trapped in such a fashion was hideous. To fall out of the chair and be capable of nothing more than lying there, waving his bruised arms and legs, bleeding and squalling! DNK 45932 would have come to pick him up, could no more resist the commands of the King's son than a lead weight dropped from a high window can resist the pull of gravity, but Mordred didn't dare call him. Already the brown bitch suspected something wasn't right with Nigel. The brown bitch was wickedly perceptive, and Mordred himself was terribly vulnerable. He was able to control every piece of machinery in the Arc 16 station, mating with machinery was one of his many talents, but as he lay on the floor of the room with CONTROL CENTER on the door (it had been called "The Head" back in the long-ago, before the world moved on), Mordred was coming to realize how few machines there were to control. No wonder his father wanted to push down the Tower and begin again! This world was broken.
He'd needed to change back into the spider in order to regain the chair, where he'd once again resumed his human shape... but by the time he made it, his stomach was rumbling and his mouth was sour with hunger. It wasn't just changing that sucked up the energy, he'd come to suspect; the spider was closer to his true form, and when he was in that shape his metabolism ran hot and fast. His droughts changed, as well, and there was an attraction to that, because his human thoughts were colored by emotions (over which he seemed to have no control, although he supposed he might, in time) that were mostly unpleasant. As a spider, his thoughts weren't real thoughts at all, at least not in the human sense; they were dark bellowing things that seemed to rise out of some wet interior ground. They were about
The many delightful ways to do these things rumbled through the dan-tete's rudimentary consciousness like huge headlighted machines that went speeding unheeding through the world's darkest weather. To think in such a way-to let go of his human half-was immensely attractive, but he thought that to do so now, while he had almost no defenses, would get him killed.
And almost already had. He raised his right arm-pink and smooth and perfecdy naked-so he could look down at his right hip. This was where the brown bitch had shot him, and although Mordred had grown considerably since then, had doubled both in length and weight, the wound remained open, seeping blood and some custardy stuff, dark yellow and stinking.
He diought that this wound in his human body would never heal. No more than his other body would ever be able to grow back the leg the bitch had shot off. And had she not stumbled-ka: aye, he had no doubt of it-the shot would have taken his head off instead of his leg, and then the game would have been over, because-
There was a harsh, croaking buzz. He looked into the monitor that showed the other side of the main entry and saw the domestic robot standing there with a sack in one hand. The sack was twitching, and the black-haired, clumsily diapered baby sitting at the banks of monitors immediately began to salivate. He reached out one endearingly pudgy hand and punched a series of buttons. The security room's curved outer door slid open and Nigel stepped into the vestibule, which was built like an airlock. Mordred went immediately on to the buttons that would open the inner door in response to the sequence 2-5-4-1-3-1-2-1, but his motor control was still almost nonexistent and he was rewarded by another harsh buzz and an infuriating female voice (infuriating because it reminded him of the brown bitch's voice) which said,
Mordred would have said "Fuck you" if he'd been capable of speech, but he wasn't. The best he could do was a babble of baby-talk that undoubtedly would have caused Mia to crow with a mother's pride. Now he didn't bother with the buttons; he wanted what the robot had in die bag too badly. The rats (he assumed they were rats) were alive this time. Alive, by God, the blood still running in their veins.
Mordred closed his eyes and concentrated. The red light Susannah had seen before his first change once more ran beneath his fair skin from the crown of his head to the stained right heel. When that light passed the open wound in the baby's hip, the sluggish flow of blood and pussy matter grew briefly stronger, and Mordred uttered a low cry of misery. His hand went to the wound and spread blood over the small bowl of his belly in a thoughtless comforting gesture. For a moment there was a sense of blackness rising to replace the red flush, accompanied by a wavering of the infant's shape. This time there was no transformation, however. The baby slumped back in the chair, breathing hard, a tiny trickle of clear urine dribbling from his penis to wet the front of the towel he wore. There was a muffled pop from beneath the control panel in front of the chair where the baby slumped askew, panting like a dog.
Across the room, a door marked MAIN ACCESS slid open.
Nigel tramped stolidly in, twitching his capsule of a head almost constantly now, counting off not in two or three languages but in perhaps as many as a dozen.
"Sir, I really cannot continue to-"
Mordred made a baby's cheerful goo-goo-ga-ga sounds and held out his hands toward the bag. The thought which he sent was both clear and cold: Shut up. Give me what I need.
Nigel put the bag in his lap. From within it came a cheeping sound almost like human speech, and for the first time Mordred realized that the twitches were all coming from a single creature.
Not a rat, then! Something bigger! Bigger and bloodier!
He opened the bag and peered in. A pair of gold-ringed eyes the hoo-hoo bird, he didn't know its name, and then he saw die thing had fur, not feathers. It was a throcken, known in many parts of Mid-World as a billy-bumbler, this one barely old enough to be off its mother's teat.
There now, there, he thought at it, his mouth filling with drool. We're in the same boat, my little cully-we're motherless children in a hard, cruel world. Be still and I'll give you comfort.
Dealing with a creature as young and simple-headed as this wasn't much different from dealing with the machines. Mordred looked into its thoughts and located the node that controlled its simple bit of will. He reached for it with a hand made of thought-made of his will-and seized it. For a moment he could hear the creature's timid, hopeful thought
(don't hurt me please don't hurt me; please let me live; I want to live have fun play a little; don't hurt me please don't hurt me please let me live)
and he responded:
All is well, don't fear, cully, all is well.
The bumbler in the bag (Nigel had found it in the motorpool, separated from its mother, brothers, and sisters by the closing of an automatic door) relaxed-not believing, exactly, but hoping to believe.
In Nigel's study, the lights had been turned down to quarterbrilliance.
When Oy began to whine, Jake woke at once. The others slept on, at least for the time being.
What's wrong, Oy?
The bumbler didn't reply, only went on whining deep in his throat. His gold-ringed eyes peered into the gloomy far corner of the study, as if seeing something terrible there. Jake could remember peering into the corner of his bedroom the same way after waking from some nightmare in the small hours of die morning, a dream of Frankenstein or Dracula or
(Tyrannasorbet Wrecks)
some other boogeyman, God knew what. Now, thinking that perhaps bumblers also had nightmares, he tried even harder to touch Oy's mind. There was nothing at first, then a deep, blurred image
(eyes eyes looking out of the darkness)
of something that might have been a billy-bumbler in a sack.
"Shhhh," he whispered into Oy's ear, putting his arms around him. "Don't wake 'em, they need their sleep."
"Leep," Oy said, very low.
"You just had a bad dream," Jake whispered. "Sometimes I have them, too. They're not real. Nobody's got you in a bag. Go back to sleep."
"Leep." Oy put his snout on his right forepaw. "Oy-be ki-yit."
That's right, Jake thought at him, Oy be quiet.
The gold-ringed eyes, still looking troubled, remained open a bit longer. Then Oy winked at Jake with one and closed both.
A moment later, the bumbler was asleep again. Somewhere close by, one of his kind had died... but dying was the way of the world; it was a hard world and always had been.
Oy dreamed of being with Jake beneath the great orange orb of the Peddler's Moon. Jake, also sleeping, picked it up by touch and they dreamed of Old Cheap Rover Man's Moon together.
Oy, who died? asked Jake beneath the Peddler's one-eyed, knowing wink.
Oy, said his friend. Delah. Many.
Beneath the Old Cheap Man's empty orange stare Oy said no more; had, in fact, found a dream within his dream, and here also Jake went with him. This dream was better. In it, the two of them were playing together in bright sunshine. To them came another bumbler: a sad fellow, by his look. He tried to talk to them, but neither Jake nor Oy could tell what he said, because he was speaking in English.
Mordred wasn't strong enough to lift the bumbler from the bag, and Nigel either would not or could not help him. The robot only stood inside the door of the Control Center, twisting his head to one side or the other, counting and clanking more loudly than ever. A hot, cooked smell had begun to rise from his innards.
Mordred succeeded in turning the bag over and the bumbler, probably half a yearling, fell into his lap. Its eyes were halfopen, but the yellow-and-black orbs were dull and unmoving.
Mordred threw his head back, grimacing in concentration.
That red flash ran down his body, and his hair tried to stand on end. Before it could do more than begin to rise, however, it and the infant's body to which it had been attached were gone. The spider came. It hooked four of its seven legs about the bumbler's body and drew it effortlessly up to the craving mouth. In twenty seconds it had sucked the bumbler dry. It plunged its mouth into the creature's soft underbelly, tore it open, lifted the body higher, and ate the guts which came tumbling out: delicious, strength-giving packages of dripping meat. It ate deeper, making muffled mewling sounds of satisfaction, snapping the billybum bier's spine and sucking the brief dribble of marrow. Most of the energy was in the blood-aye, always in the blood, as the Grandfathers well knew-but there was strength in meat, as well. As a human baby (Roland had used the old Gilead endearment, bah-bo), he could have taken no nourishment from either the juice or the meat. Would likely have choked to death on it.
But as a spider-
He finished and cast the corpse aside onto the floor, just as he had the used-up, desiccated corpses of the rats. Nigel, that dedicated busding butler, had disposed of those. He would not dispose of this one. Nigel stood silent no matter how many times Mordred bawled Nigel, I need you! Around the robot, the smell of charred plastic had grown strong enough to activate the overhead fans. DNK 45932 stood with his eyeless face turned to the left. It gave him an oddly inquisitive look, as if he'd died while on the verge of asking an important question: What is the meaning of life, perhaps, or Who put the overalls in Mrs. Murphy's chowder"? In any case, his brief career as a rat- and bumblercatcher was over.
For the time being, Mordred was full of energy-the meal had been fresh and wonderful-but that wouldn't last long. If he stayed in his spider-shape, he'd use up this new reservoir of strength even faster. If he went back to being a baby, however, he wouldn't even be able to get down from the chair in which he was sitting, or once more put on the diaper-which had, of course, slid off his body when he changed. But he had to change back, for in his spider-shape he couldn't tfiink clearly at all. As for deductive reasoning? The idea was a bitter joke.
The white node on the spider's back closed its human eyes, and the black body beneath flushed a congested red. The legs retracted toward the body and disappeared. The node which was the baby's head grew and gained detail as the body beneath paled and took on human shape; the child's blue eyes-bombardier eyes, gunslinger eyes-flashed. He was still full of strength from the bumbler's blood and meat, he could feel it as the transformation rushed toward its conclusion, but a distressing amount of it (something like the foam on top of a glass of beer) had already dissipated. And not just from switching back and forth, either. The fact was that he was growing at a headlong pace. That sort of growth required relentless nourishment, and there was damned little nourishment to be had in the Arc 16 Experimental Station. Or in Fedic beyond, for that matter. There were canned goods and meals in foil packets and powdered power drinks, yar, plenty of those, but none of what was here would feed him as he needed to be fed. He needed fresh meat and even more than meat he needed blood. And the blood of animals would sustain the avalanche of his growth for only so long. Very soon he was going to need human blood, or the pace of his growth would first slow, then stop. The pain of starvation would come, but that pain, twisting relentlessly in his vitals like an auger, would be nothing to the mental and spiritual pain of watching them on the various video screens: still alive, reunited in their fellowship, with the comfort of a cause.
The pain of seeing him. Roland of Gilead.
How, he wondered, did he know the things he knew? From his mother? Some of them, yes, for he'd felt a million of Mia's thoughts and memories (a good many of them swiped from Susannah) rush into him as he fed on her. But to know it was that way with the Grandfathers, as well, how did he know that?
That, for instance, a German vampire who swilled the life's blood of a Frenchman might speak French for a week or ten days, speak it like a native, and then the ability, like his victim's memories, would begin to fade...
How could he know a thing like that?
Did it matter?
Now he watched them sleep. The boy Jake had awakened, but only briefly. Earlier Mordred had watched them eat, four fools and a bumbler-full of blood, full of energy-dining in a circle together. Always they would sit in a circle, they would make that circle even when they stopped to rest five minutes on the trail, doing it without even being aware of it, their circle that kept die rest of the world out. Mordred had no circle. Although he was new, he already understood that outsidewas his ka, just as it was the ka of winter's wind to swing through only half die compass: from north to east and then back again to bleak north once more. He accepted this, yet he still looked at them with the outsider's resentment, knowing he would hurt them and that the satisfaction would be bitter. He was of two worlds, the foretold joining of Prim and Am, of gadosh and godosh, of Gan and Gilead. He was in a way like Jesus Christ, but in a way he was purer than the sheepgod-man, for the sheepgod-man had but one true father, who was in the highly hypothetical heaven, and a stepfather who was on Earth. Poor old Joseph, who wore horns put on him by God Himself.
Mordred Deschain, on the other hand, had two fathers.
One of whom now slept on the screen before him.
You're old, Father, he thought. It gave him vicious pleasure to think so; it also made him feel small and mean, no more than... well, no more than a spider, looking down from its web. Mordred was twins, and would remain twins until Roland of the Eld was dead and the last ka-tet broken. And the longing voice that told him to go to Roland, and call him father? To call Eddie and Jake his brothers, Susannah his sister? That was the gullible voice of his mother. They'd kill him before he could get a single word out of his mouth (assuming he had reached a stage where he could do more than gurgle baby-talk). They'd cut off his balls and feed them to the brat's bumbler. They'd bury his castrated corpse, and shit on the ground where he lay, and then move on.
You 're finally old, Father, and now you walk with a limp, and at end of day I see you rub your hip with a hand that's picked up the tiniest bit of a shake.
Look, if you would. Here sits a baby with blood streaking his fair skin. Here sits a baby weeping his silent, eerie tears. Here sits a baby that knows both too much and too little, and although we must keep our fingers away from his mouth (he snaps, this one; snaps like a baby crocodile), we are allowed to pity him a litde.
If ka is a train-and it is, a vast, hurding mono, maybe sane, maybe not-then this nasty litde lycanthrope is its most vulnerable hostage, not tied to the tracks like little Nell but strapped to the thing's very headlight.
He may tell himself he has two fathers, and diere may be some truth to it, but there is no father here and no mother, either. He ate his mother alive, say true, ate her big-big, she was his first meal, and what choice did he have about that? He is the last miracle ever to be spawned by the still-standing Dark Tower, the scarred wedding of the rational and the irrational, the natural and die supernatural, and yet he is alone, and he is a-hungry. Destiny might have intended him to rule a chain of universes (or destroy them all), but so far he has succeeded in establishing dominion over nothing but one old domestic robot who has now gone to the clearing at the end of the path.
He looks at the sleeping gunslinger with love and hate, loathing and longing. But suppose he went to them and was not killed? What if they were to welcome him in? Ridiculous idea, yes, but allow it for the sake of argument. Even then he would be expected to set Roland above him, accept Roland as dinh, and that he will never do, never do, no, never do.