The Dark Tower



Pimli Prentiss, the Algul Siento Master, was in the bathroom when Finli (known in some quarters as The Weasel) knocked at the door. Prentiss was examining his complexion by the unforgiving light of the fluorescent bar over the washbasin. In the magnifying mirror, his skin looked like a grayish, crater-pocked plain, not much different from the surface of the wastelands stretching in every direction around the Algul. The sore on which he was currently concentrating looked like an erupting volcano.
"Who be for me?" Prentiss bawled, although he had a pretty good idea.
"Finli O'Tego!"
"Walk in, Finli!" Never taking his eyes from the mirror. His fingers, closing in on the sides of the infected pimple, looked huge. They applied pressure.
Finli crossed Prentiss's office and stood in the bathroom door. He had to bend slightly in order to look in. He stood over seven feet, very tall even for a taheen.
"Back from the station like I was never gone," said Finli. Like most of the taheen, his speaking voice reeled wildly back and forth between a yelp and a growl. To Pimli, they all sounded like the hybrids from H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau, and he kept expecting them to break into a chorus of "Are we not men?" Finli had picked this out of his mind once and asked about it. Prentiss had replied with complete honesty, knowing that in a society where low-grade telepathy was the rule, honesty was ever the best policy. The only policy, when dealing with the taheen. Besides, he liked Finli O'Tego.
"Back from the station, good," Pimli said. "And what did you find?"
"A maintenance drone. Looks like it went rogue on the Arc 16 side and-"
"Wait," Prentiss said. "If you will, if you will, thanks."
Finli waited. Prentiss leaned even closer toward the mirror, face frowning in concentration. The Master of Blue Heaven was tall himself, about six-two, and possessed of an enormous sloping belly supported by long legs with slab diighs. He was balding and had the turnip nose of a veteran drinker. He looked perhaps fifty. He felt like about fifty (younger, when he hadn't spent the previous night tossing them back with Finli and several of the can-toi). He had been fifty when he came here, a good many years ago; at least twenty-five, and that might be a big underestimation. Time was goofy on this side, just like direction, and you were apt to lose both quickly. Some folken lost their minds, as well. And if they ever lost the sun machine for good-
The top of the pimple bulged... trembled... burst. Ah!
A glut of bloody pus leaped from the site of the infection, splattered onto die mirror, and began to drool down its slighdy concave surface. Pimli Prentiss wiped it off with the tip of a finger, turned to flick it into the jakes, then offered it to Finli instead.
The taheen shook his head, then made the sort of exasperated noise any veteran dieter would have recognized, and guided the Master's finger into his mouth. He sucked the pus off and then released the finger with an audible pop.
"Shouldn't do it, can't resist," Finli said. "Didn't you tell me that folken on the other side decided eating rare beef was bad for them?"
"Yar," Pimli said, wiping the pimple (which was still oozing) with a Kleenex. He had been here a long time, and there would never be any going back, for all sorts of reasons, but until recently he had been up on current events; until the previous-could you call it a year?-he'd gotten The New York Times on a fairly regular basis. He bore a great affection for the Times, loved doing the daily crossword puzzle. It was a little touch of home.
"But they go on eating it, just the same."
"Yar, I suppose many do." He opened the medicine cabinet and brought out a botde of hydrogen peroxide from Rexall.
"It's your fault for putting it in front of me," Finli said.
"Not that such stuff is bad for us, ordinarily; it's a natural sweet, like honey or berries. The problem's Thunderclap." And, as if his boss hadn't gotten the point, Finli added: "Too much of what comes out of it don't run the true thread, no matter how sweet it might taste. Poison, do ya."
Prentiss dampened a cotton ball with the hydrogen peroxide and swabbed out the wound in his cheek. He knew exactly what Finli was talking about, how could he not? Before coming here and assuming the Master's mantle, he hadn't seen a blemish on his skin in well over thirty years. Now he had pimples on his cheeks and brow, acne in the hollows of his temples, nasty nests of blackheads around his nose, and a cyst on his neck that would soon have to be removed by Gangli, the compound doctor.
(Prentiss thought Gangli was a terrible name for a physician; it reminded him both of ganglion and gangrene.) The taheen and the can-toi were less susceptible to dermatological problems, but their flesh often broke open spontaneously, they suffered from nosebleeds, and even minor wounds-die scrape of a rock or a thorn-could lead to infection and deadi if not promptly seen to. Antibiotics had worked a treat on such infections to begin with; not so well anymore. Same with such pharmaceutical marvels as Accutane. It was the environment, of course; death baking out of the very rocks and eartfi that surrounded them. If you wanted to see things at their worst you only had to look at the Rods, who were no better than slow mutants these days. Of course, they wandered far to the... was it still the southeast?
They wandered far in the direction where a faint red glow could be seen at night, in any case, and everyone said things were much woi"se in that direction. Pimli didn't know for sure if that was true, but he suspected it was. They didn't call the lands beyond Fedic the Discordia because they were vacation spots.
"Want more?" he asked Finli. "I've got a couple on my forehead that're ripe."
"Nay, I want to make my report, double-check the videotapes and telemetry, go on over to The Study for a quick peek, and then sign out. After that I want a hot bath and about three hours with a good book. I'm reading The Collector."
"And you like it," Prentiss said, fascinated.
"Very much, say thankya. It reminds me of our situation here. Except I like to think our goals are a little nobler and our motivations a little higher than sexual attraction."
"Noble? So you call it?"
Finli shrugged and made no reply. Close discussion of what was going on here in Blue Heaven was generally avoided by unspoken consent.
Prentiss led Finli into his own library-study, which overlooked the part of Blue Heaven they called the Mall. Finli ducked beneath the light fixture widi the unconscious grace of long practice. Prentiss had once told him (after a few shots of graf) that he would have made a hell of a center in the NBA.
"The first all-taheen team," he'd said. "They'd call you The Freaks, but so what?"
"These basketball players, they get the best of everything?"
Finli had inquired. He had a sleek weasel's head and large black eyes. No more expressive than dolls' eyes, in Pimli's view.
He wore a lot of gold chains-they had become fashionable among Blue Heaven personnel, and a brisk trading market in such things had grown up over the last few years. Also, he'd had his tail docked. Probably a mistake, he'd told Prentiss one night when they'd both been drunk. Painful beyond belief and bound to send him to die Hell of Darkness when his life was over, unless...
Unless there was nothing. This was an idea Pimli denied widi all his mind and heart, but he'd be a liar if he didn't admit (if only to himself) that the idea sometimes haunted him in the watches of the night. For such thoughts there were sleeping pills. And God, of course. His faith diat all tilings served the will of God, even the Tower itself.
In any case, Pimli had confirmed that yes, basketball players-American basketball players, at least-got the best of everything, including more pussy than a fackin toilet seat. This remark had caused Finli to laugh until reddish tears had seeped from the corners of his strangely inexpressive eyes.
"And the best thing," Pimli had continued, "is this: you'd be able to play near forever, by NBA standards. For instance, do ya hear, the most highly regarded player in my old country (although I never saw him play; he came after my time) was a fellow named Michael Jordan, and-"
"If he were taheen, what would he be?" Finli had interrupted.
This was a game they often played, especially when a few drinks over the line.
"A weasel, actually, and a damned handsome one," Pimli had said, and in a tone of surprise that had struck Finli as comical.
Once more he'd roared until tears came out of his eyes.
"But," Pimli had continued, "his career was over in hardly more than fifteen years, and that includes a retirement and a comeback or two. How many years could you play a game where you'd have to do no more than run back and forth the length of a campa court for an hour or so, Fin?"
Finli of Tego, who was then over three hundred years old, had shrugged and flicked his hand at the horizon. Delah. Years beyond counting.
And how long had Blue Heaven-Devar-Toi to the newer inmates, Algul Siento to the taheen and the Rods-how long had this prison been here? Also delah. But if Finli was correct (and Pimli's heart said that Finli almost certainly was), then delah was almost over. And what could he, once Paul Prentiss of Rahway, New Jersey, and now Pimli Prentiss of the Algul Siento, do about it?
His job, that was what.
His fackin job.
"So," Pimli said, sitting down in one of the two wing chairs by the window, "you found a maintenance drone. Where?"
"Close to where Track 97 leaves the switching-yard," said Finli. "That track's still hot-has what you call 'a third rail'-and so that explains that. Then, after we'd left, you call and say there's been a second alarm."
"Yes. And you found-?"
"Nothing," Finli said. "That time, nothing. Probably a malfunction, maybe even caused by the first alarm." He shrugged, a gesture that conveyed what they both knew: it was all going to hell. And the closer to the end they moved, the faster it went.
"You and your fellows had a good look, though?"
"Of course. No intruders."
But both of them were thinking in terms of intruders who were human, taheen, can-toi, or mechanical. No one in Finli's search-party had thought to look up, and likely would not have spotted Mordred even if they had: a spider now as big as a medium-sized dog, crouched in the deep shadow under the main station's eave, held in place by a little hammock of webbing.
"You're going to check the telemetry again because of the second alarm?"
"Pardy," Finli said. "Mostly because things feel hinky to me." This was a word he'd picked up from one of the many other-side crime novels he read-they fascinated him-and he used it at every opportunity.
"Hinky how?"
Finli only shook his head. He couldn't say. "But telemetry doesn't lie. Or so I was taught."
"You question it?"
Aware he was on thin ice again-that they both were-
Finli hesitated, and then decided what the hell. "These are the end-times, boss. I question damn near everything."
"Does that include your duty, Finli O'Tego?"
Finli shook his head with no hesitation. No, it didn't include his duty. It was the same with the rest of them, including the former Paul Prentiss of Rahway. Pimli remembered some old soldier-maybe "Dugout" Doug MacArthur-saying, "When my eyes close in death, gentlemen, my final thought will be of the corps. And the corps. And the corps." Pimli's own final thought would probably be of Algul Siento. Because what else was there now? In the words of another great American-Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas-they had nowhere to run, baby, nowhere to hide. Things were out of control, running downhill with no brakes, and there was nothing left to do but enjoy the ride.
"Would you mind a little company as you go your rounds?"
Pimli asked.
"Why not?" The Weasel replied. He smiled, revealing a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth. And sang, in his odd and wavering voice: "dream with me... I'm on my way to the moon of my fa-aathers..."
"Give me one minute," Pimli said, and got up.
"Prayers?" Finli asked.
Pimli stopped in die doorway. 'Yes," he said. "Since you ask.
Any comments, Finli O'Tego?"
"Just one, perhaps." The smiling thing with the human body and the sleek brown weasel's head continued to smile. "If prayer's so exalted, why do you kneel in the same room where you sit to shit?"
"Because the Bible suggests that when one is in company, one should do it in one's closet. Further comments?"
"Nay, nay." Finli waved a negligent hand. "Do thy best and thy worst, as the Manni say."
In the bathroom, Paul o' Rahway closed the lid on the toilet, knelt on the tiles, and folded his hands.
If prayer's so exalted, why do you kneel in the same room where you sit to shit?
Maybe I should have said because it keeps me humble, he thought.
Because it keeps me right-sized. It's dirt from which we arose and it's dirt to which we return, and if there's a room where it's hard to forget that, it's this one.
"God," he said, "grant me strength when I am weak, answers when I am confused, courage when I am afraid. Help me to hurt no one who doesn't deserve it, and even then not unless they leave me no other choice. Lord..."
And while he's on his knees before the closed toilet seat, this man who will shortly be asking his God to forgive him for working to end creation (and with absolutely no sense of irony), we might as well look at him a bit more closely. We won't take long, for Pimli Prentiss isn't central to our tale of Roland and his katet.
Still, he's a fascinating man, full of folds and contradictions and dead ends. He's an alcoholic who believes deeply in a personal God, a man of compassion who is now on the very verge of toppling the Tower and sending the trillions of worlds that spin on its axis flying into the darkness in a trillion different directions. He would quickly put Dinky Earnshaw and Stanley Ruiz to death if he knew what they'd been up to... and he spends most of every Mother's Day in tears, for he loved his own Ma dearly and misses her bitterly. When it comes to the Apocalypse, here's the perfect guy for the job, one who knows how to get kneebound and can speak to the Lord God of Hosts like an old friend.
And here's an irony: Paul Prentiss could be right out of the ads that proclaim "I got myjob through The New York TimesV In
1970, laid off from the prison then known as Attica (he and Nelson Rockefeller missed the mega-riot, at least), he spied an ad in the Times with this headline:
High Pay! Top Benefits! Must Be Willing to Travel!
The high pay had turned out to be what his beloved Ma i would have called "a pure-D, high-corn lie," because there was no pay at all, not in the sense an America-side corrections officer would have understood, but the benefits... yes, the bennies were exceptional. To begin with he'd wallowed in sex as he now wallowed in food and booze, but that wasn't the point. The point, in sai Prentiss's view, was this: what did you want out of life? If it was to do no more than watch the zeros increase in your bank account, than clearly Algul Siento was no place for you... which would be a terrible thing, because once you had signed on, there was no turning back; it was all the corps. And the corps. And every now and then, when an example needed to be made, a corpse or two.
Which was a hundred per cent okey-fine with Master Prentiss, who had gone through the solemn taheen name-changing ceremony some twelve years before and had never regretted it.
Paul Prentiss had become Pimli Prentiss. It was at that point he had turned his heart as well as his mind away from what he now only called "America-side." And not because he'd had the best baked Alaska and the best champagne of his life here. Not because he'd had sim sex with hundreds of beautiful women, either. It was because this was his job, and he intended to finish it. Because he'd come to believe that their work at the Devar-Toi was God's as well as the Crimson King's. And behind the idea of God was something even more powerful: the image of a billion universes tucked into an egg which he, the former Paul Prentiss of Rahway, once a forty-thousand-dollar-a-year man with a stomach ulcer and a bad medical benefits program okayed by a corrupt union, now held in the palm of his hand. He understood that he was also in that egg, and that he would cease to exist as flesh when he broke it, but surely if there was heaven and a God in it, then both superseded the power of the Tower.
It was to that heaven he would go, and before that throne he would kneel to ask forgiveness for his sins. And he would be welcomed in with a hearty Well done, thou good and faithful servant.
His Ma would be there, and she would hug him, and they would enter the fellowship of Jesus together. That day would come, Pimli was quite sure, and probably before Reap Moon rolled around again.
Not that he considered himself a religious nut. Not at all.
These thoughts of God and heaven he kept strictly to himself.
As far as the rest of the world was concerned, he was just a joe doing a job, one he intended to do well to the very end. Certainly he saw himself as no villain, but no truly dangerous man ever has. Think of Ulysses S. Grant, that Civil War general who'd said he intended to fight it out on this line if it took all summer.
In the Algul Siento, summer was almost over.
The Master's home was a tidy Cape Cod at one end of the Mall. It was called Shapleigh House (Pimli had no idea why),
and so of course the Breakers called it Shit House. At the other end of the Mall was a much larger dwelling-a gracefully rambling Queen Anne called (for equally obscure reasons) Damli House. It would have looked at home on Fraternity Row at Clemson or Ole Miss. The Breakers called this one Heartbreak House, or sometimes Heartbreak Hotel. Fine. It was where the taheen and a sizable contingent of can-toi lived and worked. As for the Breakers, let them have their little jokes, and by all means let them believe that the staff didn't know.
Pimli Prentiss and Finli O'Tego strolled up the Mall in companionable silence... except, that was, when they passed offduty Breakers, either alone or in company. Pimli greeted each of them with unfailing courtesy. The greetings they returned varied from the completely cheerful to sullen grunts. Yet each made some sort of response, and Pimli counted this a victory. He cared about them. Whether they liked it or not-many didn't-he cared about them. They were certainly easier to deal with than the murderers, rapists, and armed robbers of Attica.
Some were reading old newspapers or magazines. A foursome was throwing horseshoes. Another foursome was on the putting green. Tanya Leeds and Joey Rastosovich were playing chess under a graceful old elm, the sunlight making dapples on their faces. They greeted him with real pleasure, and why not?
Tanya Leeds was now actually Tanya Rastosovich, for Pimli had married them a month ago, just like the captain of a ship. And he supposed that in a way, that was what this was: the good ship Algul Siento, a cruise vessel that sailed the dark seas of Thunderclap in her own sunny spotlight. The sun went out from time to time, say true, but today's outage had been minimal, only forty-three seconds.
"How's it going, Tanya? Joseph?" Always Joseph and never Joey, at least not to his face; he didn't like it.
They said it was going fine and gave him those dazed, fuckstruck smiles of which only newlyweds are capable. Finli said nothing to the Rastosoviches, but near the Damli House end of the Mall, he stopped before a young man sitting on a faux marble bench beneath a tree, reading a book.
"Sai Earnshaw?" the taheen asked.
Dinky looked up, eyebrows raised in polite enquiry. His face, studded with a bad case of acne, bore the same polite noexpression.
"I see you're reading The Magus," Finli said, almost shyly. "I myself am reading The Collector. Quite a coincidence!"
"If you say so," Dinky replied. His expression didn't change.
"I wonder what you think of Fowles? I'm quite busy right now, but perhaps later we could discuss him."
Still wearing that politely expressionless expression, Dinky Earnshaw said, "Perhaps later you could take your copy of The Collector-hardcover, I hope-and stick it up your furry ass.
Finli's hopeful smile disappeared. He gave a small but perfectly correct bow. "I'm sorry you feel that way, sai."
"The fuck outta here," Dinky said, and opened his book again. He raised it pointedly before his face.
Pimli and Finli O'Tego walked on. There was a period of silence during which the Master of Algul Siento tried out different approaches to Finli, wanting to know how badly he'd been hurt by the young man's comment. The taheen was proud of his ability to read and appreciate hume literature, that much Pimli knew. Then Finli saved him the trouble by putting both of his long-fingered hands-his ass wasn't actually furry, but his fingers were-between his legs.
"Just checking to make sure my nuts are still there," he said, and Pimli thought the good humor he heard in the Chief of Security's voice was real, not forced.
"I'm sorry about that," Pimli said. "If there's anyone in Blue Heaven who has an authentic case of post-adolescent angst, it's sai Earnshaw."
"'You're tearing me apart!'" Finli moaned, and when the Master gave him a startled look, Finli grinned, showing those rows of tiny sharp teeth. "It's a famous line from a film called Rebel Without a Cause," he said. "Dinky Earnshaw makes me think of James Dean." He paused to consider. "Without the haunting good looks, of course."
"An interesting case," Prentiss said. "He was recruited for an assassination program run by a Positronics subsidiary. He killed his control and ran. We caught him, of course. He's never been any real trouble-not for us-but he's got that pain-inthe-ass attitude."
"But you feel he's not a problem."
Pimli gave him a sideways glance. "Is there something you feel I should know about him?"
"No, no. I've never seen you so jumpy as you've been over the last few weeks. Hell, call a spade a spade-so paranoid."
"My grandfather had a proverb," Pimli said. "'You don't worry about dropping the eggs until you're almost home.' We're almost home now."
And it was true. Seventeen days ago, not long before the last batch of Wolves had come galloping through the door from the Arc 16 Staging Area, their equipment in the basement of Damli House had picked up the first appreciable bend in the Bear-Turtle Beam. Since then the Beam of Eagle and Lion had snapped. Soon the Breakers would no longer be needed; soon the disintegration of the second-to-last Beam would happen with or without their help. It was like a precariously balanced object that had now picked up a sway. Soon it would go too far beyond its point of perfect balance, and then it would fall. Or, in the case of the Beam, it would break. Wink out of existence. It was the Tower that would fall. The last Beam, that of Wolf and Elephant, might hold for another week or another month, but not much longer.
Thinking of that should have pleased Pimli, but it didn't.
Mostly because his thoughts had returned to the Greencloaks.
Sixty or so had gone through Calla-bound last time, the visual deployment, and they should have been back in the usual seventy-two hours with the usual catch of Calla children.
Instead... nothing.
He asked Finli what he thought about that.
Finli stopped. He looked grave. "I think it may have been a virus," he said.
"Cry pardon?"
"A computer virus. We've seen it happen with a good deal of our computer equipment in Damli, and you want to remember that, no matter how fearsome the Greencloaks may look to a bunch of rice-farmers, computers on legs is all they really are." He paused. "Or the Calla-/o/fen may have found a way to kill them. Would it surprise me to find that they'd gotten up on their hind legs to fight? A little, but not a lot. Especially if someone with guts stepped forward to lead them."
"Someone like a gunslinger, mayhap?"
Finli gave him a look that stopped just short of patronizing.
Ted Brautigan and Stanley Ruiz rode up the sidewalk on tenspeed bikes, and when the Master and the Security Head raised hands to them, both raised their hands in return. Brautigan didn't smile but Ruiz did, the loose happy smile of a true mental defective. He was all eye-boogers, stubbly cheeks, and spitshiny lips, but a powerful bugger just the same, before God he was, and such a man could do worse than chum around with Brautigan, who had changed completely since being hauled back from his little "vacation" in Connecticut. Pimli was amused by the identical tweed caps the two men were wearing-their bikes were also identical-but not by Finli's look.
"Quit it," Pimli said.
"Quit what, sai?" Finli asked.
"Looking at me as if I were a little kid who just lost the top off his ice cream cone and doesn't have the wit to realize it."
But Finli didn't back down. He rarely did, which was one of the things Pimli liked about him. "If you don't want folk to look at you like a child, then you mustn't act like one. There've been rumors of gunslingers coming out of Mid-World to save the day for a thousand years and more. And never a single authenticated sighting. Personally, I'd be more apt to expect a visit from your Man Jesus."
"The Rods say-"
Finli winced as if this actually hurt his head. "Don't start with what the Rods say. Surely you respect my intelligence-and your own-more than that. Their brains have rotted even faster than their skins. As for the Wolves, let me advance a radical concept: it doesn't matter where they are or what's happened to them. We've got enough booster to finish the job, and that's all I care about."
The Security Head stood for a moment at the steps that led up to the Damli House porch. He was looking after the two men on the identical bikes and frowning thoughtfully. "Brautigan's been a lot of trouble."
"Hasn't he just!" Pimli laughed ruefully. "But his troublesome days are over. He's been told that his special friends from Connecticut-a boy named Robert Garfield and a girl named Carol Gerber-will die if he makes any more trouble. Also he's come to realize that while a number of his fellow Breakers regard him as a mentor, and some, such as the softheaded boy he's with, revere him, no one is interested in his... philosophical ideas, shall we say. Not any longer, if they ever were.
And I had a talk with him after he came back. A heart-toheart."
This was news to Finli. "About what?"
"Certain facts of life. Sai Brautigan has come to understand that his unique powers no longer matter as much as they once did. It's gone too far for that. The remaining two Beams are going to break with him or without him. And he knows that at the end there's apt to be... confusion. Fear and confusion." Pimli nodded slowly. "Brautigan wants to be here at the end, if only to comfort such as Stanley Ruiz when the sky tears open.
"Come, let's have another look at the tapes and the telemetry. Just to be safe."
They went up the wide wooden steps of Damli House, side by side.
Two of the can-toi were waiting to escort the Master and his Security Chief downstairs. Pimli reflected on how odd it was that everyone-Breakers and Algul Siento staff alike-had come to call them "the low men." Because it was Brautigan who coined the phrase. "Speak of angels, hear the flutter of their wings,"
Prentiss's beloved Ma might have said, and Pimli supposed that if there were true manimals in these final days of the true world, then the can-toi would fill the bill much better than the taheen. If you saw them without their weird living masks, you would have thought they were taheen, with the heads of rats. But unlike the true taheen, who regarded humes (less a few remarkable exceptions such as Pimli himself) as an inferior race, the can-toi worshipped the human form as divine. Did they wear the masks in worship? They were closemouthed on die subject, but Pimli didn't think so. He thought they believed they were becoming human-which was why, when they first put on their masks (these were living flesh, grown rather than made), they took a hume name to go with their hume aspect. Pimli knew they believed they would somehow replace human beings after the Fall... although hmv they could believe such a thing was entirely beyond him. There would be heaven after the Fall, that was obvious to anyone who'd ever read the Book of Revelation... but Earth?
Some new Earth, perhaps, but Pimli wasn't even sure of that.
Two can-toi security guards, Beeman and Trelawney, stood at the end of the hall, guarding the head of the stairs going down to the basement. To Pimli, all can-toi men, even those with blond hair and skinny builds, looked weirdly like that actor from the forties and fifties, Clark Gable. They all seemed to have the same thick, sensual lips and batty ears. Then, when you got very close, you could see the artificial wrinkles at the neck and behind the ears, where their hume masks twirled into pigtails and ran into the hairy, toothy flesh that was their reality (whether they accepted it or not). And there were the eyes. Hair surrounded them, and if you looked closely, you could see that what you originally took for sockets were, in fact, holes in those peculiar masks of living flesh. Sometimes you could hear the masks themselves breathing, which Pimli found both weird and a litde revolting.
"Hile," said Beeman.
"Hile," said Trelawney.
Pimli and Finli returned the greeting, they all fisted their foreheads, and then Pimli led the way downstairs. In the lower corridor, walking past the sign which read WE MUST ALL WORK
TOGETHER TO CREATE A FIRE-FREE ENVIRONMENT and anodier reading ALL HAIL THE CAN-TOI, Finli said, very low: "They are so odd."
Pimli smiled and clapped him on the back. That was why he genuinely liked Finli O'Tego: like Ike and Mike, they thought alike.
Most of the Damli House basement was a large room jammed with equipment. Not all of the stuff worked, and they had no use for some of the instruments that did (there was plenty they didn't even understand), but they were very familiar with the surveillance equipment and the telemetry that measured darks: units of expended psychic energy. The Breakers were expressly forbidden from using their psychic abilities outside of The Study, and not all of them could, anyway. Many were like men and women so severely toilet-trained that they were unable to urinate without the visual stimuli that assured them that yes, they were in the toilet, and yes, it was all right to let go. Others, like children who aren't yet completely toilet-trained, were unable to prevent the occasional psychic outburst. This might amount to no more than giving someone they didn't like a transient headache or knocking over a bench on the Mall, but Pimli's men kept careful track, and outbursts that were deemed "on purpose" were punished, first offenses lightly, repeat offenses with rapidly mounting severity. And, as Pimli liked to lecture to the newcomers (back in the days when there had been newcomers)
"Be sure your sin will find you out." Finli's scripture was even simpler: Telemetry doesn't lie.
Today they found nothing but transient blips on the telemetry readouts. It was as meaningless as a four-hour audio recording of some group's farts and burps would have been. The videotapes and the swing-guards' daybooks likewise produced nothing of interest.
"Satisfied, sai?" Finli asked, and something in his voice caused Pimli to swing around and look at him sharply.
"Are you?"
Finli O'Tego sighed. At times like this Pimli wished that either Finli were hume or that he himself were truly taheen. The problem was Finli's inexpressive black eyes. They were almost the shoebutton eyes of a Raggedy Andy doll, and there was simply no way to read them. Unless, maybe, you were another taheen.
"I haven't felt right for weeks now," Finli said at last. "I drink too much graf to put myself asleep, then drag myself through the day, biting people's heads off. Part of it's the loss of communications since the last Beam went-"
"You know that was inevitable-"
"Yes, of course I know. What I'm saying is that I'm trying to find rational reasons to explain irrational feelings, and that's never a good sign."
On the far wall was a picture of Niagara Falls. Some can-toi guard had turned it upside down. The low men considered turning pictures upside down the absolute height of humor.
Pimli had no idea why. But in the end, who gave a shit? I know how to do my Jacking job, he thought, re-hanging Niagara Falls rightside up. Iknmv how to do that, and nothing else matters, tell God and the Man Jesus thank ya.
"We always knew things were going to get wacky at the end," Finli said, "so I tell myself that's all this is. This... you know..."
"This feeling you have," the former Paul Prentiss supplied.
Then he grinned and laid his right forefinger over a circle made by his left uiumb and index finger. This was a taheen gesture which meant I tell you the truth. "This irrational feeling."
"Yar. Certainly I know that the Bleeding Lion hasn't reappeared in the north, nor do I believe that the sun's cooling from the inside. I've heard tales of the Red King's madness and diat the Dan-Tete has come to take his place, and all I can say is 'I'll believe it when I see it. Same with this wonderful news about how a gunslinger-man's come out of the west to save the Tower, as the old tales and songs predict. Bullshit, every bit of it."
Pimli clapped him on the shoulder. "Does my heart good to hear you say so!"
It did, too. Finli O'Tego had done a hell of a job during his tenure as Head. His security cadre had had to kill half a dozen Breakers over the years-all of them homesick fools trying to escape-and two others had been lobotomized, but Ted Brautigan was the only one who'd actually made it "under the fence"
(this phrase Pimli had picked up from a film called Stalag 17),
and they had reeled him back in, by God. The can-toi took the credit, and the Security Chief let them, but Pimli knew the truth: it was Finli who'd choreographed each move, from beginning to end.
"But it might be more than just nerves, this feeling of mine," Finli continued. "I do believe that sometimes folk can have bona fide intuitions." He laughed. "How could one not believe that, in a place as lousy with precogs and postcogs as this one?"
"But no teleports," Pimli said. "Right?"
Teleportation was the one so-called wild talent of which all the Devar staff was afraid, and with good reason. There was no end to the sort of havoc a teleport could wreak. Bringing in about four acres of outer space, for instance, and creating a vacuum-induced hurricane. Fortunately there was a simple test to isolate that particular talent (easy to administer, although the equipment necessary was another leftover of the old people and none of them knew how long it would continue to work) and a simple procedure (also left behind by the old ones) for shorting out such dangerous organic circuits. Dr.
Gangli was able to take care of potential teleports in under two minutes. "So simple it makes a vasectomy look like brainsurgery," he'd said once.
"Absa-fackin-lutely no teleports," was what Finli said now, and led Prentiss to an instrument console that looked eerily like Susannah Dean's visualization of her Dogan. He pointed at two dials marked in the henscratch of the old people (marks similar to those on the Unfound Door). The needle of each dial lay flat against the O mark on the left. When Finli tapped them with his furry thumbs, they jumped a little and then fell back.
"We don't know exactly what these dials were actually meant to measure," he said, "but one thing they do measure is teleportation potential. We've had Breakers who've tried to shield the talent and it doesn't work. If there was a teleport in the woodpile, Pimli o' New Jersey, these needles would be jittering all the way up to fifty or even eighty."
"So." Half-smiling, half-serious, Pimli began to count off on his fingers. "No teleports, no Bleeding Lion stalking from the north, no gunslinger-man. Oh, and the Greencloaks succumbed to a computer virus. If all that's the case, what's gotten under your skin? What feels hinky-di-di to ya?"
"The approaching end, I suppose." Finli sighed heavily.
"I'm going to double the guard in the watchtowers tonight, any ro', and humes along the fence, as well."
"Because it feels hinky-di-di." Pimli, smiling a little.
"Hinky-di-di, yar." Finli did not smile; his cunning little teeth remained hidden inside his shiny brown muzzle.
Pimli clapped him on the shoulder. "Come on, let's go up to The Study. Perhaps seeing all those Breakers at work will soothe you."
"P'rhaps it will," Finli said, but he still didn't smile.
Pimli said gently, "It's all right, Fin."
"I suppose," said the taheen, looking doubtfully around at the equipment, and then at Beeman and Trelawney, the two low men, who were respectfully waiting at the door for the two big bugs to finish their palaver. "I suppose 'tis." Only his heart didn't believe it. The only thing he was sure his heart believed was that there were no teleports left in Algul Siento.
Telemetry didn't lie.
Beeman and Trelawney saw them all the way down the oakpaneled basement corridor to the staff elevator, which was also oak-paneled. There was a fire-extinguisher on the wall of the car and another sign reminding Devar-folken that they had to work together to create a fire-free environment.
This too had been turned upside down.
Pimli's eyes met Finli's. The Master believed he saw amusement in his Security Chiefs look, but of course what he saw might have been no more than his own sense of humor, reflected back at him like a face in a mirror. Finli untacked the sign without a word and turned it rightside up. Neither of them commented on the elevator machinery, which was loud and ill-sounding. Nor on the way the car shuddered in the shaft. If it froze, escape through the upper hatch would be no problem, not even for a slighdy overweight (well... quite overweight) fellow like Prentiss. Damli House was hardly a skyscraper, and there was plenty of help near at hand.
They reached the third floor, where the sign on the closed elevator door was rightside up. It said STAFF ONLY and PLEASE USE KEY and GO DOWN IMMEDIATELY IF YOU HAVE REACHED THIS LEVEL IN ERROR. YOU WILL NOT BE PENALIZED IF YOU REPORT IMMEDIATELY.
As Finli produced his key-card, he said with a casualness that might have been feigned (God damn his unreadable black eyes): "Have you heard from sai Sayre?"
"No," Pimli said (rather crossly), "nor do I really expect to.
We're isolated here for a reason, deliberately forgotten in the desert just like the scientists of the Manhattan Project back in the 1940s. The last time I saw him, he told me it might be... well, the last time I saw him."
"Relax," Finli said. "I was just asking." He swiped the keycard down its slot and the elevator door slid open with a rather hellish screee sound.
The Study was a long, high room in the center of Damli, also oak-paneled and rising three full stories to a glass roof that allowed the Algul's hard-won sunlight to pour in. On the balcony opposite the door throvigh which Prentiss and the Tego entered was an odd trio consisting of a ravenhead taheen named Jakli, a can-toi technician named Conroy, and two hume guards whose names Pimli could not immediately recall.
Taheen, can-toi, and humes got on together during work hours by virtue of careful-and sometimes brittle-courtesy, but one did not expect to see them socializing off-duty. And indeed the balcony was strictly off-limits when it came to "socializing."
The Breakers below were neither animals in a zoo nor exotic fish in an aquarium; Pimli (Finli O'Tego, as well) had made this point to the staff over and over. The Master of Algul Siento had only had to lobo one staff member in all his years here, a perfectly idiotic hume guard named David Burke, who had actually been throwing something-had it been peanut-shells?-down on the Breakers below. When Burke had realized the Master was serious about lobotomizing him, he begged for a second chance, promising he'd never do anything so foolish and demeaning again. Pimli had turned a deaf ear. He'd seen a chance to make an example which would stand for years, perhaps for decades, and had taken it. You could see the now truly idiotic Mr. Burke around to this day, walking on the Mall or out by Left'rds Bound'ry, mouth slack and eyes vaguely puzzled-almost know who I am, /almost remember what I did to end up like this, those eyes said. He was a living example of what simply wasn't done when one was in the presence of working Breakers. But there was no rule expressly prohibiting staff from coming up here and they all did from time to time.
Becavise it was refreshing.
For one thing, being near working Breakers made talk unnecessary. What they called "good mind" kicked in as you walked down the third-floor hall on either side, from either elevator, and when you opened the doors giving on the balcony good mind bloomed in your head, opening all sorts of perceptual doorways. Aldous Huxley, Pimli had thought on more than one occasion, would have gone absolutely bonkers up here. Sometimes one found one's heels leaving the floor in a kind of half-assed float. The stuff in your pockets tended to rise and hang in the air. Formerly baffling situations seemed to resolve themselves the moment you turned your thoughts to them. If you'd forgotten something, your five o'clock appointment or your brother-in-law's middle name, for instance, this was the place where you could remember. And even if you realized that what you'd forgotten was important, you were never distressed. Folken left the balcony with smiles on their faces even if they'd come up in the foulest of moods (a foul mood was an excellent reason to visit the balcony in the first place). It was as if some sort of happy-gas, invisible to the eye and unmeasurable by even the most sophisticated telemetry, always rose from the Breakers below.
The two of them hiled the trio across the way, then approached die wide fumed-oak railing and looked down. The room below might have been the capacious library of some richly endowed gentlemen's club in London. Softly glowing lamps, many with genuine Tiffany shades, stood on little tables or shone on the walls (oak-paneled, of course). The rugs were the most exquisite Turkish. There was a Matisse on one wall, a Rembrandt on another... and on a third was the Mona Lisa.
The real one, as opposed to the fake hanging in the Louvre on Keystone Earth. A man stood before it with his arms clasped behind him. From up here he looked as though he were studying the painting-trying to decipher the famously enigmatic smile, maybe-but Pimli knew better. The men and women holding magazines looked as though they were reading, too, but if you were right down there you'd see that they were gazing blankly over the tops of their McCalVs and their Harper's or a littie off to one side. An eleven- or twelve-year-old girl in a gorgeous striped summer dress that might have cost sixteen hundred dollars in a Rodeo Drive kiddie boutique was sitting before a dollhouse on the hearth, but Pimli knew she wasn't paying any attention to the exquisitely made replica of Damli at all.
Thirty-three of them down there. Thirty-three in all. At eight o'clock, an hour after the artificial sun snapped off, thirty-three fresh Breakers would troop in. And there was one fellow-one and one only-who came and went just as he pleased. A fellow who'd gone under the wire and paid no penalty for it at all... except for being brought back, that was, and for this man, that was penalty enough.
As if the thought had summoned him, the door at the end of the room opened, and Ted Brautigan slipped quietly in. He was still wearing his tweed riding cap. Daneeka Rostov looked up from the dollhouse and gave him a smile. Brautigan dropped her a wink in return. Pimli gave Finli a little nudge.
Finli: (I see him)
But it was more than seeing. They felt him. The moment Brautigan came into the room, those on the balcony-and, much more important, those on the floor-felt the powerlevel rise. They still weren't completely sure what they'd gotten in Brautigan, and the testing equipment didn't help in that regard (the old dog had blown out several pieces of it himself, and on purpose, the Master was quite sure). If there were others like him, the low men had found none on their talent hunts (now suspended; they had all the talent they needed to finish the job). One thing that did seem clear was Brautigan's talent as a facilitator, a psychic who was not just powerful by himself but was able to up the abilities of others just by being near them. Finli's thoughts, ordinarily unreadable even to Breakers, now burned in Pimli's mind like neon.
Finli: (He is extraordinary)
Pimli: (And, so far as we know, unique Have you seen the thing)
Image: Eyes growing and shrinking, growing and shrinking.
Finli: (Yes Do you know what causes it)
Pimli: (Not at all Nor care dear Finli nor care That old)
Image: An elderly mongrel with burdocks in his matted fur, limping along on three legs.
(has almost finished his work almost time to)
Image: A gun, one of the hume guards' Berettas, against the side of the old mongrel's head.
Three stories below them, the subject of their conversation picked up a newspaper (the newspapers were all old, now, old like Brautigan himself, years out of date), sat in a leatherupholstered club chair so voluminous it seemed almost to swallow him, and appeared to read.
Pimli felt the psychic force rising past them and dirough them, to the skylight and through that, too, rising to the Beam that ran directly above Algul, working against it, chipping and eroding and rubbing relentlessly against the grain. Eating holes in the magic. Working patiently to put out the eyes of the Bear.
To crack the shell of the Turtle. To break the Beam which ran from Shardik to Maturin. To topple the Dark Tower which stood between.
Pimli turned to his companion and wasn't surprised to realize he could now see the cunning litde teeth in the Tego's weasel head. Smiling at last! Nor was he surprised to realize he could read die black eyes. Taheen, under ordinary circumstances, could send and receive some very simple mental communications, but not be progged. Here, though, all that changed. Here-
CHere Finli O'Tego was at peace. His concerns
were gone. At least for the time being.
Pimli sent Finli a series of bright images: a champagne bottle breaking over the stern of a boat; hundreds of flat black graduation caps rising in die air; a flag being planted on Mount Everest; a laughing couple escaping a church with their heads bent against a pelting storm of rice; a planet-Earth-suddenly glowing with fierce brilliance.
Images that all said the same thing.
"Yes," Finli said, and Pimli wondered how he could ever have thought those eyes hard to read. "Yes, indeed. Success at the end of the day."
Neither of them looked down at that moment. Had they done, they would have seen Ted Brautigan-an old dog, yes, and tired, but perhaps not quite as tired as some thought-looking up at them.
With a ghost of his own smile.
There was never rain out here, at least not during Pimli's years, but sometimes, in the Stygian blackness of its nights, there were great volleys of dry thunder. Most of the Devar-Toi's staff had trained themselves to sleep through these fusillades, but Pimli often woke up, heart hammering in his throat, the Our Father running through his mostly unconscious mind like a circle of spinning red ribbon.
Earlier that day, talking to Finli, the Master of Algul Siento had used the phrase hinky-di-divnxh a self-conscious smile, and why not? It was a child's phrase, almost, like allee-allee-in-free or eenie-meen ie-min ie-moe.
Now, lying in his bed at Shapleigh House (known as Shit House to the Breakers), a full Mall's length away from Damli House, Pimli remembered the feeling-the flat-out certainty-that everything was going to be okay; success assured, only a matter of time. On the balcony Finli had shared it, but Pimli wondered if his Security Chief was now lying awake as Pimli himself was, and thinking how easy it was to be misled when you were around working Breakers. Because, do ya, they sent up that happy-gas. That good-mind vibe.
And suppose... just suppose, now... someone was actually channeling that feeling? Sending it up to them like a lullabye?
Go to sleep, Pimli, go to sleep, Finli, go to sleep all of you good children...
Ridiculous idea, totally paranoid. Still, when another doubleboom of thunder rolled out of what might still be the southeast-from the direction of Fedic and the Discordia, anyway-
Pimli Prentiss sat up and turned on the bedside lamp.
Finli had spoken of doubling the guard tonight, both in the watchtowers and along the fences. Perhaps tomorrow they might triple it. Just to be on the safe side. And because complacency this close to the end would be a very bad thing, indeed.
Pimli got out of bed, a tall man with a hairy slab of gut, now wearing blue pajama pants and nothing else. He pissed, then knelt in front of the toilet's lowered lid, folded his hands, and prayed until he felt sleepy. He prayed to do his duty. He prayed to see trouble before trouble saw him. He prayed for his Ma, just as Jim Jones had prayed for his as he watched the line move toward die tub of poisoned Kool-Aid. He prayed until the thunder had died to little more than a senile mutter, dien went back to bed, calm again. His last thought before drifting off was about tripling the guard first thing in the morning, and that was the first thing he thought of when he woke to a room awash in artificial sunlight. Because you had to take care of the eggs when you were almost home.