'We've got to warn them,' Jilly said.
'No. If we start shouting, they won't know who we are, might not understand what we're saying. They won't react right away – but the gunmen will. They'll open fire. They won't get the bride, but they'll cut down the groom and lots of guests.'
'Then we've got to go up,' she said, gripping the ladder as if to climb.
He stayed her with a hand on her arm. 'No. Vibrations. The whole scaffold will shake. They'll feel us climbing. They'll know we're coming.'
Shepherd stood in a most unusual posture for him, not bowed and slumped and floor-gazing, but with his head tipped back, watching a floating feather.
Stepping between his brother and the feather, Dylan met him eye to eye. 'Shep, I love you. I love you... and I need you to be here.'
Refocusing his vision from the more distant feather to Dylan, Shep said, 'The North Pole.'
Dylan stood in bafflement for a moment before he realized that Shep was repeating one of Jilly's answers to his monotonous question Where's all the ice?
'No, buddy, forget the North Pole. Be here with me.'
Shep blinked, blinked as if with puzzlement.
Afraid that his brother would close his eyes and retreat into one mental corner or another, Dylan said, 'Quick, right now, take us from here to there, Shep.' He pointed to the floor at their feet. 'From here.' Then he pointed toward the top of the scaffolding along the back wall of the nave, and with his other hand, he turned Shep's head toward where he pointed. 'To that platform up there. Here to there, Shep. Here to there.'
The welcoming hymn concluded. The final notes of the pipe organ reverberated hollowly through the vaults and colonnades.
'Here?' Shep asked, pointing at the floor between them.
'There?' Shep asked, pointing to the work platform above them.
'Yes, here to there.'
'Here to there?' Shep asked through a puzzled frown.
'Here to there, buddy.'
'Not far,' said Shep.
'No, sweetie,' Jilly agreed, 'it's not far, and we know you can do much bigger things, much longer folds, but right now all we need is here to there.'
Seconds after the final notes of the hymn had quivered into silence in the farthest corners of the church, the organist struck up 'Here Comes the Bride.'
Dylan looked toward the center aisle, perhaps eighty feet away, and saw a pretty young woman step out of the narthex, escorted by a handsome young man in a tuxedo, through a passage in the scaffolding, past the holy-water font, into the nave. She wore a blue dress with blue gloves and carried a small bouquet of flowers. A bridesmaid on the arm of a groomsman. Concentrating solemnly on her timing, they walked in that classic halting rhythm of bridal processions.
'Herethere?' asked Shep.
'Herethere,' Dylan urged, 'Herethere!'
The assembled guests had risen from their seats and turned to witness the entrance of the bride. Their interest would be captured so entirely by the wedding party that it was unlikely a one of them, except perhaps a certain pigtailed girl, would notice three figures vanish from a far, shadowy corner.
With fingers still wet with Jilly's blood from when he'd touched her on the hilltop, Shepherd reached once more for her wounded hand. 'Feel how it works, the round and round of all that is.'
'Here to there,' Jilly reminded him.
As a second bridesmaid with escort followed the first out of the narthex, everything in Dylan's view folded away from him.
With the carved frieze to Dylan's right and a neck-breaking drop to his left, the work platform atop the scaffold unfolded under their feet, creaked, and trembled with the assumption of their weight.
The first of the three gunmen – a bearded specimen with unruly hair and a big head on a scrawny neck – sat only a few feet from them, his back against the nave wall. An assault rifle lay at his side, and six spare magazines of ammunition.
Although the processional music had begun, the bigot hadn't yet assumed firing position. At his side lay Entertainment Weekly, with which he'd apparently been passing time. Only an instant ago, he'd extracted a thick circlet of chocolate from a roll of candies.
Surprised by the shudder that passed through the scaffolding, the gunman turned to his left. He looked up in amazement at Dylan looming no more than four feet away.
As far as the candy might be concerned, the guy was on automatic pilot. Even as his eyes widened in astonishment, he flicked his right thumb and popped the chocolate morsel off his index finger, directly into his open mouth.
Dylan chased the candy with a kick to the chin, perhaps knocking not only the chocolate but also a few teeth down the bastard's throat.
The chocolate-lover's head snapped back, rapping the plaster frieze. His eyes rolled up, his head sagged on a limp neck, and he slid onto his side, unconscious.
The kick unbalanced Dylan. He swayed, clutched the frieze with one hand, and avoided a fall.
* * *
On the work platform, Dylan arrived nearest the gunman, with Shep behind him.
Still feeling how it worked, the round and round of all that is, Jilly unfolded third in line and released Shep's hand. 'Uh!' she said explosively because she knew no adequate words to express what she'd come to understand – more intuitively than intellectually – about the architecture of reality. 'Uh!'
Under more benign circumstances, she might have sat down for an hour to brood, an hour or a year, and she probably would have sucked on her thumb and periodically asked for Mommy. They had folded not merely from the church floor to the top of the scaffold, however, but into the shadow of Death, and she didn't have the leisure to indulge in the comfort of thumb sugar.
If Dylan wasn't able to handle the human rodent with the gun, she could do nothing to help from her position, in which case they were doomed to death by gunfire, after all. Consequently, even as Dylan kicked, Jilly looked at once into the church, searching for the other two killers.
Twenty-two feet below, the wedding guests watched as the maid of honor followed bridesmaids along the main aisle. They were more than halfway to the altar. The height of the platform and the shadows gave cover to Dylan kicking, Jilly scouting, and Shepherd shepping.
Below, the bride had not yet appeared.
Step by thoughtful step, a little boy, serving as ring bearer, followed the maid of honor. Behind him came a pretty blond girl of five or six; she wore a lacy white dress, white gloves, white ribbons in her hair, and carried a small container of rose petals, which she scattered on the floor in advance of the bride.
The organist, with nothing but the chords of the wedding march, blasted promises of marital bliss to the high vaults, and in a rage of joy at the prospect of the pending vows, seemed to want to shake down the roof-lifting columns.
Jilly spotted the second gunman on the west-wall scaffold, above the colorful windows, far forward in the nave, where he would have a clean shot down through the chancel colonnade and under the high transverse arches, into the sanctuary. He lay on the platform, angled toward the waiting groom and the best man.
As far as she could tell, given the poor light at this height, the killer didn't turn to watch the processional, but coolly prepared for slaughter, scoping targets and calculating lines of fire.
Holding an assault rifle by the barrel, Dylan joined Jilly and Shep. 'Do you see them?'
She pointed at the west scaffold. 'That one, but not the third.'
Their angle of view toward the east scaffold was not ideal. Too many intervening columns hid sections of the work platform from them.
Dylan asked Shepherd to fold them off this south-wall scaffold, but with an exquisite precision that would bring them to the side of the prone gunman on the west platform, with Dylan in the lead, where he could administer a little justice to the second killer with the butt of the assault rifle that he had taken from the first.
'Not far again,' said Shep.
'No. Just a short trip,' Dylan agreed.
'Shep can do far.'
'Yeah, buddy, I know, but we need short.'
'Shep can do very far.'
'Just here to there, buddy.'
On the arm of her father, the bride appeared in the nave below.
'Now, sweetie,' Jilly urged. 'We need to go now. Okay?'
'Okay,' said Shep.
They remained on the south-wall platform.
'Sweetie?' Jilly prodded.
'Here Comes the Bride,' the pipe organ boomed, but from their perspective, the bride had already passed. She proceeded toward the chancel railing where her groom waited.
'Buddy, what's wrong, why aren't we out of here already?'
'Buddy, are you listening to me, really listening?'
'Thinking,' said Shep.
'Don't think, for God's sake, just do it.'
'Just fold us out of here!'
The groom, the best man, the bridesmaids, the groomsmen, the maid of honor, the ring bearer, the flower girl, the father of the bride, the bride: The entire wedding party had moved within the field of fire enjoyed by the killer on the west scaffold, and most likely had presented themselves, as well, to the third gunman, who had not yet been located.
Shep reached behind the world we see, behind what we detect with our five senses, and pinched the matrix of reality, which seemed to be the thinnest film, as simple as anything in creation, and yet was comprised of eleven dimensions. He tweaked that pinch, inducing time and space to conform to his will, and folded the three of them from the south-wall platform to the west-wall platform, or more accurately folded the south away from them and the west in to them, although the distinction was entirely technical and the effect identical.
As the west scaffold became their reality, Jilly saw Dylan raise the assault rifle over his head with the intention of using the butt as a club.
Prone on the platform, the second gunman was raised slightly on his left forearm, squinting across the church at the east wall, when they arrived. A tether ran from his belt to a piton that, like a mountain climber on a rock face, he had secured in the wall, most likely to counter the effects of recoil and provide stability if he decided to shoot from a standing position.
Sporting beard stubble instead of a full beard like the first man, wearing Dockers and a T-shirt emblazoned with that universal symbol of American patriotism – a Budweiser label – on the back, he would nevertheless have failed to be passed through the U.S. Customs Station east of Akela, New Mexico, where even poor shady Fred in his suspicious pot had been regarded warily.
The gunman had raised up on his left arm, the better to signal someone with his right hand.
The someone proved to be the third killer.
Directly opposite the Budweiser fan, the last gunman – a sharp-edged shadow among otherwise soft shapeless shadows – had risen to his feet. Probably tethered to the church wall, he held a compact weapon that in this poor light appeared to be an assault rifle, one of those compact killing machines with a collapsible stock.
Shepherd said, 'Shep wants cake,' as if he had just realized they were at a wedding, and Dylan hammered the butt of the assault rifle down at the second gunman's head, and Jilly realized that they were in deep trouble, sure to be shot along with the wedding party and numerous guests.
The third killer, having witnessed their miraculous arrival, even now watching as his comrade was clubbed unconscious, would open fire on them in seconds, long before Shepherd could be persuaded that another short trip was required.
In fact, even as with satisfying force the rifle butt met the skull of the second gunman, the third began to raise his rifle toward the west scaffold.
'Here, there,' Jilly said. 'Here, there.'
Desperately hoping that she remembered the eleven-dimension-matrix-round-and-round-of-all-that-is with the same certainty that she remembered 118 jokes about big butts, Jilly let her purse slide off her shoulder and drop to the platform at her feet. She pinched, tweaked, and folded away from the west wall, to the east platform, hoping that surprise would give her sufficient advantage to wrench the rifle out of the killer's hands before he squeezed the trigger. She folded herself and only herself because at the last instant, as pinch turned to tweak, she thought of The Fly, and she didn't want to be responsible for Dylan's nose being displaced forever in Shepherd's left armpit.
She almost made it from platform to platform.
She arrived no more than eight or ten feet short of her goal.
One instant she stood beside Shep atop the west scaffold, and halfway through that same instant, she unfolded in midair, twenty-two feet above the floor of the church.
Although what she had done, even in this imperfect fold, had to be judged a fantastic achievement by any standard, and though the busy horde of nanomachines and nanocomputers in her brain had within less than a day cursed her with amazing powers, Jillian Jackson could not fly. She materialized close enough to the third gunman to see his expression of absolute, unalloyed, goggle-eyed astonishment, and she seemed to hang in the air for a second, but then she dropped like a 110-pound stone.
* * *
The terrorist disguised in the Budweiser T-shirt most likely had a fine hard head, considering that imperviousness to new ideas and to truth was a prerequisite for those who wished to dedicate their lives to senseless brutality. The rifle butt, however, proved to be harder.
Especially for a man with the sensitive soul of an artist, Dylan took a disturbing amount of pleasure in the sound of club meeting skull, and he might have taken a second whack at the guy if he hadn't heard Jilly say, 'Here, there.' The note of extreme anxiety in her voice alarmed him.
Just as he looked at her, she folded into an asterisk of pencil-thin lines, which themselves at once folded into a dot the size of a period, and vanished. Dylan's racing heart beat once, beat twice – call it a second, maybe less – before Jilly reappeared in midair, high above the wedding guests.
For two of Dylan's explosive heartbeats, she hung out there in defiance of gravity, as though supported by the upsurge of pipe-organ music, and then a few wedding guests screamed in shock at the sight of her suspended above them. After a missed heartbeat followed by a hard knock that indicated a resumption of his circulation, he saw Jilly plummet into a rising chorus of screams.
She vanished during the fall.
Tough audiences had sometimes greeted her material with silence, and on rare occasion they had even booed her, but never before had an audience screamed at her. Jilly might have screamed back at them as she plunged into their midst, but she was too busy pinching-tweaking-folding out of the yawning maw of Death and back up to the top of the east scaffold, which had been her intended destination when she had left Dylan clubbing the second gunman.