“But what would those people be doing with suitcases in the woods?”
“I don’t care,” Benny said. “Who knows why they do what they do? They’re not like us, they’re not a fully rational species. Let’s go kill them.”
“Is this the place for it?” Cindi asked, but she started the engine.
“I’m so ready. I need this.”
“It’s too open,” she said. “We won’t be able to take the time to do it in the most satisfying manner.”
Grudgingly, Benny said, “You’re right. Okay, okay. But we can overpower them, club them unconscious, and take them somewhere private.”
“Out past the Warehouse Arts District, where not everything’s been gentrified yet. That abandoned factory. You know the place.”
“Where we killed the police chief and his wife the night their replicants were ready,” Benny said, warming to the memory.
“We killed them good,” Cindi said.
“We did, didn’t we?”
“Remember how he screamed when we peeled her head like an orange?” Cindi asked.
“You’d think a police chief would be tougher.”
Driving the Mountaineer onto the service road, Cindi said, “You can cut them both apart while they’re still alive—and you know what then?”
“What?” he asked as they approached the parked sedan, where the detectives had just finished loading the suitcases in the backseat.
“Right there in the blood and all,” Cindi said, “we’ll make a baby.”
His mood was soaring. He wasn’t going to let her bring him down.
“All right, sure,” he said.
“Blood, really fresh blood, is sometimes used in the most effective rituals,” she said.
“Of course it is. Get us up there before they’re in the car. What rituals?”
“Fertility rituals. The Old Race is fertile. If we do it in their blood, covered in their warm blood, maybe we’ll be fertile, too.”
The cops turned to stare at the approaching Mountaineer, and Benny thrilled to the prospect of violence, and yet he couldn’t help asking, “Fertility rituals?”
“Voodoo,” said Cindi. “The Ibo cult of voodoo.”
“Je suis rouge,” she said.
“That sounds like French. We’re not programmed with French.”
“It means, ‘I who am red’ or, more accurately, ‘I the red one.’ It’s what Ibo calls himself.”
“Ibo again,” said Benny.
“He’s the evil god of the blood-sacrifice cult of voodoo. We’ll kill these two and then make a baby while wallowing in their blood. Praise Ibo, all glory to Ibo.”
Cindi had succeeded in distracting Benny from their prey. He stared at her, bewildered and afraid.
When Erika Helios entered the secret passageway, the door in the bookshelves closed automatically behind her.
“It’s like a Wilkie Collins novel,” she murmured, referring to the work of a Victorian writer whom she had never read.
The four-foot-wide passageway had a concrete floor, concrete walls, and a concrete ceiling. She felt as though she had stepped into a bunker deep under a war-torn city.
Apparently, motion detectors controlled the lights, because when she stood quite still for a long moment, assessing her discovery, the passageway went dark. When she reached out into the blackness, the lights came on again.
The narrow corridor led in only one direction and ended in a formidable steel door.
Because Victor loved gadgets and techie stuff, Erika would have expected this door to have an electronic lock. Victor’s style would be to equip it with a scanner that read palm prints or patterns in the retina, allowing access only to him.
Instead, the door was secured by inch-thick steel lock bolts: five of them. One was inserted in the header, one in the threshold, and three in the right-hand jamb, opposite the massive hinges.
Contemplating this barrier, Erika considered that opening it might be unwise. The space beyond was not a box, and the door was not a lid, but inevitably, she thought of Pandora, the first woman, whose curiosity had led her to open the box in which Prometheus had locked away all the evils that could afflict humanity.
This bit of myth gave her only brief pause, because humanity—another term for the Old Race—was doomed anyway. She herself might one day be told to kill as many as she could find.
Besides, Samuel Johnson—whoever he was—had once said, “Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind.”
Judging by the imposing weight of this door and the size of the lock bolts that secured it, something of considerable importance to Victor must wait to be discovered behind it. If Erika were to be the best wife that she could be—and the last Erika ever to rise from the tanks—she must understand her husband, and to understand him, she must know everything that he most valued. Whatever lay behind this barrier, which resembled a vault door, clearly was of enormous value to him.
She extracted the bolt from the header, and thereafter the bolt seated in the concrete floor. One by one, she pulled the bolts from the jamb.
The steel slab opened away from her, into the next space, where a row of ceiling lights brightened automatically. As she crossed the threshold, she saw that the door, which swung smoothly and quietly on its massive ball-bearing hinges, measured about eight inches thick.
She found herself in another short passageway, about twelve feet in length, which ended in a door identical to the first.
Along the length of this second corridor, scores of metal rods bristled from the walls. On her left, the rods appeared to be copper. On the right, they were of another metal, perhaps steel but perhaps not.
A soft, ululant hum filled the passageway. It seemed to arise from the metal rods.
Her downloaded education had focused primarily on music, dance, literary allusions, and other subjects that would ensure that she would be a scintillating hostess when Victor entertained politically important members of the Old Race, which he would do until such a time as he could confidently eliminate them. She didn’t know much about the sciences.
Nevertheless, she suspected that when needed for whatever reason—powerful electrical currents arced between the metal rods that were aligned on opposite sides of the passageway, perhaps frying or vaporizing altogether whoever might be caught between them.
Not even a member of the New Race would emerge unscathed.
As she stood two steps inside the threshold, brooding on this discovery, a blue laser beam speared forth from a ceiling fixture and scanned her body from top to bottom, and then to top again, as if assessing her form.
The laser winked off. An instant later the rods stopped humming. A heavy silence claimed the passageway.
She had the impression that she’d been found acceptable. She would most likely not be sizzled as crisp as burnt toast if she proceeded.
If she was wrong, tentative steps would not spare her from destruction; therefore, she walked boldly forward, leaving the door open behind her.
Her first day in the mansion—beginning with Victor’s bedroom fury followed by William’s finger-chewing episode, proceeding to the disturbing conversation she’d had with Christine in the kitchen—had not been as welcoming as she might have hoped. Perhaps herewith the day had taken a turn for the better. Not being electrocuted seemed to be a good sign.
“All glory to Ibo,” Cindi repeated, “may he approve the taste of my blood.”
As hot as he had been to capture and kill the detectives only a moment ago, Benny Lovewell was suddenly just as cold on the idea.
Cindi had blindsided him with this weird voodoo talk, which he had never heard from her before. She knocked him off balance.
Suddenly he didn’t know if he could rely on her anymore. They were a team. They needed to move as one, in sync, with full trust.
When their speed fell as they approached the sedan, Benny said, “Don’t stop.”
“Leave the male to me,” she said. “He won’t see me as a threat. I’ll break him down so hard and fast, he won’t know what happened.”
“No, keep moving, just drive, drive,” Benny urged.
“What do you mean?”
“What did I say? If you ever want to make a baby with me, you better drive!”
They had glided almost to a halt beside the sedan.
The detectives were staring at them. Benny smiled and waved, which seemed the thing to do until he’d done it, and then it seemed only to call attention to himself, so he quickly looked away from them, which he realized might have made them suspicious.
Before coming to a full stop, Cindi accelerated, and they drove farther into the park, along the service road.
Glancing at the dwindling sedan in the rearview mirror, then at Benny, Cindi said, “What was that about?”
“That was about Ibo,” he said.
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t understand? You don’t understand? I don’t understand. Je suis rouge, evil gods, blood sacrifices, voodoo?”
“You’ve never heard of voodoo? It was a big deal in New Orleans in the eighteen hundreds. It’s still around, and in fact—”
“Did you learn nothing in the tank?” he asked. “There is no world but this one. That is essential to our creed. We are strictly rationalists, materialists. We are forbidden superstition.”
“I know that. You think I don’t know that? Superstition is a key flaw of the Old Race. Their minds are weak, full of foolishness and fear and nonsense.”
Benny quoted what she’d said as they had approached the sedan: “ ‘Praise Ibo, all glory to Ibo.’ Doesn’t sound like a materialist to me. Not to me, it doesn’t.”
“Will you relax?” Cindi said. “If you were one of the Old Race, you’d be popping a blood vessel.”
“Is that where you go sometimes when you go out?” he asked. “To a voodoo cathedral?”
“There aren’t such things as voodoo cathedrals. That’s ignorant. If it’s Haitian-style, they call the temple a houmfort.”
“So you go to a houmfort,” he said grimly.
“No, because there’s not much Haitian-style voodoo around here.”
Out of sight of the sedan now, she pulled off the service road and parked on the grass. She left the engine running, and the air-conditioning.
She said, “Zozo Deslisle sells gris-gris out of her little house in Treme, and does spells and conjures. She’s an Ibo-cult bocor with mucho mojo, yassuh.”
“Almost none of that made any sense,” Benny said. “Cindi, do you realize what trouble you’re in, what trouble we’re in? If any of our people find out you’ve gone religious, you’ll be terminated, probably me, too. We’ve got it pretty sweet—permission to kill, with more and more jobs all the time. We’re the envy of our kind, and you’re going to ruin everything with your crazy superstition.”
“I’m not superstitious.”
“You’re not, huh?”
“No, I’m not. Voodoo isn’t superstition.”
“It’s a religion.”
“It’s science,” she said. “It’s true. It works.”
“Because of voodoo,” she said, “I’m eventually going to have a child. It’s only a matter of time.”
“They could be unconscious in the back right now,” Benny said. “We could be on the way to that old factory.”
She zipped open her purse and produced a small white cotton bag with a red drawstring closure. “It contains Adam and Eve roots. Two of them, sewn together.”
He said nothing.
Also from her purse, Cindi extracted a small jar. “Judas’s Mixture, which is buds from the Garden of Gilead, powdered silver gilt, the blood of a rabbit, essence of Van Van, powdered—”
“And what do you do with that?”
“Blend a half teaspoon in a glass of warm milk and drink it every morning while standing in a sprinkle of salt.”
“That sounds very scientific.”
She didn’t miss his sarcasm. “As if you would know all about science. You’re not an Alpha. You’re not a Beta. You’re a Gamma just like me.”
“That’s right,” Benny said. “A Gamma. Not an ignorant Epsilon. And not a superstitious member of the Old Race, either. A Gamma.”
She put the Adam and Eve roots and the Judas’s Mixture back in her purse. She zipped it shut.
“I don’t know what to do,” Benny said.
“We have an assignment, remember? Kill O’Connor and Maddison. I don’t know why we haven’t already done it.”
Benny stared through the windshield at the park.
Never since disgorgement from the creation tank had he felt this bleak. He yearned for stability and control, but he found himself in an escalating chaos.
The more he brooded on his dilemma, the faster he sank into a gray despond.
Weighing his duty to Victor against his self-interest, he wondered why he had been designed to be the ultimate materialist and then had been required to care about anything other than himself. Why should he concern himself about more than his own needs—except that his maker would terminate him if he disobeyed? Why should it matter to him that the New Race ascended, considering that this world had no transcendent meaning? What was the purpose of liquidating humanity and achieving dominion over all of nature, what was the purpose of then venturing out to the stars, if all of nature—to every end of the universe—was just a dumb machine with no point to its design? Why strive to be the king of nothing?
Benny had been created to be a man of action, always moving and doing and killing. He hadn’t been designed to think this much about philosophical issues.
“Leave the heavy thinking to the Alphas and Betas,” he said.
“I always do,” Cindi said.
“I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to myself.”
“I’ve never heard you do that before.”
She frowned. “How will I know when you’re talking to me or to yourself?”
“I won’t talk to myself much. Maybe never again. I don’t really interest me that much.”
“We’d both be more interesting if we had a baby.”
He sighed. “Whatever will be will be. We’ll terminate who we’re told to until our maker terminates us. It’s beyond our control.”