City of Night / Page 21

Page 21



Michael’s phone rang again, and Carson said, “Don’t let it go to voice mail.”


As Lulana moved not toward the refrigerator but instead toward her sister and out of the line of fire, Laffite said, “How odd that this should be happening to an Alpha.”


Carson heard Michael giving the address of the parsonage to the caller.


As his eyes continued to roll and twitch under his lids, Laffite said, “ ‘The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me.’”


“Job three, verse twenty-five,” said Lulana.


“ ‘Fear came upon me,’” Laffite continued, “ ‘and trembling, which made all my bones to shake.’”


“Job four, verse fourteen,” said Evangeline.


To reach either the door to the back porch or the door to the hallway, the sisters would have had to pass into the line of fire. They huddled together in the safest corner of the kitchen that they could find.


Having concluded his phone call, Michael positioned himself to Carson’s left, between Laffite and the sisters, his own .50 Magnum in a two-hand grip.


“ ‘Gather me the people together,’” said Laffite, “ ‘and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth.’”


“Deuteronomy,” Lulana said.


“Chapter four, verse ten,” Evangeline added.


“Deucalion?” Carson murmured, referring to the phone call.


“Yeah.”


Laffite opened his eyes. “I’ve revealed myself to you. Further proof that my program is breaking down. We must move secretly among you, never revealing our difference or our purpose.”


“We’re cool,” Michael told him. “We don’t have a problem with it. Just sit for a while, Pastor Kenny, just sit there and watch the little birds dropping off the wire.”


Chapter 48


Randal Six is angry with himself for killing Arnie’s mother. “Stupid,” he says. “Stupid.”


He is not angry with her. There is no point being angry with a dead person.


He didn’t intend to hit her. He just suddenly found himself doing it, in the same way that he broke the neck of the hobo in the Dumpster.


In retrospect, he sees that he was not in danger. Self-defense did not require such extreme measures.


After his sheltered existence at the Hands of Mercy, he needs more experience in the larger world to be able accurately to judge the seriousness of a threat.


Then he discovers that Arnie’s mother is only unconscious. This relieves him of the need to be angry with himself.


Although he had been angry with himself for less than two minutes, the experience was grueling. When other people are angry with you—as Victor often is—you can turn further inward and escape from them. When it is you yourself who is angry with you, turning inward does not work because no matter how deep you go inside yourself, the angry you is still there.


The knife wound in his hand has already stopped bleeding. The lacerations will be completely closed in two or three hours.


The splatters of blood on the floor and the appliances distress him. These stains detract from the almost spiritual atmosphere that reigns here. This is a home, and the kitchen is its heart, and at all times there should be a feeling of calm, of peace.


With paper towels and a spray bottle of Windex, he wipes away the blood.


Carefully, without touching her skin, because he does not like the feel of other people’s skin, Randal ties the mother to the chair with lengths of cloth that he tears from the garments in the laundryroom basket.


As he finishes securing her, the mother regains consciousness. She is anxious, agitated, full of questions and assumptions and pleas.


Her shrill tone of voice and her frantic chatter make Randal nervous. She is asking a third question before he can answer the first. Her demands on him are too many, the input from her too great to process.


Rather than hit her, he walks down the hall to the living room, where he stands for a while. Twilight has come. The room is nearly dark. No excited talking mother is present. In mere minutes, he feels much better.


He returns to the kitchen, and the moment he arrives there, the mother starts chattering again.


When he tells her to be quiet, she becomes more vocal than ever, and her pleas become more urgent.


He almost wishes that he were back under the house with the spiders.


She is not behaving like a mother. Mothers are calm. Mothers have all the answers. Mothers love you.


Generally, Randal Six does not like touching others or being touched. This is perhaps different. This is a mother even if she is not at the moment acting like one.


He places his right hand under her chin and forces her mouth shut, even as he pinches her nose with his left hand. She struggles at first but then becomes still when she realizes that he is very strong.


Before the mother passes out from oxygen deprivation, Randal takes his hand from her nose and allows her to breathe. He continues to hold her mouth shut.


“Ssshhhhh,” he says. “Quiet. Randal likes quiet. Randal scares too easy. Noise scares Randal. Too much talk, too many words scares Randal. Don’t scare Randal.”


When he feels that she is ready to cooperate, he releases her. She says nothing. She is breathing hard, almost gasping, but she is done with talking for now.


Randal Six turns off the gas flame at the cooktop to prevent the onions from burning in the pan. This constitutes a higher level of involvement with his environment than he’s exhibited before, an awareness of peripheral issues, and he is pleased with himself.


Perhaps he will discover a talent for cooking.


He gets a tablespoon from the flatware drawer and the quart of strawberry-banana swirl from the freezer. He sits at the kitchen table, across from Arnie’s mother, and spoons the pink-and-yellow treat from the container.


This is not better than brown food, but it is not worse. Just different, still wonderful.


He smiles across the table at her because this seems to be a domestic moment—perhaps even an important bonding moment—that requires a smile.


Clearly, however, she is distressed by his smile, perhaps because she can tell that it is calculated and not sincere. Mothers know.


“Randal will ask some questions. You will answer. Randal does not want to hear your too many, too noisy questions. Just answers. Short answers, not chatter.”


She understands. She nods.


“My name is Randal.” When she does not respond, he says, “Oh. What is your name?”


“Vicky.”


“For now, Randal will call you Vicky. Will it be all right if Randal calls you Vicky?”


“Yes.”


“You are the first mother that Randal has ever met. Randal does not want to kill mothers. Do you want to be killed?”


“No. Please.”


“Many people do want to be killed. Mercy people. Because they aren’t able to kill themselves.”


He pauses to spoon more ice cream into his mouth.


Licking his lips, he continues: “This tastes better than spiders and earthworms and rodents would’ve tasted. Randal likes in a house better than under a house. Do you like it better in a house than under a house?”


“Yes.”


“Have you ever been in a Dumpster with a dead hobo?”


She stares at him and says nothing.


He assumes that she is searching her memory, but after a while, he says, “Vicky? Have you ever been in a Dumpster with a dead hobo?”


“No. No, I haven’t.”


Randal Six has never been so proud of himself as he is at this moment. This is the first conversation he has had with anyone other than his maker at Mercy. And it is going so well.


Chapter 49


Werner’s lifelong problem with excess mucus production was a minor annoyance compared to his current tribulations.


In the monitor room, Victor, Ripley, and four awe-stricken staff members watched the six closed-circuit screens as the security chief careened around the isolation chamber on four legs. The back two were as they had been at the start of this episode. Although his forelegs closely resembled the back pair, the articulation of the shoulder joints had changed dramatically.


The powerful shoulders suggested those of a jungle cat. As Werner prowled restlessly in that other room, his metamorphosis continued, and all four legs began to appear increasingly feline. As in any cat, an elbow developed at the posterior terminus of the shoulder muscle to complement a foreleg joint structure that included a knee but a more flexible wrist instead of an ankle.


This intrigued Victor because he had included in Werner’s design selected genetic material from a panther to increase his agility and speed.


The hind legs became more feline, developing a long metatarsus above the toes, a heel midway up the limb, and a knee close to the body trunk. The relationship between the rump, the thigh, and the flank shifted, proportions changing as well.


On the hind legs, the human feet melted completely into pawlike structures with blunt toes that featured impressive claws. On the forelegs, however, though dewclaws formed at the pasterns, elements of the human hand persisted, even if the fingers now terminated in claw sheaths and claws.


All of these transformations presented themselves clearly for consideration because Werner did not develop fur. He was hairless and pink.


Although this crisis had not passed—in fact may only have begun—Victor was able to bring cool scientific detachment to his observations now that Werner had been contained and the threat of imminent violence had been eliminated.


Often over the decades, he had learned more from his setbacks than from his numerous successes. Failure could be a legitimate father of progress, especially his failures, which were more likely to advance the cause of knowledge than were the greatest triumphs of lesser scientists.


Victor was fascinated by the bold manifestation of nonhuman characteristics for which no genes had been included. Although the security chief’s musculature had been enhanced with genetic material from a panther, he did not carry the code that would express feline legs, and he certainly had not been engineered to have a tail, which now began to form.


The Werner head, still familiar, moved on a thicker and more sinuous neck than any man had ever enjoyed. The eyes, when turned toward a camera, appeared to have the elliptical irises of a cat, though no genes related to feline vision had been spliced into his chromosomes.


This suggested either that Victor had made a mistake with Werner or that somehow Werner’s astonishingly amorphous flesh was able to extrapolate every detail of an animal from mere scraps of its genetic structure. Although it was an outrageous concept, flatly impossible, he leaned toward that second explanation.


In addition to the six camera coverage of Werner’s lycanthropy-quick metamorphosis, microphones in the isolation chamber fed his voice into the monitor room. Whether he was aware of the full extent of the physical changes racking his body could not be determined by what he said, for unfortunately his words were gibberish. Mostly he screamed.


Judging by the intensity and the nature of the screams, both mental anguish and unrelenting physical agony accompanied the metamorphosis. Evidently, Werner no longer possessed the ability to switch off pain.


When suddenly a clear word was discernible “Father, Father”—Victor killed the audio feed and satisfied himself with the silent images.


Scientists at Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and every major research university in the world had in recent years been experimenting with cross-species gene splicing. They had inserted genetic material of spiders into goats, which then produced milk laced with webs. They had bred mice that carried bits of human DNA, and several teams were in competition to be the first to produce a pig with a human brain.


“But only I,” Victor declared, gazing at the six screens, “have created the chimera of ancient myth, the beast of many parts that functions as one creature.”


“Is he functioning?” Ripley asked.


“You can see as well as I,” Victor replied impatiently. “He runs with great speed.”


“In tortured circles.”


“His body is supple and strong.”


“And changing again,” said Ripley.


Werner, too, had something of the spider in him, and something of the cockroach, to increase the ductility of his tendons, to invest his collagen with greater tensile-strain capacity. Now these arachnid and insectile elements appeared to be expressing themselves at the expense of the panther form.


“Biological chaos,” Ripley whispered.


“Pay attention,” Victor advised him. “In this we will find clues that will lead inevitably to the greatest advancements in the history of genetics and molecular biology.”


“Are we absolutely sure,” Ripley asked, “that the transition-module doors completed their lock cycle?”


All four of the other staff members answered as one: “Yes.”


The image on one of the six screens blurred to gray, and the face of Annunciata materialized.


Assuming that she had appeared in error, Victor almost shouted at her to disengage.


Before he could speak, however, she said, “Mr. Helios, an Alpha has made an urgent request for a meeting with you.”


“Which Alpha?”


“Patrick Duchaine, rector of Our Lady of Sorrows.”


“Patch his call through to these speakers.”


“He did not telephone, Mr. Helios. He came to the front door of Mercy.”


Because these days the Hands of Mercy presented itself to the world as a private warehouse with little daily business, those born here did not return for any purpose, lest an unusual flow of visitors might belie the masquerade. Duchaine’s visit was a breach of protocol that suggested he had news of an important nature to impart.


“Send him to me,” Victor told Annunciata.


“Yes, Mr. Helios. Yes.”


Chapter 50


Laffite opened his eyes. “I’ve revealed myself to you. Further proof that my program is breaking down. We must move secretly among you, never revealing our difference or our purpose.”


“We’re cool,” Michael told him. “We don’t have a problem with it. Just sit for a while, Pastor Kenny, just sit there and watch the little birds dropping off the wire.”


As Michael spoke those words, less than a minute after he had terminated his cell-phone conversation with Deucalion, the giant entered the parsonage kitchen from the downstairs hall.


Carson had grown so accustomed to the big man’s inexplicable arrivals and mysterious departures that the Desert Eagle in her two-hand grip didn’t twitch a fraction of an inch but remained sighted dead-still on the minister’s chest.


“What—you called me from the front porch?” Michael asked.


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