Shaddack awoke from his familiar and comforting dream of human and machine parts combined in a world-spanning engine of incalculable power and mysterious purpose. He was, as always, refreshed as much by the dream as by sleep itself.
He got out of the van and stretched. Using tools he found in the garage, he forced open the connecting door to the late Paula Parkins's house. He used her bathroom, then washed his hands and face.
Upon returning to the garage, he raised the big door. He pulled the van out into the driveway, where it could better transmit and receive data by microwave.
Rain was still falling, and depressions in the lawn were filled with water. Already wisps of fog stirred in the windless air, which probably meant the banks of fog that rolled in from the sea later in the day would be even denser than those last night.
He took another ham sandwich and a Coke from the cooler and ate while using the van's VDT to check on the progress of Moonhawk. The 6:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. schedule for four hundred and fifty conversions was still under way. Already, at 12:50, slightly less than seven hours into the twelve-hour program, three hundred and nine had been injected with full-spectrum micro spheres. The conversion teams were well ahead of schedule.
He checked on the progress of the search for Samuel Booker and the Lockland woman. Neither had been found.
Shaddack should have been worried about their disappearance. But he was unconcerned. He had seen the moonhawk, after all, not once but three times, and he had no doubt that ultimately he would achieve all of his goals.
The Foster girl was still missing too. He didn't trouble himself about her either. She had probably encountered something deadly in the night. At times regressives could be useful.
Perhaps Booker and the Lockland woman had fallen victim to those same creatures. It would be ironic if the regressives—the only flaw in the project, and a potentially serious one—should prove to have preserved the secret of Moonhawk.
Through the VDT, he tried to reach Tucker at New Wave, then at his home, but the man was at neither place. Could Watkins be correct? Was Tucker a regressive and, like Peyser, unable to find his way back to human form? Was he out there in the woods right now, trapped in an altered state?
Clicking off the computer, Shaddack sighed. After everyone had been converted at midnight, this first phase of Moonhawk would not be finished. Not quite. They'd evidently have a few messes to mop up.
In the cellar of the Icarus Colony, three bodies had become one. The resultant entity was without rigid shape, boneless, featureless, a mass of pulsing tissue that lived in spite of lacking a brain and heart and blood vessels, without organs of any kind. It was primal, a thick protein soup, brainless but aware, eyeless but seeing, earless but hearing, without a gut but hungry.
The agglomerations of silicon microspheres had dissolved within it. That inner computer could no longer function in the radically altered substance of the creature, and in turn the beast had no use any more for the biological assistance that the microspheres had been designed to provide. Now it was not linked to Sun, the computer at New Wave. If the microwave transmitter there sent a death order, it would not receive the command—and would live.
It had become the master of its physiology by reducing itself, to the uncomplicated essence of physical existence. Their three minds also had become one. The consiousness now dwelling in that darkness was as lacking in complex form as the amorphous, jellied body it inhabited.
It had relinquished its memory because memories were recordings of events and relationships that had consequences, and consequences—good or bad—implied that one was responsible for one's actions. Flight from responsibility had driven the creature to regression in the first place. Pain was another shedding memory—the pain of recalling what had been lost.
Likewise, it had surrendered the capacity to consider the future, to plan, to dream.
Now it had no past of which it was aware, and the concept of a future was beyond its ken. It lived only for the moment, Unthinking, unfeeling, uncaring.
It had one need. To survive.
And to survive, it needed only one thing. To feed.
The breakfast dishes had been cleared from the table while Sam was at the Coltranes' house, battling monsters that apparently had been part human and part computer and part zombies—and maybe, for all they knew, part toaster oven. After Sam was bandaged, Chrissie gathered with him and Tessa and Harry around the kitchen table again, to listen to them discuss what action to take next.
Moose stayed at Chrissie's side, regarding her with soulful brown eyes, as if he adored her more than life itself. She couldn't resist giving him all the petting and scratching-behind-the-ears that he wanted.
"The greatest problem of our age," Sam said, "is how to keep technological progress accelerating, how to use it to improve the quality of life—without being overwhelmed by it. Can we employ the computer to redesign our world, to remake our lives, without one day coming to worship it?" He blinked at Tessa and said, "It's not a silly question."
Tessa frowned. "I didn't say it was. Sometimes we have a blind trust in machines, a tendency to believe that whatever a computer tells us is gospel—"
"To forget the old maxim," Harry injected, "which says 'garbage in, garbage out.'"
"Exactly," Tessa agreed. "Sometimes, when we get data or analyses from computers, we treat it as if the machines were all infallible. Which is dangerous because a computer application can be conceived, designed, and implemented by a madman, Perhaps not as easily as by a benign genius but certainly as effectively."
Sam said, "Yet people have a tendency—no, even a deep desire—to want to depend on the machines."
"Yeah," Harry said, "that's our sorry damn need to shift responsibility whenever we possibly can. A spineless desire to get out from under responsibility is in our genes, I swear it is, and the only way we get anywhere in this world is by constantly fighting our natural inclination to be utterly irresponsible. Sometimes I wonder if that's what we got from the devil when Eve listened to the serpent and ate the apple—this aversion to responsibility. Most evil has it roots there."
Chrissie noticed this subject energized Harry. With his one good arm and a little help from his half-good leg, he levered himself higher in his wheelchair. Color seeped into his previously pale face. He made a fist of one hand and stared at it intently, as if holding something precious in that tight grip, as if he held the idea there and didn't want to let go of it until he had fully explored it.
He said, "Men steal and kill and lie and cheat because they, feel no responsibility for others. Politicians want power, and they want acclaim when their policies succeed, but they seldom stand up and take the responsibility for failure. The world's full of people who want to tell you how to live your life, how to make heaven right here on earth, but when their ideas turn out half-baked, when it ends in Dachau or the Gulag or the mass murders that followed our departure from Southeast Asia, they turn their heads, avert their eyes, and pretend they had no responsibility for the slaughter."
He shuddered, and Chrissie shuddered too, though she was not entirely sure that she entirely understood everything he was, saying.
"Jesus," he continued, "if I've thought about this once, I've thought about it a thousand times, ten thousand, maybe because, of the war."
"Vietnam, you mean?" Tessa said.
Harry nodded. He was still staring at his fist. "In the war, to survive, you had to be responsible every minute of every day, unhesitatingly responsible for yourself, for your every action. You had to be responsible for your buddies, too, because survival wasn't something that could be achieved alone. That was maybe the one positive thing about fighting in a war—it clarifies your thinking and makes you realize that a sense of responsibility is what separates good men from the damned. I don't regret the war, not even considering what happened to me there. I learned that great lesson, learned to be responsible in all things, and I still feel responsible to the people we were fighting for, always will, and sometimes when I think of how we abandoned them to the killing fields, the mass graves, I lay awake at night and cry because they depended on me, and to the extent that I was a part of the process, I'm responsible for failing them."
They were all silent.
Chrissie felt a peculiar pressure in her chest, the same feeling she always got in school when a teacher—any teacher, any subject—began to talk about something which had been previously unknown to her and which so impressed her that it changed the way she looked at the world. It didn't happen often, but it was always both a scary and wonderful sensation. She felt it now, because of what Harry had said, but the sensation was ten times or a hundred times stronger than it had ever been when some new insight or idea had been passed to her in geography or math or science.
Tessa said, "Harry, I think your sense of responsibility in this case is excessive."
He finally looked up from his fist. "No. it can never be. Your sense of responsibility to others can never be excessive." He smiled at her. "But I know you just well enough to suspect you're already aware of that, Tessa, whether you realize it or not." He looked at Sam and said, "Some of those who came out of the war saw no good at all in it. When I meet up with them, I always suspect they were the ones who never learned the lesson, and I avoid them—though I suppose that's unfair. Can't help it. But when I meet a man from the war and see he learned the lesson, then I'd trust him with my life. Hell, I'd trust him with my soul, which in this case seems to be what they want to steal. You'll get us out of this, Sam." At last he opened his fist. "I've no doubt of that."
Tessa seemed surprised. To Sam she said, "You were in Vietnam?"
Sam nodded. "Between junior college and the Bureau."
"But you never mentioned it. This morning, when we were eating breakfast, when you told me all the reasons you saw the world so differently from the way I saw it, you mentioned your wife's death, the murder of your partners, your situation with your son, but not that."
Sam stared at his bandaged wrist for a while and finally said, "The war is the most personal experience of my life."
"What an odd thing to say."
"Not odd at all," Harry said. "The most intense and the most personal."
Sam said, "If I'd not come to terms with it, I'd probably still talk about it, probably run on about it all the time. But I have come to terms with it. I've understood. And now to talk about it casually with someone I've just met would … well, cheapen it, I guess."
Tessa looked at Harry and said, "But you knew he was in Vietnam?"
"Just knew it somehow."
Sam had been leaning over the table. Now he settled back in his chair. "Harry, I swear I'll do my best to get us out of this. But I wish I had a better grasp of what we're up against. It all comes from New Wave. But exactly what have they done, and how can it be stopped? And how can I hope to deal with it when, I don't even understand it?"
To that point Chrissie had felt that the conversation had been way over her head, even though all of it had been fascinating and though some of it had stirred the learning feeling in her But now she felt that she had to contribute: "Are you really sure it's not aliens?"
"We're sure," Tessa said, smiling at her, and Sam ruffled her hair.
"Well," Chrissie said, "what I mean is, maybe what went wrong at New Wave is that aliens landed there and used it as a base, and maybe they want to turn us all into machines, like the Coltranes, so we can serve them as slaves—which, when you think about it, is more sensible than wanting to eat us. They're aliens, after all, which means they have alien stomachs and alien digestive juices, and we'd probably be real hard to digest, giving them heartburn, maybe even diarrhea."
Sam, who was sitting in the chair beside Chrissie, took both her hands and held them gently in his, as aware of her abraded palm as he was aware of his own injured wrist. "Chrissie, I don't know if you've been paying too much attention to what Harry's been saying—"
"Oh, yes," she said at once. "All of it."
"Well, then you'll understand when I tell you that wanting to blame all these horrors on aliens is yet another way of shifting the responsibility from where it really belongs—on us, on people, on our very real and very great capacity to do harm to one another. it's hard to believe that anybody, even crazy men, would want to make the Coltranes into what they became, but somebody evidently did want just that. If we try to blame it on aliens or the devil or God or trolls or whatever—we won't be likely to see the situation clearly enough to figure out how to save ourselves. You understand?"
He smiled at her. He had a very nice smile, though he didn't flash it much. "I think you understand it more than sort of."
"More than sort of," Chrissie agreed. "It'd sure be nice if it was aliens, because we'd just have to find their nest or their hive or whatever, burn them out real good, maybe blow up their spaceship, and it would be over and done with. But if it's not aliens, if it's us—people like us—who did all this, then maybe it's never quite over and done with."
With increasing frustration, Loman Watkins cruised from one end of Moonlight Cove to the other, back and forth, around and around in the rain, seeking Shaddack. He had revisited the house on the north point to be sure Shaddack had not returned there, and also to check the garage to see which vehicle was missing. Now he was looking for Shaddack's charcoal-gray van with tinted windows, but he was unable to locate it.
Wherever he went, conversion teams and search parties were at work. Though the unconverted were not likely to notice anything too unusual about those men's passage through town, Loman was constantly aware of them.
At the north and south roadblocks on the county route and at the main blockade on the eastern end of Ocean Avenue, out toward the interstate, Loman's officers were continuing to deal with outsiders wanting to enter Moonlight Cove. Exhaust plumes rose from the idling patrol cars, mingling with the wisps of fog that had begun to slither through the rain. The red and blue emergency beacons were reflected in the wet macadam, so it seemed as if streams of blood, oxygenated and oxygen-depleted, flowed along the pavement.
There weren't many would-be visitors because the town was neither the county seat nor a primary shopping center for people in outlying communities. Furthermore, it was close to the end of the county road, and there were no destinations beyond it, so no one wanted to pass through on the way to somewhere else. Those who did want to come into town were turned away, if at all possible, with a story about a toxic spill at New Wave. Those who seemed at all skeptical were arrested, conveyed to the jail, and locked in cells until a decision could be made either to kill, or convert them. Since the establishment of the quarantine in the early hours of the morning, only a score of people had been stopped at the blockades, and only six had been Jailed.