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Fear - Michael Grant

Fear - Michael Grant


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Published by Sandy Carson
Book by Michael Grant
Book by Michael Grant

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Published by: Sandy Carson on Jul 03, 2013
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A GONE Novel

Jake.DEDICATION For Katherine. and Julia .


Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit. my God. Thou hast caused my companions to shun me.. Afflicted and close to death from my youth up.. I suffer thy terrors. I am shut in so that I cannot escape... and thou dost overwhelm me with all thy waves.EPIGRAPH O LORD. 15–16.. thy dread assaults destroy me. 18 (Revised Standard Version) . my companions are in darkness. in the regions dark and deep... 6–9. my eye grows dim through sorrow. I call for help by day. thou hast made me a thing of horror to them. Thou hast caused lover and friend to shun me. I cry out in the night before thee.. Thy wrath lies heavy upon me. I am helpless.. Thy wrath has swept over me. —Psalm 88: 1.



Something important was being said by Colonel Matteu. People she didn’t know. had checked out mentally a long time ago.” Abana said. He hadn’t seen the barrier across the road up in the Stefano Rey National Park and his Hyundai hit it going seventy miles an hour. The colonel didn’t look much like a colonel. They had become good friends over these long. some were sitting. A lot of names had come and gone in her life since then. exactly?” Connie asked. Depression had claimed him and now there wasn’t much left of the once energetic. He was the first to be able to answer a simple question honestly. He was the third officer to be assigned to command the forces at the Bowl. Of the population of Perdido Beach. in a vacant stretch of land just a quarter mile from the southern boundary of the Bowl. It cut Clifftop. Wondering if she’d had a stroke. they’re calling it. “No. In the sand. They’d found her and removed what was left of the girl to a facility where she was kept alive. The California National Guard’s grandly named Camp Camino Real stood on the landward side of the highway. but he tended to slouch inside that uniform. All around her lay others. a posh hotel. “The energy signature. It doesn’t sound like much. a motor pool.Z. they still can’t penetrate the barrier. terrible months. even on cool days like this one with the ocean breeze blowing. And the next minute she was gone. dazed.” The three of them. not a single adult had been killed. And a hundred percent every day since. Some she recognized as faces in town. It was an array of two dozen trailers and sheds laid out with military precision. “We don’t know.” He held up a hand. but he was lost now. “We know by now not to believe everything we hear. of course. Only later. cutting through everything in its way.” Connie heard the slight overemphasis on the word “know. That. There. had not been filmed. Gone. suddenly tumbling down a hillside. Nothing has been right so far. live. Connie had stood slowly. Abana. after days of disbelief and denial. but he’d fallen silent. One woman found herself suddenly in another person’s home. It extended inland. Only later would they learn that it was a sphere twenty miles across. Connie Temple had found herself on the beach. Connie. suddenly in the water.” “It’s weakening. She’d been sitting when it happened and so she had sat down suddenly on the sand and had fallen onto her back. The trailers tended to be hot. Seventy million plays on YouTube. No explosion. On her back. The Perdido Beach Blister. and E. featureless wall. The air-conditioning suddenly came alive. Wondering if this was the end of the world. We had one set of theories when the twins appeared safe and sound. And then. “They think there may be a … a softening. a . gray.) left the trailer. It cut the highway. With an effort she pulled herself out of the memory of that day. A man Connie recognized as a teacher at Sam’s school stood blinking.” Abana said. leaving the impression that either it was a size too big or he had shrunk since buying it.” Abana said mordantly. far out of sight. Some were in workout clothing and seemed to have arrived on the beach. Abana usually had a better grasp of the scientific details than Connie. Connie couldn’t remember his name now. in half. What had emerged of Francis had been a horror caught on camera. “Maybe. hand raised.” “That’s changed?” “The last test showed ninety-eight-point-four percent refraction. The colonel sighed. It was incredibly tall and seemed to curve away. not believing any of it was real. All we know is that right from the start we got this energy signature and it was one-way. But in the end there had been only one death: a salesman from San Luis Obispo on his way down to talk about insurance with a couple in Perdido Beach. wearing a bathing suit and standing in the middle of the highway with cars swerving like crazy to avoid him. Connie and Abana had both tried to reach out to him. Soon after that. The colonel nodded. George Zellicoe. And now it’s not a hundred percent. and some of the surrounding area. The Bowl.OUTSIDE ONE MINUTE NURSE Connie Temple had been updating her journal on her little laptop. and rebroadcast again and again to a sickened world. Or the end of her life. cutting off the quick reaction. And it may not mean anything. California. “I preface this by reminding all of us that we’ve been through a dozen—a hundred—different theories. and the neatly trimmed hair. Dahra. He still came to the briefings. on the highway.” No flash of light.” “The what?” Connie Temple glanced at Abana Baidoo. He had the flawlessly pressed army uniform. But now she just shrugged. Some were standing.” “What is it they suspect?” Connie asked. “The energy signature has changed. And then she had seen it: a blank. Wondering if this was some hallucination. “No. Every single person under the age of fifteen was gone. opinionated man. there had been Mary. But in the past when they’ve tried bombarding portions of the barrier with X-rays or gamma rays the barrier has acted as a perfect mirror. with her knees drawn up. No “poof. mercifully. More permanent buildings—a barracks. ma’am. the third of the family spokespeople. some sat as though they were still holding on to a steering wheel. when Francis…” No one needed to be reminded of Francis. And now it’s shifting. We don’t know. “What we’ve started calling the J wave.” “But you don’t know what that means. She had a way of talking that turned every question into an incredulous challenge. did the world accept that none of the children had been transported.” “What does that mean. like he’d been writing something on a chalkboard. though some had been injured when they found themselves suddenly in the desert. still running. If you could call it life. It extended out into the ocean. and George (the parents of Sam. bouncing back a hundred percent of the energy that struck it. But it’s been a hundred percent since day one. Aerial shots soon popped up all over the internet.” Colonel Matteu said. One man had appeared wet.

“And now this. That’s what’s going to happen. Connie and Abana lived here now. Abana waited and sipped her coffee. the children. This weakening. This one-point-six-percent change. windswept heights above the beach. “That’s right. But this time. Both women closed their eyes and lifted their faces to the sun. The two women walked across the highway from Camp Camino Real and sat in lawn chairs turned toward the ocean. “Theory number eight thousand seven hundred and forty-two. and now. You know? Like maybe it was time to move on. Even at the start the mothers and fathers. brothers and sisters. maybe not.” “Yeah.” Connie began.” Abana smiled. There were only two media satellite trucks left. are going to come walking down that road. and the Holiday Inn Express had opened one wing while construction continued on the rest. “And walk right past us to get a burger at Carl’s. And my son Sam and your daughter. parking all along the highway for a mile or more. But he’s the first to have a Nobel Prize. “I was just getting to the point….” “He’s not the first to say that. But they rarely got any on-air time anymore: the country and the world had largely lost interest. sharing a Winnebago with a privileged parking spot overlooking the Pacific. “Because what’s going to happen is that the barrier is going to come down. She finished their long-worn joke. Connie made coffee and brought a cup to Abana. A grief-crazed family member had driven a boatload of explosives into the side of the dome months earlier.” “Yeah. George climbed into his car and drove off without a word.’” They were quiet for a while. and now. They had a nice gas barbecue donated by Home Depot. “The families will want to know. “If only there had been some warning. Mom. The Del Taco had just sold its first burrito a few days ago. “That’s not going to happen. Connie Temple said nothing. But since then the Courtyard by Marriott had been completed.” Abana agreed.maintenance building—were under construction.” Connie said wearily. Connie sighed.” The families. ‘Hey. But she looked worried. although about two thousand tourists a day still made the trip up the highway to the viewing area. I had a warning.” “Some guy. of course. says if the barrier ever does come down it could be catastrophic. And as usual the response was on the tip of Connie’s tongue: I did have warning. . had rejected that idea. “Hope is cruel. He’s worried it could set off an explosion big enough to annihilate the western half of the United States. The resulting explosion had had no effect on the Bowl.” Connie made a dismissive snort.” “And now. She’d said it before: she regretted having argued with her daughter the morning before the event. Out at sea a coast guard cutter rode on gentle waves. as every time. see you later: I’m going to go grab a burger. A handful of souvenir vendors still made a living from canvas-awninged stalls. It’ll be.” Connie said firmly.” But that had implied the others.” Her friend nodded. well. parked by the side of the highway. At first they had referred to them as “the survivors. had died.” Connie reached for her hand. some physicist at Stanford. and every Friday evening she and Abana would have a cookout— burgers or ribs—with the media people and whatever Guardsmen or soldiers or highway patrolmen happened to be around and off duty. guarding the watery perimeter of the anomaly.” Abana said. That was the term settled on by the media. “I was getting to the point where I was starting to think I needed to get back to something else. When Camp Camino Real had first gone up it was all alone on the lovely. Dahra. “Do we hold a conference call on this?” Abana asked. He thinks the barrier is some form of protective coating over an antimatter sphere. as had the Carl’s Jr.

black oak. When she slept. There was also a medicine pouch: a few Band-Aids. meant there were fewer ways a predator could come at her. Something small scuttled away. up where the barrier cut through the Stefano Rey National Park. In the pack she had three precious vacuum packs of dehydrated macaroni liberated from distant campsites. fresh water fed from some underground aquifer. Anything that hit the wire would make a racket. She’d found a water tank at the ranger station. She was at the northern edge of the FAYZ.ONE 65 HOURS. Whip Hand. So storing her food right up against that eye-tricking. covering the trees where she thought the sound had come from. The evil that could not be killed. Not heavy. Astrid relaxed a little. three books. needle and thread. just a quarter mile or maybe a little more from the shore. As she cooked. She’d learned many things in the four months since she had left everyone and everything behind and gone off into the woods. The evil that sooner or later would take her. Nothing. hoping to avoid a cramp. whatever it was. In places branches went into the barrier. Astrid crouched. clams. and a big man at that. And since water weighed a lot to carry. and she never allowed herself to take any before they were fully developed. and crabs no bigger than large roaches. Her breath was ragged but she calmed it a little. swung her shotgun off her shoulder. and the cooler fit perfectly into that hole. She surveyed the blackberry bramble for ripe berries. Camp was two tents: one—buff colored—she slept in. pearly gray wall kept her food supply safe. Her blond hair was short. a bottle of vitamins—she allowed herself one every three days—as well as pencil and paper. The psychopath. a mostly used tube of Neosporin and a dozen precious Tylenol. It was a man’s belt. and a spare water bottle. She rolled them. ash—grew tall. She scanned slowly. two Bic lighters. Once home Astrid unloaded her berries and the rest of the food she’d brought with her into a red-and-white plastic cooler. She had strung a wire in a perimeter around the camp. The murderer. Not even a coyote. She took two dozen: dessert for later. As she used the slit trench. It also helped to keep her safe. They didn’t all ripen at once. But it was sturdy and bore the weight of the . How many times each day did she endure this same fear? How many hundreds of times had she peered into the trees or bushes or rocks searching for that narrow. Some were cut through by the barrier. the machete. she had to watch every drop and— A sound. One fingernail had been torn completely off when she slipped down an abrupt hill and ended up saving herself only by clawing madly at rocks and shrubs. a small bag of pot and a small pipe. at least. then back. The wire was hung with bottles containing marbles. and one—green with tan lining—she used for storage of nonfood items scavenged from the various campgrounds. One thing she had learned was that animals avoided the barrier. Her face was deeply tanned. and she was determined not to be greedy. Not the sadist. How many times? And how many times had she imagined firing both barrels of the shotgun straight into his face. A world where Drake was presumably still alive would never be safe. and knowing that nothing she could do would stop him. loosened the drawstring. quaking aspen. It wasn’t a heavy sound. Sound! Dry leaves and damp earth. 11 MINUTES SHE WORE A pair of jeans and a plaid flannel shirt over a black T-shirt several sizes too big. But she wasn’t starving. mussels. Here the trees—redwoods. crying. slow. Astrid’s stomach rumbled as she dealt with the incredibly sharp thorns—so sharp they sometimes went right through the gloves—and pried berries loose. As she dressed. Her shoulders were tight. a dozen wild green onions. Water was a bigger concern. Not the monster with the tentacle for an arm. She wasn’t far inland. Not a Drake sound. Even the insects stayed a few feet back. this close to the barrier. Astrid was usually hungry. She listened hard in all directions. ranger offices. sighted along the barrels. dead-eyed face? Day and night. She also had most of a cooked pigeon in a Tupperware container. hacked off crudely with a knife and without benefit of a mirror. But she felt as safe here as anywhere in the . Just add water. tripping through the forest. A leather belt made two turns around her waist. Her backpack was dirty and the seams were all frayed. Not Drake. long-practiced move. and rusty cans. the only one she’d located. turning her upper body left to right. Camping here.38 revolver. She listened. Astrid swung the pack off her shoulders. She’d dug a hole right up against the barrier. Her hands were calloused and scarred from the innumerable small cuts she’d gotten from prying open mussels. blood spraying … and knowing that he would still come after her? She would pump round after round into him and still she would be the one running and gasping for air. With her berries safely tucked away in her backpack Astrid headed back toward her camp. and her water bottle. and extracted a pair of heavy gloves sized for a grown man. but neither was close to her camp. Listened hard. Astrid Ellison had changed. but it sat comfortably on her thin shoulders. She wondered if they came out the other side. Astrid stood all the way up and slipped the shotgun back into place. She heard her heart pounding and willed it to slow. and right at the cliff’s edge. where she often searched for oysters. all in one fluid. obliterating his features. Probably a possum or a skunk. and she’d found a tiny stream of what seemed like clean. and infinitely more precious tampons. quiet so she could listen. She couldn’t say she felt safe. This was her blackberry patch. raised it. and trash heaps in the Stefano Rey.

She would have to await sunrise to see more. And yet. break her bones. Astrid closed her eyes and stood there for a long moment. had been so much closer to the truth. and yes. warning her that she had seen something important and missed it. after a few minutes. Astrid’s hands shook. She set aside the pot and the book and walked back to her buried pantry. so she made the decision to use a few precious seconds of battery life and flicked on a small flashlight. whom you love. Here it was only nature trying to starve her. Was it her imagination? The barrier down in the hole looked different. which fell away. Life now was an almost constant search for food. Astrid giggled. propped her weary feet up on a second chair. It no longer seemed to glow softly. She flicked off the light and took a deep. The barrier was changing. had intervened to stop the killing. and go to the region of Moriah. She put the cooler back into the hole. It was not nature that had driven her to sacrifice her brother’s life. Nothing ever stuck to the barrier—nothing. A memory twinge. They weren’t as towering here close to the shore as they were farther inland. a few small clumps of dirt now did exactly that. She felt her emotions go fuzzy and indistinct. but the trees pressed close on two sides. She hauled up the cooler. That it had taken her so long to realize this was an embarrassment to her. she might have a prescription for a sleeping pill. with his shoulder-shrugging indifference to all matters religious. Three sides of the hole were dirt. She drew the sharp point of her knife along the barrier. would it? Well. the drone of weird incantations. It was a beautiful location atop a sheer bluff by the ocean. there it was. tracing back her actions. Just as if it had gone from polished glass to burnished steel. Her camp was in a small clearing. this alone had beguiled his unlawful soul beyond the bounds of permitted aspirations. She knelt down. had driven him out to the edge of the forest. It was a good thing to have decided there was no God. And that wouldn’t be wrong. Astrid drew her knife and poked at the dirt. She was Astrid the Genius. It was subtle. strange little brother to the huge. to the bush. she thought.FAYZ. from above the hole down. She flicked the lighter and brought it to the bowl of the pipe. And yet Sam. Just two. Not much at all. Then she hesitated. appalling creatures that threatened her and threatened every human in the FAYZ. She wanted to use that awful word to obliterate whatever was left of Astrid the Genius. and opened a book. But she already knew what she had seen. Her brother had disappeared. Not much. And she still didn’t know what the game was. But the knifepoint glided with no resistance whatsoever until it reached the darker color and then the point dragged. I tried to break the spell—the heavy. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about. And only her own actions stood out with crystal clarity. and without any lamp she had only an hour of light at sunset to read. She didn’t want to dress it up with any nice word. cut and poison her. She had hurled her sick. as the fear and the necessity became abstract. she wouldn’t have to go to hell. For her the spell was about forgetfulness. Murdered. Astrid frowned. Isaac. Astrid closed her eyes and then the book and tried to calm the rush of emotion inside her. seeing her faith. But there she had awakened forgotten and brutal instincts. almost imperceptible. Two hits: that was her rule. where she crawled into her sleeping bag and lay with her arms curled around the shotgun. The guilt faded. It was darker. She laid the book flat on her lap. Nature did not hate her. Black. Astrid looked up at the trees. If this were the normal world. The name she had carried for years. Hell was coming to her. after all. the fourth was the barrier. because if there were then she would be damned to eternal hell. Something nagging at her consciousness. Guilt was a fascinating thing: it seemed not to weaken over time. Now it seemed opaque. She rationalized the drug on the grounds that it was the only way she could fall asleep. Then God said. If anything it grew stronger as the circumstances faded from memory. I was convinced. your only son. another. The sacrifice had worked. Nature was relentless but it was free of malice. by the memory of gratified and monstrous passions. Astrid flopped into her nylon sling chair. swaying slightly. From her backpack she retrieved the bag of pot. So. And within half an hour sleep drew her to her tent. she needed to sleep. But she turned to the setting sun to catch the red rays on the page of her book. “‘The heavy. let alone caring about his creations? She had murdered Little Pete. This alone.” Only no loving God.’” Astrid read aloud. She wanted the word to be sandpaper dragged across her raw conscience. . mute spell of the wilderness—that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts. the throb of drums. It was too dark to see into the hole. She wanted it harsh. That was the true wilderness. The beginning of the endgame. The harsh life she now lived was less harsh than the reality she had left behind in Perdido Beach. “Take your son. So had the creatures. Astrid lit the pipe. towards the gleam of fires. took a deep lungful. mute spell of the wilderness. Hunting and fishing were early morning activities and she needed to sleep. What kind of a fool looked at the world as it was—and this terrible world of the FAYZ especially—and believed in God? A God actually paying attention. The book was Heart of Darkness. When that final night came the demon Drake would find her. shaky breath. then. For the excellent reason that there was no loving God. The illusion of translucency was gone. These seemed friendlier trees than the ones deeper into the forest.

She would run. . But never fast enough.

That. that would be Quicken. Or maybe not so slowly.” “You look okay. very dumb voice. a narrow. But they were clean. “Please. as was detergent. it’s early for some of this. would have seen if he just turned around quickly enough. who played Sandy Cheeks. even looking at Diana made him uncomfortable.” This conversation was definitely making him uncomfortable.” “Oh. big diamond rings made to fit with tape. Terry had a yellow T-shirt painted with spongelike holes. Here and there as the sun sank and the shadows grew Sam could make out the flare of cigarette butts. and crisscross belts. Soap was long gone. “Well.” Sam muttered. sticks with big spikes driven through them. two-story. I have all the books on pregnancy. He covered himself with his hands and a wave of laughter rose from the assembled audience. “You’re going slowly nuts. Sam.” Diana said. I’m begging you: no. Four months of it. But. “Really? That makes you blush?” “I’m not blushing. It was like that. he thought ruefully. not crippled. chains. On the good side I no longer throw up every morning. all manner of bandannas. It was Friday Fun Fest at Lake Tramonto. if he’d bothered. 57 MINUTES “PATRICK. He was absolutely sure he did not want to give her his hand. ties. He stood up and offered her his chair. and Darryl. Every Friday the kids rewarded themselves with an evening of entertainment. and guns. Some had decorated themselves with feathers stuck in their hair. No. At least. Much cleaner than they’d been back in Perdido Beach almost a year ago. plastic flowers. He glanced back. beautiful. And then there was the Sinder project. But mostly things were better. Many went barefoot.” “Seriously? You’re hitting on me?” “No!” Sam cried.” Sam said with a certain desperate edge in his voice. You look good. “Really not necessary.” Sam said. Better than good.” Diana said. In this case.” “I shouldn’t be this big.TWO 64 HOURS. you know.” “The thing is. The crowd in question was 103 kids. no. YOUR GENIUS is showing!” Terry cried in a high falsetto voice. “You are so easy to mess with. Like a feeling that there was something he should have seen. Kids wore disintegrating shirts and jeans in sizes way too large. Sam heard footsteps on the rickety stairs. Less than that.” he said. but not when there was a show to put on. and they all say I shouldn’t be this big. I have to pee more or less all the time. challenging smirk. “No. It was possible to be in a group of kids now without gagging on the stink. which had amazing potential. and Phil wore an arguably pink T-shirt for the role of Patrick Star. Not that…” He let that trail off and bit his lip. And despite all they’d tried to do there were still bottles of booze—either original or moonshine—being passed around the small gaggles of kids. were in the cabin below waiting for their cues. But she failed. Becca. In fact. “Uh-huh. So why did he have this itchy feeling that something was wrong? And more than just a feeling. He had a terrible premonition what she would do with his hand. “Paranoia. No. She tried to make it sound casual. gray-sided tower that afforded him a clear view over the heads of the crowd below. It’s…” He couldn’t really think of what else it might be. I mean. “Diana.” Then she grew serious. “On the downside.” But she took the chair anyway. But he could not think . The door opened. ranging from one year old to fifteen. And probably. he could have caught a whiff of marijuana. Diana laughed delightedly.” she said. He just wasn’t used to so much … peace. Between the food they raised and the fish they caught in the lake and the food they traded for from Perdido Beach. No one was fashionably dressed. It was doing it right now. This was an accomplishment of epic proportion. The “stage” was the top deck of a big houseboat that had been shoved out into the water so that it wallowed a few dozen feet off the dock.” Diana said.” “Give me your hand. noticeable bulge beneath her T-shirt.” “Ah. not by any of the normal standards. “Have you ever heard of the quickening?” “Like for taxes?” “No. Terry and Philip were doing a re-creation of a SpongeBob episode. When he turned to look it was still in his peripheral vision. Normally the houseboat was his. then.” “Yes. Some wore ponchos made of blankets. No one over the age of five went unarmed. since you’re talking to yourself. The move to Lake Tramonto had given them a seemingly endless supply of freshwater. but freshwater did wonders all by itself. “It iiiiis?” Philip asked in a low. who did a very good Squidward. Like something that stood just outside the range of his peripheral vision. She had a definite. Sam Temple watched from the marina office. baseball bats. There were knives. “I’m pregnant. That is good. It was looking at him. It was like something half-seen. machetes. at least.” He sighed and shook his head and formed a grin he hoped would spread from without to within. “How are you doing?” “My boobs are swollen and they hurt. No. Good grief. no. Not at four months. dude. “I mean good. no audience of kids had ever looked quite like this. Yeah. “Shall we discuss the darkening of areolae?” she teased. painted faces. no one was starving. The quickening is when the fetus starts to move. And yet she was no less beautiful than she’d ever been and still had the same knowing. I’ll spare you some of the more disturbing things going on with my body right now. She cocked her head sideways and looked at him with a degree of affection.

Instead Diana’s carefully controlled expression collapsed. sailboats. They had locked up their precious stash of Nutella. campers. “So. Sam had lived with fantasies of a sort of personal judgment day. “human.” Sam was shocked. He made a sickly smile and withdrew his hand. He’d had reports of her staying near the power plant for a few days after the great bug battle and the Big Split that had separated the kids of the FAYZ into Perdido Beach and Lake Tramonto groups. I guess we don’t know what the baby’s powers might be. as they called it. Just wait… There!” He had felt it. She twisted her fingers together. They also had negotiated control over some of the farmlands.” Diana showed her ironic smirk.” she whispered. So. Which meant Edilio. “Come on. so artichokes. It’s clockwork. give me your hand. no big deal. um. you’re the one who can always find a way out of a life-or-death crisis. He had waited patiently for her to come back. no longer kidding. Sam had known Astrid was still alive. They had parceled out the houseboats. Diana. with crews trained by Quinn down in Perdido Beach.of a way to refuse. mostly Edilio. They’d arranged for a septic tank to be dug. clams. Caine. He. In that time Sam. “What’s your reading on the baby?” “The baby is a three bar. I haven’t even thought about what happens when he. and then he’d heard nothing about her for the last three months. It had been amazing to watch the quiet authority Edilio brought to the job. A powerful one.” Whatever Diana feared or suspected or even was just imagining.” Diana said. “You mean have I thought about what might happen if the baby can burn things like you can. In truth Albert managed all the trade between the lake and PB. “He or she. He would kill us both if he had to. quickening. But she never had. A small movement in her tight-stretched bulge. cabbage.” He did and she placed his palm against her belly. Justify every failure. Sam: human babies all grow at basically the same rate. And human babies do not start kicking at thirteen weeks. Then he said. “Three bar?” “Yes. tomatoes. I would call it a kick. but the day-to-day management of the lake was up to Sam. they would see that he had done some things right. It sat a few feet back from . Sam was nominally in charge. he didn’t want it to be his problem. just yesterday morning. pfff. Sam. Of course. you might think. He’d also learned that she had slept for a while in an overturned Winnebago on a back road in the farm country. Sam came reluctantly back to the problem of Diana. I would say the idea sickened him. and the occasional melon could still be had. But here’s the thing. so hard it must be painful. Justify every body buried in the town plaza in Perdido Beach.” “His own child?” Sam had a hard time believing that even Caine would be that depraved. “I was trying. then. Caine would come after it if he knew.” “Okay. Diana looked at him with an innocent expression. well away from the lake to avoid disease. still brought in a decent haul every day. The fishing boats. I was hoping you’d agree that that is a belly. which would be my thirteenth week. He’d started thinking maybe. Brianna’s super-speed made her an effective searcher on roads. Not it. and Dekka had taken on the job of setting up a sort of half-aquatic town. “Humiliating. And guess what? It started about three weeks ago. she. Just to be safe they had set up a system of hauling water from halfway down the shore to the east in what they called the lowlands. and tents. I needed a second opinion. and under Sinder’s care they were growing very nicely. not sure if he should acknowledge the use of that word.” Sam cautioned Diana. or it has a bad day and burns a hole in me from the inside out. on balance. “Have you thought about… Well. Sam. it would likely start a war with Perdido Beach. Brain freeze. but it had taken her longer to thread her way through the forest. motorboats. using those as currency to buy additional fish. or he might want to kill it. They had planted carrots. So is its mother. searching for Astrid was not Brianna’s main mission. even though he styled himself “King Caine. where Quinn’s crews still fished. it was not a good idea to trip over a tree root at seventy miles an hour. that’s a. Almost from the beginning of the FAYZ.” Diana said. “How can it not be the same?” “Before I pass judgment. As far as he knew. “I’m not stupid. “Don’t tell anyone. Brianna had located her. They’d had four months of peace. but for him there’s no third choice. He pictured himself standing before judges who would peer down at him and demand he justify every single thing he had done. And Sam had problems nearer to his heart: Brianna had discovered Astrid’s haunt in the Stefano Rey. Her main mission was to find the Drake-Brittney creature.” “Have you told anyone else?” Diana shook her head. still growing.” Sam hesitated.” It was a heavy wooden chair of dark wood grabbed from an empty house. really.” Sam felt his stomach churning. “More than that. his brother. Edilio. but no one believed he was dead. huh?” “Yes.” Caine said. Nothing had been seen or heard of Drake. too hard. a definite belly. Well. Anything else would be…” She searched his face as if the right word might be written there. “The first time I read? Two bar. Growing more powerful. and Pepsi. These last few months he had begun to have those imaginary conversations less frequently. That would have been too laughable. Sam? Or has his father’s telekinetic power? Or any number of other abilities? No. If Sam tried to move them and Caine found out.” Sam sighed. Sam. “Its father is evil.” Diana said. Not truly dead. but it never would have occurred to Sam to worry so much about sanitation. “Yeah. or it is a mutant. But a powerful mutant? Very different story. “Maybe not. Cup-a-Noodles. had not found them. Now. Caine might want to control the baby. “does anyone have anything to say for Cigar?” Caine did not refer to his chair as a throne.” he said. she. “Yep. no. He believed the style was called Moorish. He had plenty of problems already. Can’t you think of a way to refuse?” That forced a smile from him. He might just take us. and squash in the low patch up by the barrier.” He expected a wisecrack answer. Sam. Now. Justify every mistake. Distant problems: down on a deserted stretch of beach there was a container-load of shoulder-fired missiles. and forbidden anyone to drink the water where they bathed and swam. and mussels from Perdido Beach. “He made it very clear when I told him that he wanted nothing to do with it.

A sick. She was barefoot. The girl had always been a cruel creature.” he said.the top stair of stone steps that led up to the ruined church. lockup. He wore a purple polo shirt. who was already quivering with anticipation. . “You can do this.” Caine nodded thoughtfully. Only once had he imposed a sentence of Penny. The next penalty is Penny time. He’d been a weak.” Caine saw reluctant acceptance in Quinn’s eyes. “No one’s saying Cigar shouldn’t be punished. or blowing off work. There were four punishments in King Caine’s Perdido Beach: fine. The girl who had earned thirty minutes of Penny had lost control of her bodily functions and ended up screaming and beating at her own flesh. The truth was that Caine could levitate Turk and use him as a club if he chose. But then. He sat upright. Lockup was a room in town hall that had last imprisoned a boy named Roscoe until the bugs had eaten him from the inside out. failing to show proper respect to the king. and no one was exactly clear what the fight had been about. not stiff but regal. Cigar. A girlfriend. “No problem. he definitely wanted to impose the death penalty. stupid punk with a sawed-off double-barreled shotgun over his shoulder and a big pipe wrench hanging from a loop on his straining belt. “Penny will have Cigar from sunrise to sunset. He was the color of mahogany now. But not when the real power was held by some skinny. Turk hauled Cigar off to the lockup. “He screwed up. One boot rested on a low. Shouldn’t have been drinking. and square-toed black cowboy boots. “It’s murder. “I promised as your king to deliver justice. “Jaden was a good guy.” Caine gritted his teeth. disturbed imagination.. Quinn worked for Albert. It made one look more kingly. On Caine’s left stood Penny. Penny was a mutant with the power to create illusions so real it was impossible not to believe them. It would be a test of his power. But he was deeply agitated beneath the surface. No point stalling any longer. She had a terrifyingly gruesome imagination. But what was clear—witnessed by three kids—was that a fight had started and gone from angry words to fists to weapons in a heartbeat. But Jaden’s brains had ended up on the sidewalk just the same. Lockup meant two or more days with just water in that room. The crowd murmured approvingly. That wasn’t some random act of vandalism or small-bore theft. Once upon a time Quinn had been Sam’s closest friend. Caine breathed a silent sigh. But Quinn had come into his own as the head of the fishing crews. On the other hand. But pain and power had made her a monster. She sobbed. one of Quinn’s hardworking fishermen—had meant to kill Jaden. Maybe not on Cigar. And then there was Albert. In fact. Tomorrow. Caine had handed out many fines and several lockups. For some reason she refused to ever wear shoes since regaining use of her legs. Even Cigar looked relieved. So here is my royal verdict. No one believed Cigar—who was a good kid.” Quinn said. one of those who had not handled the FAYZ very well. Caine thought. About twenty-five kids stood at the foot of the stairs. yes. On his left stood Turk. Great. For now. Two days later she had still not been able to work.” He turned to Penny. And Caine had never yet had to face imposing that. of course.” Cigar hung his head. He was going for a look of stern wisdom. At some time in the night a fight had broken out between a boy named Jaden and the boy everyone called Cigar because he had once smoked a cigar and gotten spectacularly sick. a sweet-faced thirteen-year-old with the hard hands. And he didn’t set out to kill poor Jaden.” Caine said. insecure boy. but a throne in fact. stalling. Lana. it ends. It was fine to call yourself king. Penny. It was far worse to piss off Quinn and possibly Albert than Alpha. his surfer-dude buddy.” Cigar said. The crowd began to disperse. Cigar had killed Jaden. He had to decide. too. The ultimate penalty was death. he was the one who jumped in and pulled her out.” Penny laughed. “He didn’t deserve to be killed.” a girl with the improbable name of Alpha Wong said. two days’ unpaid labor. It would send a message. Fighting or vandalism would get you lockup. had fixed her shattered legs. or death. fortunately. pain-racked ordeal.. Turk was guarding Cigar. supposedly Caine’s security. Not a throne in name. Turk was a sullen. but Albert had suggested—a suggestion that had the force of a decree—that those who had work to do could blow it off. jeans. “Cigar has never been any kind of trouble. upholstered footstool.” Quinn. He knows better. It could be a day’s food. “If this had been deliberate murder I’d have no choice but the death penalty. If Caine didn’t impose the death penalty in this case. Usually it’s a half hour.” Quinn said. or cheating someone in a deal—merited a fine. Caine thought. Quinn was not someone to pick a fight with. Work came first in Albert’s world. or the surrender of some valuable object. strong back. “He shows up for work on time and he never shirks. and Caine knew that he was king only so long as Albert kept everyone fed and watered. and tanned face of a fisherman. neither Quinn nor Cigar had any idea just how far down into madness Penny had sunk since her long. In theory everyone was supposed to show up for court. when was he ever going to? He sort of wanted to. But that’s just not enough for something this serious. Caine raised his hand. He’s a good guy and he’s a very good fisherman. Quinn could decide to go on strike and people would get hungry in a hurry. but on someone. But Cigar has been a good worker.. Penny wore a sundress that hung limply from her narrow shoulders. Jaden had swung a lead pipe at Cigar and missed. vacillating. On the one hand. “I’ll speak for Cigar. A small infraction—for example. Cigar had swung a heavy oak table leg studded with big nails and he had not missed. when the sun rises clear of the hills. owlish black kid with a ledger book. But it was important for a king to have people who served him. the Healer. And when the sun touches the horizon over the ocean. When Alice fell in and was knocked out from hitting an oar. Muscles bunched in his neck and shoulders and back from pulling at the oars for long hours. His monster. though it was impossible to imagine a situation Caine couldn’t deal with on his own. “Yeah.” Quinn called out. it begins. Both Jaden and Cigar had been drinking some of Howard’s illegal booze.

punishing Drake for having the presumption to question. frustrated mind of the gaiaphage. unimaginable power. Once Drake had asked. The mind-to-mind awareness of the gaiaphage was horribly more powerful when he made physical contact. He moved to a large clump of the seething green mass. What place did Drake have in a universe where there was no gaiaphage? Would he still be unkillable? Would the gaiaphage’s failure mean his own destruction? Drake wished he could talk about it with Brittney. And he worked through in elaborate detail the pain he would yet cause. It was no longer pearly gray. A nagging hunger. His sister. Drake’s inability to comprehend what he could or should do. Weeks ago the floor—the very bottom limit of the barrier—had changed. He noticed that the black-stained barrier under his feet felt different. most threatening of the huge insects to disappear: he had eliminated the entire species. To Astrid. “Diana. He replayed the memories of pain he had caused. “Ahhh!” The pain was sharp and sudden and knocked him to his knees. It was a world so tight it smothered Drake’s soul. There was only the eternal awareness of the angry. until he felt like he was peeling his own face back. A need that went beyond simple desire and drilled down into fear. no water. There was no day or night down here. Images of a beautiful girl with dark hair and a wry half smile. In the time he’d been down here Drake had become intimately familiar with that mind.” Quinn was not happy as he pulled at the oars. Little Pete was powerful but did not know it. And then the gaiaphage had tortured him with shafts of bright pain. he had begun to doubt. And then what would become of Drake? Had he sworn allegiance to a dying god? Drake tried to hide the fear inside him. master?” Drake asked the green-glowing cave walls. Images exploded in his mind. The deep lair changed. It was a shock to Drake. Brittney emerged from time to time. It had turned black. A pressing. Suddenly Drake felt the gaiaphage’s mind jolt. Nemesis frightened the gaiaphage. distorted brain. They were ten miles belowground. The answer had bothered Drake more than the pain. The whipping of Sam. So far the stain had spread only a little into the gaiaphage. Drake recoiled. severely autistic. Drake filled his time with wondrous fantasies. Astrid. not that much air. But Drake wasn’t alive in the usual way. I must be born. Those two especially. heading away from shore with his back to the dark horizon and his worried gaze on the mountains where the sun would soon appear. It was hard to kill what was not quite alive. His eyes flew open. A need. Bring me Nemesis. and periods of nonexistence in the void. radioactive green sponge and the stain was spilled black coffee. writhing from Drake’s melting flesh to take over for a while. Could not plan. who he hated. But as the uncounted days had gone by. It went on like this—the pressure of the gaiaphage’s need. Drake had reported to the gaiaphage that Little Pete was dead. The gaiaphage needed Nemesis. And yet he was somehow necessary to the gaiaphage. It meant the gaiaphage might still fail. but he had not asked. To Diana. could only react. strained to open wider still. Gone. There was a raw. like the gaiaphage was some sort of spread-out. Drake had wondered what it meant. During those times Drake ceased to see or hear or feel.THREE 53 HOURS. A five-year-old. to seeing only by the faint green light of his master. But in the nature of things he could never do that. Bring her to me! Drake had spoken little in months. constant. Lay your arm upon me. 52 MINUTES DRAKE HAD GOTTEN used to the dark. His god was not all-powerful. It was a shocking demonstration of Little Pete’s inconceivable power. React with incredible. ragged edge to that. Like someone had shocked him. his tongue awkward in his mouth. And he noticed that the parts of the gaiaphage that rested on the barrier were also becoming stained black. . He laid his tentacle gingerly across it. headless creature. not as smooth. He had touched the gaiaphage a few times. The heat was intense. the gaiaphage. It was a constant presence in Drake’s consciousness. had tossed him to the bugs and in a panic Little Pete had not only caused the nearest. But Drake lacked the will to refuse. little snot-nosed brat was the most powerful creature in this huge bubble. could not understand. The gaiaphage might sense it if his attention was turned Drake’s way. master?” I must be born. And Nemesis—Peter Ellison—was nowhere to be found. The only thing that limited him was his own strange. Images of a garden. But how much time? It might be days or years. It probably should have killed him—intense heat. a part he couldn’t help but picture as the center. unwavering need. “Why. as he had listened night and day to the gaiaphage’s desperation and impotent rage. I feel… “Nemesis. He was aware of that. Images of a lake with boats floating calmly. The name came out in a harsh whisper. the head of that centerless. He unwrapped the ten-foot-long tentacle from around his waist. Like a toddler with his finger on a nuclear bomb. Time had passed. but also to Brianna. His throat was dry. It was never a pleasant experience. During those times Drake drifted in a world even darker than the gaiaphage’s subterranean lair.

Up above it became an illusion of sky. He gazed off to see the other boats take up their own positions. A school of blue bats had been seen there the day before.” Quinn said. he turned toward the barrier to see a flying fish—not great eating. The fish won’t catch themselves. let’s get back to work. She was cranky in the morning. and went down again. But what was Quinn supposed to do? The other kid had swung first.None of his crews were happy. Jaden might well have killed him. She might well be dead. skimming along a hundred yards from the barrier. He should tell someone. But that wasn’t what made him narrow his eyes and squint in the faint morning light. He pulled his shirt over his head and dropped it onto the bench. and he handled the oar and rudder on automatic. The four of them stared at the barrier. He swam gingerly to the barrier.” Quinn considered. Twenty feet away they shipped oars. Elise and Annie were weaker on the oars than Quinn and Jonas. the boat crept toward the barrier.” Quinn said. He had hoped Albert would step in. All agreed that Cigar had screwed up in a monumental way. In fact. If Cigar hadn’t struck back. lap of tiny wavelets slapping the bow. As always. Either Caine or Albert might easily tear into him for sloughing off on work just to report something that might be meaningless. He reached maybe twenty feet before letting himself float back up. It distressed him. He climbed back into the boat with an assist from Jonas. But Astrid was the only one who would look at this and actually try to figure out what it meant. Quinn wondered if he should say something. lap. if there was anyone he really wished he could tell. slipped it on his head. Elise and Annie were getting ready to cast again. The water was cold and instantly blew the last of the morning cobwebs out of his head. Usually the boats would call out cheerful insults to one another. using an oar and the rudder to keep the boat stable while the girls and Jonas hauled in two blue bats and a nondescript seven-inch fish. Normally there was good-natured grumbling. Quinn knew the crews were angry about Cigar. Quinn glanced away to see the sun just peeking over the mountains. His boat crew today was Elise. but they were nimble with the nets.” Quinn said. “What is that?” Jonas asked. “So?” Elise asked. The four of them looked at one another. The only sounds were the grunts of effort. Today there was no teasing. it was Astrid. Too bad no one had seen her. and given a whole day to work her evil Penny would find them all. Quinn signaled a halt and motioned to Elise to ready the nets. While Elise neatened her net. not the other two. But what could he say? What words of his were going to make these kids stop worrying for poor Cigar? He was worried. Caine? Albert? He didn’t really want to have to deal with either of them. It was wearying work. Like a roller coaster’s curves. denigrating one another’s rowing technique or prospects or looks. Quinn surfaced. and Annie. and teasing. But straight ahead it was pearly gray. But just above the waterline the barrier was not gray but black. As it had been since the coming of the FAYZ. it wasn’t easy pushing his buoyant body downward. “We’ll keep an eye on it. Quinn sat at the stern now. careful not to touch it. took a deep breath. He wished he had fins. “Hold up. this sullenness. hearing a splash. “We have work to do. The boats moved away from one another as the pole fishers went one way and the net casters went toward the barrier.” . But a whole day under mental assault from that creepy girl… That was too much. “Okay. Six feet down the barrier was black. Jonas. The whole sea went from dark to light in a few swift minutes. see if it changes by the end of the day. casting them out in perfect circles. “It’s like that all the way down as far as I can tell. He waited until the sunlight touched the water between him and the barrier. old jokes. Everyone knew that Caine could call himself king but Albert was the emperor. Crankier still on this morning. wiped the spit around with his fingers. Not for the first time he wished it was still Sam he had to report to. Albert could have if he’d chosen to. spit into it. and sensing when the weights had dragged the net down before closing the trap. the musical trickle of water along the sides and the lap. “Jonas. They were prepared to see Cigar pay a fine. too. “What?” Elise demanded. The black shadow rose in an irregular pattern. but Quinn was used to it.” Quinn said. And they had blue bats right under the boat just waiting to be caught. Cigar had all the fears any normal kid had. the creak of oars in the oarlocks. but not inedible—take a short hop. and without another word dived off the side.” Quinn said. this worry. endure some lockup. Then. grab an oar. “It’s changed. He fumbled in the locker for a face mask. maybe even a few minutes of Penny to teach the boy to take it easy in the future. pulling out bits of seaweed. And he shared some of their anger at himself and at Albert.

Had he known what he was doing? No. And now he was … where? He didn’t have a word for it. a world of vapors and disconnected images and dreams. He had been freed from the brain that had made colors scream and turned every sound into a hammering cymbal. but no one called him anything but Jonesie. And then that arm of the Darkness had reached for minds—weak. distorted brain. and sometimes it almost seemed they were looking at him. He just moved along the row cutting with practiced ease and tossing the chokes over his shoulder to drop into the backpack. So he touched one of the avatars. He no longer had his old. No longer. So Pete had made the ball. The one who said. diseased. but there was nothing like his old handheld. Smaller ones lower down. ramshackle wooden thing that rested on four bald car tires. He was like that guy Astrid used to have in the stories she read to him. Just avatars that seemed to drift by. malleable minds—and demanded to be fed the energy that flowed from those rods. No sister’s loud yellow hair and stabbing blue eyes. He could look back at that day in the power plant and almost look on the confusion and screeching sirens and panic without feeling panic himself. It would have meant a release of every sort of light. Pete missed his old game. symbols with curlicues inside. It had been all he had. For one thing he felt as if he could think about himself for the first time in his jangled life. And in this place no one ever came to tell him it was time to do this or do that or go here or hurry there. No too-bright colors. He floated in a sort of haze. but no longer so much that he would lose all self-control. But as time passed—and he was sure it must be passing. Still looking for him. It was quiet. fever-racked body. Avatars. They formed into groups or clusters. a panic reaction. and Pete liked quiet. Poof. No blond sister with her bright yellow hair and stabbing blue eyes. The one called God. make everything!” Pete’s world was full of pain and disease and sadness. Meltdown. All gone. It had been an impulse. That was the word for it. He had gone looking for a game. He had never meant a lot of things to happen that did happen. The up-chokes—picker slang for the higher ones—had to be a minimum of five inches across. . It surprised Pete. “Poof. He had destroyed his dying. but he could see clearly the cause of all the panic. Up one row and down the next was all it would take to fill his pack. He was a picker working an artichoke field. But yes. It was hard. but Jonesie didn’t see any reason to argue. and everyone except the Darkness would have been burned up. He drifted now in a silent. This was to make sure the pickers didn’t wipe out the whole crop at once. because Pete’s mind no longer felt the same. people screaming. blissful place. The ankle-chokes—the lower ones—had to be at least three inches. Still whispering to him. too? He no longer had his handheld game. caressed them with a greedy. Then he would sling it off and dump it into the old wagon—a big. now he remembered: such noise. Was it that memories were quieter? Or that something had changed in him? It had to be that second thing. He no longer had his body. Or sometimes they went off alone. He could wonder where he was and even who he was. miswired brain. The one thing he knew was that he was bored with this disconnected existence. his own father in panic. He was just seven. Pete’s ball. Without the cacophony of his brain Pete could see the Darkness more clearly. No loud noises. By normal means. But he had no game to play here. hungry touch. how could the game be played? Many times he had watched the shapes. It felt wrong and dangerous. He had not understood what was happening. A green tendril had reached for and touched long glowing rods. He no longer balanced atop the sheet of glass. hard work. but he was a big seven. He had wished for a game. all of it like hot lava poured into Pete’s skull.FOUR 50 HOURS FOR ALL OF his five years Pete Ellison had lived inside a twisted. Too late to stop the reaction and the meltdown. He wondered if it was one of those games you just … touched. way too much. For most of his life the only peace and pleasure he had found had been within his handheld game. He sensed there might be a game. He peered closer at the avatars. They were interesting. Come to me. His name was Terrel Jones. Little geometric shapes but with so much twisted and coiled inside them so that he had the impression that he could fall into any one of those avatars and see a whole world within. The larger artichokes were higher up on the plant. No one was exactly sure if this rule made sense. Come to me. He looked back at it now with a feeling of wonder. No brain-frying complexity of overwrought sensation. Jonesie spent six hours a day walking down the rows of chest-high artichoke plants with a knife in his gloved right hand and a backpack on his back. but with no controls. It still all seemed like too much. But hadn’t the old world been that way. That realization surprised him. But Pete was bored. somewhere if not here—he could picture his sister without feeling the mere image overwhelming. And it had already begun and it was too late to stop it by the time Pete’s father was rushing around and Pete was moaning and rocking. But the Darkness was still there. It was a glowing blob at the bottom of a ball.

Jamilla had jumped down from the wagon. “Look in your pocket. That finger reached through his body. “What is it? Is it zekes?” Zekes were the carnivorous worms that inhabited many of the fields and had to be bribed with payments of blue bats and junk fish. And his whole body…” She made a writhing movement with her hands. but air did not flow through his mouth and into his lungs. A face.” Turk brought Cigar in with his hands tied behind his back. But before she could gain control of her raw voice. She was moving around him. The room was bare. “Untie him. But what’s it doing here in the middle of a choke field?” Jamilla did not dare to come any closer.” Cigar felt in the front pocket of his jeans.” Cigar’s face went pale.” “No. And weird. He spilled a half dozen of the bright pellets on the floor before catching the next few. His left hand started shaking.” And then she spun away and started running. all the way open. From inside your . penetrating look made him queasy. Jamilla went still. He seemed to relax a little. They came at a run from different directions. He tried to touch his throat but his arms didn’t move. “Where… Where did you get these?” Penny stopped. All she had to do was pick up the stray chokes that might fall to the ground. and formed this … thing. He couldn’t feel it. He set her down. mouth wide. Penny smiled at him. screaming silently. Twisting the fingers together as somehow the pieces of Jonesie had been twisted together. Except that right now he was finding it more and more tiring. And then he couldn’t feel anything. Jonesie started to say something but his voice was gone. facedown. It was transparent but not invisible. He felt a packet of something that hadn’t been there before. He pulled it out and stared in amazement at a fresh pack of Skittles.And that was all Jonesie had to worry about. actually. “Jonesie!” Jamilla cried angrily when he failed to heft his bag high enough and it slipped from his hands. but just a little. He had to lift her up off the ground to get her to stop running. Are they?” Penny shrugged.” Jamilla said. Just not there. turned inside out. then back up to send him a searching. He popped them in his mouth. She stared and screamed and screamed. like a knife was drawn across his throat from ear to ear. and now so was Eduardo. “I worked a couple of days filling in with Quinn and I never saw anything like that. “In there. and check in each backpack load on a sheet of paper for Albert so that the daily harvest could be accounted for. “What do you like.” she said. I mean. I mean. “Jonesie!” Jamilla screamed as Jonesie fell to the ground. but staggered to the wagon. His mouth gulped helplessly at the air. I guess. Cigar?” Penny asked. searing pain. She twined her hands behind her back. Turbo was there. It was dawn but you’d never know it in this room. From before. like. He could sense there was a cat-and-mouse game being played.” Turbo repeated. They were her friends. Have some. And behind her a shape.” Penny smiled. her coworkers. “What do I like?” Penny shrugged. “They’re not real. And the way she would walk almost past him. He tried to suck in breath to cry out. But her voice was her own again.. “Say what?” “He was… Something touched him.” Cigar shifted uncomfortably. Jonesie could see a misty. Turbo left her and walked the ten steps to join Eduardo.” Penny said. the wagon tender.” “Big. She leaned in close to him and jabbed suddenly at his head with her finger.. They stared at her.” Cigar swallowed hard and nodded. It hurt. spilling chokes everywhere. He decided on an innocuous answer. The two boys turned slowly to look at her. and carefully rake the chokes in the wagon into an even layer.” “Like candy bars?” “Like Skittles. Cigar was nervous. “What is that?” Jamilla felt Turbo crane to see past her. but Jamilla hardly noticed them at first. Jamilla’s scream brought Eduardo and Turbo from the adjacent fields. He reached the end of the row carrying no more than the usual weight of chokes.” Penny said. I’m not bad. “Go on. “What is that thing?” Turbo asked. Before leaving town Sam had left a small Sammy sun burning in one corner. You tell me. She no longer felt like running. You’re right. like a cut. He knew Penny’s reputation. Jamilla. “Is that what scared you.” Cigar said. He stuck it in his pocket and tried not to breathe too loud. Plywood had been nailed up over the windows. Or screaming..” “Like a fish with.” Penny said to Turk. distant. He’d heard about her. Or Red Vines. Turbo caught her in his arms. Cigar had never tasted anything half so wonderful. “Try them. Probably glad to have any excuse not to stare at the thing she was calling Jonesie. He didn’t know why. “Something touched him? What touched him?” “God. her bare feet silent. “What kind of stuff do you miss? From the old days. casting dark green shadows in the corners. A huge hand with one finger extended. Eduardo said. Not even high noon would penetrate here. “God’s hand. Why just his left hand? He fought the urge to grab it and hold it still. He wasn’t stupid. “About what happened. Instead he felt a sudden. I mean. It provided the only light and added a lugubrious quality. “It’s Jonesie. had that relatively soft job because she was only eight years old and small. “He’s basically a good kid.” Penny said. “I don’t think I’ll have any problems with Cigar. armor. Anything.” He tore the package open with trembling fingers. Jamilla steeled herself to try to explain what had just happened. “I’m really sorry. “Candy. Jammy?” “Looks like some kind of weird fish or something. He felt as if he couldn’t catch his breath. distorted image of her above him. “Just a murderer. of course you’re not bad.

ahha. His mouth watered. The longer he went without more of the candy the more he wanted it. too. “Please. “Ahhhh. “Oh. yeah!” “Lick my foot. And then. She was still way too close. and maybe they weren’t real. He could eat a million of these. But he was pretty sure the candies had never been this good.” Cigar realized he’d finished the whole pack. No. He rolled onto his back and gobbled them up and licked her foot again and got more. “Good. like nothing.head. but they felt real in his hand and tasted better than real in his mouth. but so good. you know? Realer than real. the Red Vines weren’t candies anymore. He had never wanted anything half as much as he wanted more Skittles. he needed the candy so badly. The need was incredibly urgent. He needed more. huh?” Penny asked. Cigar dropped to his knees. Sugar was almost a forgotten memory. swirling. “Maybe if you asked me nicely. These were crazy good.” “People think because things aren’t real that the pleasure wouldn’t be as great. like nothing could ever have been. “Can I have more?” he asked. Cigar. and he did and sucked on the ends as soon as he had freed them. Really good. ho-ho. with a sickening lurch. not the top. we are going to have a lot of fun together. The Red Vines were in his hand and somehow hard to get. Like they had melted into his skin and he had to dig at them with his fingernails.” . He tossed them into his mouth. more?” “How about some Red Vines?” “Yeah. Suddenly there was a handful of Skittles in Cigar’s palm. the taste of candy overwhelming. “Can I have more?” “You’re easy to train. “Yeah. ahhh!” Cigar cried in horror. It took his breath away.” “Please? Please can I have more?” She put her lips close to his ear and whispered.” He barely hesitated. He wanted more. you idiot.” Penny smirked. desperately. Penny clapped her hands together.” Cigar looked doubtfully at the Skittles still in the pack. and his head was swimming. “On your knees. But things that are in your head can be pure. They were the veins in his wrists. I used to think that. like nothing he’d ever had.” She held her foot up so he could lick the dirty sole and Red Vines sprouted in his hand.

manipulative. It was perhaps the reason that in a sudden panic he had created the first of what would come to be known as Sammy suns. Sam had many more terrible things to be scared of now. so six hundred and thirty square miles of dome. hands a mass of calluses and scars. To Caine’s eyes Astrid was just another pawn on the chessboard. The trail led closer to the barrier now. And she had seen the person she truly was: selfish. anxious at wasting time but wanting to have some kind of observation. Except Drake. like fingers reaching up out of the earth. She had changed. To Drake she was a victim waiting to be destroyed for the sheer pleasure it would bring him. up steep hills without trails. She had needed Sam’s protection for herself and even more for Little Pete. “It’s all a question of how fast the stain is spreading. He had forced her to insult Little Pete. Ten miles. in his former home. r squared is a hundred. She had done the unforgivable. it would disappear through the barrier. of course. Surely he was over that ancient terror. Sam. “Still remember how to calculate the surface area of a sphere?” Astrid asked herself. He would make accusations.FIVE 44 HOURS. Drake wasn’t Caine. and thinner. As she threaded her way through dense bushes and emerged into a blessed clearing. That hadn’t changed. How long until the dome was dark? Astrid wondered. Or maybe it was the same trail doubling back. She could deal with all of that.” she muttered. She was not a person Sam could love. And if she was going to follow the barrier so as to avoid getting lost. So the surface area is twelve point six times a hundred. At first she missed it because she’d been waiting for the stain to rise higher and instead it had thickened. The sanctimonious girl with so many certainties in her head had died with Little Pete. He would have questions. she saw rising fingers of darkness. That he would beat her and that the beating would give him pleasure so that nothing she could ever say would stop him. It was growing. She checked her shotgun. Right. the place he’d shared with his mother.” She did the math in her head as she walked. which made r half that. There would be some rough terrain for half a mile before another trail would appear. However amoral. But that image brought her some sense of reassurance. Two tall spikes of black on the barrier. Into her head came a memory from long ago: Sam admitting to her that he was afraid of the dark. But it had eaten at her insides. tense. It was in his room. Here. Astrid the Genius. He would resent her. 12 MINUTES her perishable food into her backpack. half that is underground or underwater. She knew this trail well. Of course. She was still. ruthless. she noticed that the dark part of the barrier had crept higher. she still had her brain. To this day she could remember the sting and force of his slap. made her a bit slower and more awkward than when she was running free down the familiar trail. To betray him. The name made her stomach tense. He would be angry. Caine was a heartless. She’d have to keep up a pretty good pace to get there before night and see Sam. Caine was rational. Astrid knew she couldn’t kill Drake with the shotgun. Astrid steeled herself for a necessary experiment. not as high as the others she’d seen. She was strong. It hadn’t bothered Petey. Because that was definitely the life of a genius. But whatever her failures and foolishness. practicing the smooth unlimbering of a shotgun.” Astrid told herself. “Four pi r squared. It still hurt to touch. That was why she was living in the woods with fleabites in her armpits. taking pleasure from the precision of numbers. But what if he wasn’t mad or sullen? What if he smiled at her? What if he put his arms around her? What if Sam told Astrid he still loved her? She was far less prepared to deal with that. One thousand two hundred and sixty square miles. suddenly. Because she had a terrible feeling that a very long night was coming. She could blow his head off his shoulders and still not kill him. The diameter of the barrier was twenty miles. He had been the first person in her life to hit her. She slung the gun over her shoulder. too. She stuck out one finger and touched the black portion of the barrier. The scientifically inclined part of her brain had survived intact where other aspects had diminished or disappeared. Genius. Astrid had never measured the distance from her camp to Lake Tramonto. It seemed almost quaint now when she recalled that guilt. Because Astrid had very little doubt that the stain would continue spreading. but she guessed it was six or seven miles. it would mean traveling over rough terrain. Probably it was a mistake going to him now. ruthless sociopath who would do anything to increase his power. It wasn’t much. but she might be gone for a while. in some attenuated way. smelling of smoke and carrion. who could tell. She watched one of the stains closely for half an hour. eyes darting warily to identify every sound in the woods around her. she considered the problem of measuring the advance of the stain. far worse. and she couldn’t tolerate the idea of letting anything go to waste. She hoped so. She could remember the certainty that he would quickly escalate to closed-fist punches. ASTRID PACKED ALL . She was not a person who could love him back. “Yeah. Fear of that psychopath was part of the reason she had needed to manipulate Sam. But Caine didn’t revel in pain and violence and fear. “Four times pi is roughly twelve point six. The taller of the two stretched up for maybe fifteen or twenty feet. along with the pack that was loaded down with water bottles. She had four shells loaded and five more in her pack. “Ahhh!” She cursed under her breath. The gun’s weight and length. Here. She’d had no way of knowing then that she would someday do far. Nine shotgun shells would kill just about anything. Drake scared her deep down.

Even now the two girls could barely be in the same room together without awkwardness. just words. smiled with the panda’s own red mouth. Sinder. It had almost worked. exactly. We’ll just be making sure Caine doesn’t use them.” There wasn’t much difference. But it was where the leaders met. nodding. He’d been alone—all alone—for seven months. Dekka. because her arms were like lead and so terribly heavy. It could see inside her.” Sam said. Except when he wasn’t. actually. But crazy or not. bam. McDonald’s game pieces. and Caine will buy that explanation because he’s so trusting. and smiled without teeth. Diana begged. The government had known of. She was lucky: the only person other than Sam at the lake to have a place without a roommate. On the White Houseboat there were two cabins aft. and with that word the full deluge of sadness and self-loathing burst in her mind. webbed fetus fingers clutched a doll. But now in her head. What is it. although his wealth was measured in the FAYZ currency called ’Bertos. Sam had decided early on not to try to keep secrets from Albert. He just shifted uneasily and glanced back at the dock to make sure no one was standing around listening for gossip. in a furtive aside. Her soul was bare to the baby. Sam. up on the open top deck. What is it. He still had a tendency to talk to Spider-Man. God. but she kept it clean and neat. He was holding something now. “But we won’t ever use the things. She had not entirely recovered from what she’d thought was her deathbed confession to Brianna. Panda. Like it wanted her to take it. and oh. In any case he would find out: Albert was the FAYZ’s closest thing to a billionaire. bam. Panda. or at least suspected. Toto. It was a dream. not a voice. She rolled out of the bed. Found and used. But it had also moved the weapons into a place where they might be found. each letter thudding in her brain. The doll had a pouting. Edilio. “Then we may have a problem.” “Yeah. The facility had been set up before the coming of the FAYZ. could not move or turn or run. No choice now. Noooo. The baby seemed to hear her voice and it held the doll out to her. cut off from gravity by Dekka’s power. Diana begged again. Tears blurred her vision. A small red mouth. dissatisfied mouth. No longer his old Styrofoam Spider-Man bust—which Sam had incinerated in a moment of irritation—but the ghost of that former bust. Worked just well enough. “True. No. The plan was decidedly imperfect. Refusing to look at her.” Sam gritted his teeth. Kind of worked. The fifth person on the deck was not a part of the council.” Dekka said mordantly. It was also Sam’s home.” Dekka said. all twisted so that its tiny legs were drawn up to its barrel chest. and Mohamed. It was inside of her. he added. she said. more of a dirty pink. Dekka had been able to use the crate as a platform that. the very odd things beginning to occur in the months before the barrier. like someone was typing them onto a keyboard so that she could kind of hear but also see the words in letters. she said. “Sam thinks he may have to use them. He was a boy called Toto. She had to answer. A body within a body.” Then. What is it. The trailer was tiny. and she was afraid. Edilio said nothing. a home he shared with Dekka. not a sound. “If Caine’s people find out…. he was Albert’s liaison at Lake Tramonto. The missiles had been part of a desperate ploy to get from the Evanston Air National Guard base to the coast. It wasn’t white. Toto was probably close to being clinically insane. You don’t want to show me your eyes. couldn’t look away. A living thing inside of her own body. But more important. Mohamed was a nonvoting member of the Lake Tramonto Council. Even when it was inconvenient. Toto had been found in a desert facility—or part of a facility with the rest beyond the barrier—that had kept him imprisoned in order to study the mutations occurring in the Perdido Beach area.The baby would not look at her. But the baby wanted her to look. God. He could already walk. Mommy? She had to answer. Sinder and Jezzie shared one of those cabins. Tiny. each with a single bunk above a double bed. Diana woke. The doll was black and white. Mommy? The voice had no character.” Toto said blandly.” “I have no intention of using the missiles. too. Now Toto said. It knew she had eaten part of a boy with the nickname Panda. how was she going to be a mother carrying that terrible crime in her soul? She deserved hell. Mommy? The baby held the black-and-white plush toy in her face and asked again. Which was decidedly crazy. “I don’t like the idea of leaving those missiles just lying there. and she couldn’t stop herself. Panda. would scrape along the barrier. I don’t want to see it. it insisted she look. Some said “liaison. she moaned. So White Houseboat it was. he had the power to instantly determine truth from lie. and jobs. Toto was extremely useful. she knew that for sure because she knew the baby was not able to walk. . food.” Dekka said. Oh. Mohamed and Dekka shared the other. bam. Albert had to know what was going on. No. and Mohamed Kadeer were on the top deck of the houseboat everyone called the White Houseboat. she wanted to run. She could picture it in there with its eyes closed. the baby said.” Some said “spy. Diana looked at him even though doing so filled her with sick dread. “I think we might have all guessed that. Inside her body. Sam had the relatively roomy bow cabin to himself. The baby knew. so of course things didn’t have to make sense. Jezzie. “Sam is not telling the truth.” Sam said. Opened her eyes. In her dream. Dekka had recovered her strength after the shocking ordeal she’d endured from the infestation of bugs. And it looked nothing like the real White House.” Sam said heatedly. But Diana couldn’t take it. And she had the terrible suspicion that the baby inside her was the demon sent to conduct her there. either. “But not true when you said you won’t ever use them. But this was a dream.

Sam stood up.” “Why would I do that?” Sam demanded. He felt a rush from the idea of a daring nighttime mission. “It’s changing color.” “If we leave them where they are. if the missiles have to be somewhere. The meeting broke up. but with a glance at Toto fell silent. Dekka was in love with Brianna. better with us. Most of his day was taken up dealing with stupid fights over nothing—kids fighting over ownership of a toy or some food.” Sam said.” “What about me. “Don’t even bother.” “We were weeding the carrots.” But Toto said.” Sinder said. who had grown suspicious. And Brianna had evidently not felt the same way.” Jezzie said. now that I know. “Deputy mayor is a heavy burden sometimes. “This is going to sound crazy. Tonight. We park the truck and the three of us head to the beach. about secrecy.) He waited until Sinder and Jezzie were below him on the dock. He was a good-looking kid with the barest beginning of whiskers on his upper lip. “Breeze out front.” Mohamed took another long pause. “It’s worth the gas. “Albert has never spoken to me about this. and said. all due respect. some might even say paranoid.” “Okay. Get them loaded onto a pickup. Dekka. we all know that’s baloney. speaking now to his sleeve. boss?” Edilio asked. “Yeah. Sam’s houseboat was tied up at the end of the surviving dock. He sat forward in his chair and widened his arms and legs. unhappiness over accommodations. “Dude. it’ll be on you and Jack to move them. “You never said that. It still made sense to secure those weapons. “Gas is under Albert’s control.” “Uh-huh. And you’re bored. but the wall… It’s changing. Edilio was right: running the lake had been boring after the first frantic month. where they were tending a small.” “What?” “The barrier. “Yes. “Mohamed. if Albert gives us the gas he’s supporting us. took a steadying breath.” Sam said. “So how about if this once we just do it? It won’t be more than a couple of gallons.” Toto said. She was in her modified Goth stage—it was hard to find makeup.” Sinder gathered her wits. They’re just inside Caine’s borders. Sam basically hated handling all the little details and decisions. “we know. “And then we noticed this. Okay: so he was bored. and I never heard you. and me in the truck. and noticed Sinder and Jezzie running along the shore from the eastern end. what is Albert’s feeling about this?” Mohamed had a habit of taking a long pause before answering any question. “Sam!” Sinder gasped. I don’t know whether he knows about these missiles or not. And this mission had just enough craziness without any real danger.Dekka had never told Sam exactly what she’d whispered into Brianna’s ear. Increasingly—not without a feeling of guilt—he had turned most of it over to Edilio. Something about their body language spelled trouble. stretched. make sure no one’s around. We’ll need to get them across our line as quick as possible. I’ll have to tell him.” Sam said. and rolled her eyes.” Dekka said. violations of sanitary rules. she might have guessed it. Jack. Edilio smiled affectionately. “T’sup. We’ll skim from several different tanks so it won’t show on your books.” Dekka said. you’re trying to talk yourself into this. “Okay. but she could still manage to find black clothing. like. rolling her eyes.” Sam smiled. of course. “We grab them.” Sam said. dude. my friend. people slacking off on work they owed to the town. sooner or later someone’s going to find them. Toto. Even “How are you?” It was probably one of the things that endeared him to Albert. It had been months since Sam had been involved in any serious craziness. sending the message that he had nothing to hide. Dekka. Edilio said. Sam felt a little embarrassed by how eager he was to grab onto that rationale. black stain on the barrier. “He’s telling the truth. Mohamed spread his hands apologetically. Sinder? Hi.” “That’s not true.” Mohamed took an even longer pause than normal. “Still. “Because we’ve had four months of peace. “But.” Edilio said reluctantly. crazy ideas for getting out of the FAYZ. Hopefully we’re back by morning. Jezzie.” Sam said. irrigated plot of vegetables. We’ll have Brianna check out the area. She held her palm out to Toto. (It had doubled as the stage for the Friday Fun Fest.” “Look. But he was pretty sure he knew.” “Burn gas?” Mohamed asked.” Toto said.” “That’s not—” Sam began.” .

you or anyone else. His breath was coming short. and Blake and Bonnie had thoughtfully attached actual toilet seats to these. It was still an hour or so to sundown. and scurried off. and three feet across. But he couldn’t believe it. Quinn. Feeling worried now. Two black-and-red holes stared from the front of Cigar’s face. I swear to God. Sam had then burned five two-foot holes in the steel. Without food. Quinn knew her a little.” Penny snarled and all at once Quinn’s flesh caught fire. This they had done by taking shipping crates. removing the tops. Penny. “I want to see Cigar. Sam had cut it free and Dekka and Orc had hauled it the miles from the train crash site. The skin on his sunburned arms was cracking. Blood on her narrow feet. are you.” Quinn shoved her away and took Cigar’s arm again. The individual outhouses had benches made of desk tops brought from the Air National Guard base. “We’re going to Lana. The end result was an open-topped wooden crate with a narrow door covered with a shower curtain to provide some privacy. Some jobs were tougher than others.” Penny went limp. Penny nodded. Lit up. Cigar was in a corner. He knew it. Her head snapped back hard and she fell on her behind. Penny. Penny looked at him. Alone neither of them had any special talent for building. “Anyone messes with me.SIX 43 HOURS. It took Quinn a few terrible seconds to make sense of what he was seeing. His sneaker caught Penny in the side of her head. You okay?” Cigar did not move. Penny rolled over. But his shirt was soaked with blood. Considering. “I will snap your neck. Also known as the Pit. Normally he went straight to Albert to report the day’s haul. reversed itself. It was funny to watch. but he had a more pressing concern today. although it had still taken twenty other kids to clear the levitated dirt away. “What have you done? What have you done?” “I never touched him. Okay. Give or take: no one had exactly used a tape measure. Quinn grabbed Cigar’s bloody forearm in a strong grip. He bellowed in terror. The plaza was empty. Quinn took it all in at a glance. “What have you done.” Penny said. Over Cigar’s screams. and his skin was back to what it should be. See how well you enjoy life without me and my crews. Quinn knew it wasn’t real. The advantage. Blake and Bonnie had the worst job you could have: maintaining the septic tank. swallowing his fear. Dekka had used her powers to help dig the pit. I will snap your neck. Anticipating. He could not refuse to feel the agony of the illusion. got to her feet. “Cigar? You in there?” The door opened. Penny’s nose exploded. She was still wearing a summer dress. But she glanced at him. shook her head. twelve feet long. The flames quickly burned away his clothing and ate at his flesh. The result was a hole in the ground ten feet deep. and I go on strike. so he gave a small wave. The fire went out instantly. She blocked the door. you witch?” Quinn demanded. Sam had burned holes in each of these.” Quinn said. popping flesh and— He aimed a desperate kick. Deep cracks. His heart was pounding. “Get out of my way. man. recognized by Edilio. trying to get control of her scattered mind.” Quinn’s fist was drawn back before he knew it. Turk lounged on the steps of town hall. He wanted to check on Cigar. Quinn jumped back. “Look at his fingers! Look at his wrists! He did it all himself. revealing Penny. 17 MINUTES QUINN LEFT HIS crews to unload the catch at the dock. It was basically one long slit trench. He could not help but smell the smoke of burning. A girl walked across the square with hurried steps. And that was where Blake and Bonnie came in. “You think the king will let you get away with this. She glanced fearfully toward town hall. He was asleep with a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes and his rifle between his crossed legs. Ecstatic. Quinn said. Cigar’s eyes were gone. “Okay. “Cigar. He found the door easily enough. however. was that the smell of the septic tank wasn’t trapped in a closed space.” Penny said with a happy laugh. Quinn?” she hissed. He seemed at first to be asleep. and sawing out a sort of doorway. “It’s not time yet. He listened and heard nothing from inside. The town was mostly empty—the pickers were in the fields still.” Quinn pushed past her. There was blood on her dress. Like she was trying to see something inside his head. turning deathly white and cracking like dried mud. He climbed the stairs to the detention room where Cigar would be. Quinn knelt by him and raised his head. Measuring. Quinn?” The eruption on Quinn’s arm stopped.” Quinn said. “You’re not threatening me. Then Cigar screamed. Quinn headed into the building. He wanted to at least yell some encouragement to his friend and crewman. Together (with some help from Edilio) they had taken on the job of creating five outhouses perched above those holes. Her eyes were feverish. Come on in. Nothing you can do will stop me. . their direct supervisor. and she was still barefoot. but Quinn was behind her now and had his powerful arm around her neck. but somehow the two of them joined had a strange sort of genius. The open top had the disadvantage that the heads of tall people could be seen. The trench had been covered with an entire side of one of the Nutella train’s steel boxcars.

Bonnie was just about to hotly deny that she was cheating. and the rest—no more than two feet long—looked exactly like a rotted dead log. the two Bs were responsible for keeping the facility clean. but don’t be screaming when I’m doing my business. “Where are the girls? Farmer Goth and Farmer Emo?” “Went to get Sam. No longer anything he had ever seen before. Two of the outhouses were occupied: number one by Pat and number four by Diana. dude. He grabbed the log with half a human face by its one arm and threw it as hard as he could toward the Pit. Howard had spent a couple of nights there as well. Orc drunk was depressed. A sucker. But not quite. Orc had been given the job of guarding Sinder’s little farm. of course. dude?” Howard glanced around for a place to hide his backpack. Blake and Bonnie were given plenty of time off. “I mean. But he seemed doubtful about it. Orc spent as much time. planting and tending. Blake stared at the most familiar face in his world and saw it flatten. “It means wimpy. He was reading the Bible. the sight of Orc sitting on a rock with a book in his hands. “He had some kind of…” Diana began.” “It was a monster. then added. they were arguing over whether a battered Bratz head had or had not gotten the drop on a group of three mismatched beetles. but he wasn’t likely to decide to throw you through a wall. In fact. playing war in the sandpit they’d excavated a hundred feet or so away from the Pit. “Okay. Diana was there frequently as a consequence of being pregnant.” Orc sat reading. Useless. “Jeez. And the hours weren’t bad. It wasn’t that Howard liked Orc drunk.” Blake said. Blake stood staring at something that was no longer Bonnie. was still inexplicable to Howard. Bonnie jerked to her feet like a puppet on a string. The sun was going down. but Blake was not one to just stand and scream. and landed atop her army. . Orc could carry far more. It didn’t go far. but not somehow invisible.There was something pleasant—once you got used to it—about relieving yourself under the stars or sun. Then he spelled it. And since they were seven and six years old. Weak. if you won’t play by the rules—” This happened about six times a day. monsterlooking fool. Bible-reading. he could get it into his head to confiscate Howard’s product. A veil went down over his eyes. so he grabbed it again. rushing up. “Sam? Why didn’t you tell me. and playing a more or less continuous game of war that involved various action figures. And while Sam didn’t go out of his way to try to shut down Howard’s business. Orc had helped them dig a web of shallow canals that brought lake water in to water the neat rows. then stopped moving. pierced her through. That fact. stop. Blake grabbed the Bratz doll head angrily and said.” “They’re gonna inherit the earth. dangerous.” Patrick said. And. Mostly this involved sitting on a rock outcropping and reading. “What is going on?” Pat demanded. Howard operated a whiskey still at Coates. but traveling from Coates to the lake was not exactly an easy trip. A victim. like Caine might. enjoy your game or whatever. There weren’t really any rules. Since absolutely no one wanted their jobs. and occasionally murderous. he took action.” “Yeah. like it was suddenly just two-dimensional.” “Well. official reports and records from the Air National Guard facility.) It was just that sober. you scared me half to death. Bonnie gave a single terrible spasm.” “I know how to spell ‘meek. “because that’s the way it always works out: wimps always win. “I don’t know what it was. Bible-reading Orc was useless to Howard. collecting rocks.” Orc said. Like her face was a still-wet painting and someone had dragged a brush through it. came back to touch her. “M-E-E-K.” Orc grunted.” He stomped off down the hill toward the lake. Diana didn’t yell at Blake. screaming all the while at the top of his lungs. he had to get rid of it. he had set up a little tent just beside the rock and he slept there most nights.” Howard said savagely. of course. Her eyes went wide and her face smeared again as her mouth dripped down her chin. Blake started screaming and Diana and Pat moved as fast as they could. and useless for hauling booze. a wedge-shaped piece of land that had once been a streambed back when rain still fell in the mountains and sent streams to replenish the lake. But Orc wasn’t helping anymore. Blake threw the thing into the hole of the number five outhouse. Useless for intimidation and debt collection. Sinder’s farm wasn’t much bigger than a good-size backyard. the severed heads of Bratz dolls and interesting insects. because Bonnie in particular had no reluctance to call someone out for making a mess. respectively.’” Howard snapped. it says here they’re blessed. A finger made of air. But Orc sober was just useless. swept over her. ‘inherit’?” “You are sucking the life right out of me. Blake was silent. “I guess she’s gone. Orc?” Orc shifted and turned his book to get better light. trying to get Orc past this whole newfound sobriety thing. She made a face. this thing. “What’s that mean. Orc and Howard had gone with Sam to Lake Tramonto during the Big Split. Sinder and Jezzie spent all day. Pitiful. you know that. as big as a tree. when her face smeared. And something that was transparent. “What’s ‘meek’ mean?” Orc asked Howard. they spent their time off swimming. that’s what it means. And Howard couldn’t do it with more than about a dozen bottles in a backpack. and then disappeared. Diana almost reached him. What lay there in the dirt had one arm and half a face. In fact. fell over. and outof-date reference books. stop. He was on a delivery run. A stupid. Except for the lack of toilet paper. this monster that had replaced his friend. every day. The only problem with the lake was that most of the drinking and drugging population had stayed in Perdido Beach. so whatever he drank came straight out of Howard’s profits. This wasn’t terribly hard usually. and dragged it toward the number five as Diana and Pat both shouted for him to stop. (Orc had no money.” he said. Pathetic. Orc was reading. unpredictable. “I don’t know. “Where’s the other one of you? What’s her name? The girl?” Blake shook his head dully. but he couldn’t stop. Sam was a pain in the butt. That was what they were doing. trying to keep alive his friendship with Orc. Blake and Bonnie solved this problem—partly—by selling various leaves. because he wasn’t sure if he was saying it right.

” “I saw it. “You know it’s on the other side of the line. His tanned face looked suddenly so much older than his barely fifteen years. . more or less. Another one. He catches you over there. At least he’d be Orc again. “What is it?” Howard asked again. “We never go anywhere else. the center of life at the lake. As much as he and Sam had been enemies at times.” Orc’s face wasn’t capable of showing much emotion.” “Why are the girls getting Sam?” Howard glanced back toward the marina.” Sam said. “Yep. She looked to Sam for reassurance. “I probably wouldn’t notice it.” Sinder said. Sam. But he wasn’t paying any attention to Sinder or Jezzie. Jezzie. He marched on and they reached the lake’s edge. and still were. Don’t be an idiot. there’s a lot more rabbits than there are coyotes. “Of course I know about your still.” Sam pointed at a much smaller dark bump rising from the dirt. Orc was a slag heap of living gravel with a patch of human skin where his mouth and part of one cheek were. “Have you seen this anywhere else?” Sam asked Sinder. Sam nodded to Howard and said.” “No. The troubled look on Sam’s face was not reassuring.” Howard would never have insulted Orc back in the old days. “That’s why they went for Sam. “What the…. Howard?” Howard shrugged. No one but Howard knew about it.” Howard winced and decided to say nothing. “You know.’” Orc read in his slow. Take over. Orc. He looked like he could use it. “Because I think justice may not be something you want to see so much.” Sam agreed. He had just noticed a discoloration of the dome behind Orc. too. he wanted Sam to have some quick answer to this stain thing. Howard had the sudden. Orc?” Howard snapped. laborious way. “What’s that?” Howard asked. face creased with deep worry lines. how’s it going?” Sam went straight to the barrier and stood looking at the black peak thrusting up behind Orc’s rock. and Sinder were coming along at a quick walk. Instead Orc narrowed his eyes and said. I don’t walk by the barrier that much. Back when Orc was Orc.” Howard felt a sudden chill. It was a face marked by all the pain and worry Sam had endured. “I appreciate the time you put in. like. “You want to ask me what that means. Howard realized: he. “You see anything like this. I just saw it grow. Howard had a vision of Sam as an old man. you won’t like it. “It’s growing. But Howard could see that the shot had hit home.” Sinder said.” Sam said. Howard slung his pack behind a bush and stepped back to see if it was still visible.” At that moment Sam and the girls came up. pointing. Howard fell in beside him. Here again was a low. was looking to Sam for reassurance. Just like rabbits take over from coyotes. “‘Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice. Sam stood looking at the stain. In a drunken rage Orc had accidentally killed a kid back in Perdido Beach. “There. undulating ridge of black stain. It’s Caine’s territory.” Orc said. hair gray and thin. “Orc. The meek. Just now. Even now he saw Orc’s eyes narrow—they were one of the few remaining human parts of him. too. relieved that Sam hadn’t spotted his backpack. He walked along the barrier toward the lake. ridiculous urge to offer Sam a drink. Anyway.“I think ‘inherit’ means take over. unless you’re sharing your profits with him. “What do you think it is?” Howard asked. Sure enough.” Sam muttered. Sam shook his head slowly. “You just go back and forth to your still at Coates. Howard almost wished Orc would get up and pound him. Weird.

She had a duty to help her friends understand it.” she muttered. Then she reached the circle of tents and trailers that ringed the bonfire. “It’s Astrid. Diana looked at her without showing the least surprise and said.” “No.” she told herself. each lit orange and gold. If someone had a functioning digital camera it would be easy enough. Sam. At the same time she suspected that she was looking for an excuse to back off and avoid her duty to help. ever condemned you for your thoughts and desires.” “You know what Mark Twain said? ‘Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. all kinds of interesting things have happened while you were away.” Astrid said. Sam.” Astrid felt tears forming.” Diana led the way to the houseboat.” Astrid said.’” she quoted mentally. Winnebagos. “Who’s there?” a voice cried from the shadows. “Missed you. “I guess you’re here to see Sam.” the voice said. And math never. Hope it doesn’t ever come back. The barrier went straight into the lake. Astrid wished she moved like that.” Astrid said. with his finger near but not directly on the trigger. stepped out from behind a bush. 19 MINUTES ASTRID STOOD GAZING down at the lake from the heights to the west. you had the flu.” Edilio nodded to Diana. and thirty or more faces. She ran the math in her head. Numbers still gave her pleasure. “Who is it or I shoot. did you? Her name is Bonnie. She approached nervously. “I’ll take you. Astrid instantly recognized Diana. trailers. dismissing her. Diana saw the look on Astrid’s face. I’m not supposed to let anyone pass unless I know them. Where have you been?” Conversation and laughter died. The suspicion had been growing in her head that she was just coming up with an excuse to see Sam. “I’ve been … away.SEVEN 36 HOURS. Calculate the progression day by day and she would have pretty good data. on your way here. She started toward the fire. That was the great thing about numbers: it required no faith to believe that two plus two equaled four.” Diana said. That drew a laugh from Diana. She was going to see Sam.” A boy. All that she could handle. “By the way. keeping watch over the scattered tents. A Bible quote. “No doubt. far-off bonfire was burning in a circle of tents and trailers. “Weak. She still moved with unself-conscious grace despite the bulge. She heard kids laughing. Anyway. turned to look. too.” Tim shouldered his weapon.” “Yes. Last time I saw you. “There’s a little problem with that. Diana stood up and Astrid realized with a shock that she was pregnant. soon it would be too dark to see the stain. It is you.” the boy said. and boats. It’s about time. “Whoa. The first to see her was a little girl.” Edilio said in a whisper. even as evening crept closer. “Take it easy. Now that she was here she could no longer even pretend to suppress her emotions. “Yes. “Hi. Astrid. She passed a few tents. About seven.” “I need to see Sam. “Is that you. Astrid couldn’t see the kids around the fire. The sun was down and a small. of course. I think. An old-fashioned Airstream trailer. she supposed. Edilio jumped up and clambered down to the dock. But she was going to see Sam. Edilio.” Astrid said. The lake’s shoreline bulged out so that she could no longer keep following the barrier without going out of her way. He swung his rifle out of the way and threw his arms around Astrid. hello. He had an automatic rifle on his lap. and now the trail was clearer and easier to follow.’” “Yep. Time to turn toward the human habitations. who nudged the older girl beside her. He drew Astrid up onto the boat and then into the empty cabin. She shifted her pack and slipped her shotgun off her sore right shoulder onto her left. A crisis was coming. cutting it roughly in half. “I thought you were dead. It brought a wistful smile to her lips. “Stop it. “Thank God. a girl. and said. That’s you. Sam.” “Flu’s all gone now. “I guess you’re okay to go on in.” she admitted. and she would no doubt have to endure stares and greetings and probably insults. It occurred to Astrid that in days gone by she might have prayed for guidance.” Astrid walked on. “He doesn’t want to see me?” . Others. But I know you. Maybe five sample locations. On the way she worked out a simple method for measuring the spread of the dark stain on the barrier. smirked. Sam. Is someone missing?” Edilio was sitting in a folding chair on the top deck. you didn’t happen to see a kid. What had happened to that Astrid? Where had she gone to? Astrid hadn’t prayed since… “‘Put aside childish things. which was ironic. Good to see you well. all right. That was the thing. probably no older than ten.” “Thanks. but she could see shapes occasionally crossing in front of the flames. Tim?” Astrid asked. “Well.” “No way. He had a rifle leveled.

“He’s, um… He’s out.” Astrid laughed. “I assume from your conspiratorial look you mean he’s up to something dangerous?” Edilio grinned and shrugged. “He’s still Sam. He should be back by morning. Come on; let’s get you something to eat and drink. You can sleep here tonight.” The pickup truck crept down the road. Crept for many reasons: First, it saved gas. Second, they were driving with the lights out because headlights would be visible a long way off. Third, the road from the lake down to the highway was narrow and only sketchily paved. And fourth: Sam had never really learned to drive. Sam was behind the wheel. Dekka was beside him. Computer Jack was in the cramped space behind the front seat, wedged in and not happy. “No offense, Sam, but you’re going off the road. Off the road! Sam! You’re going off the road!” “No, I’m not; shut up,” Sam snapped as he guided the huge truck back onto the road, narrowly avoiding overturning in the ditch. “This is how I’m going to die,” Jack said. “Crammed in like this in a ditch.” “Oh, please,” Sam said. “You’re strong enough to tear your way out even if we did crash.” “Do me a favor and rescue me, too,” Dekka said. “We’re fine. I have this down now,” Sam said. “Coyotes will totally eat us,” Jack said. “Tear our guts open and…” He fell silent. Sam glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Jack mouth the word “sorry.” Dekka sighed. “I hate when you guys do that. Stop treating me like I’m going to fall apart. Not helpful.” Saving Dekka’s life from the infestation of bugs had meant cutting her open. Lana had been there to heal her, but Dekka had not come through unscathed. She put on a good act, but Dekka was no longer the fearless, indestructible girl she had once seemed to be. That and Brianna’s obvious rejection of her had left her withdrawn, defeated. Hopeless. “I hope Brianna’s okay,” Jack said. “She shouldn’t be running around in the dark.” “As long as she sticks to the road and takes it slow she’ll be all right,” Sam said, hoping to forestall any further conversation about Brianna. Jack was extremely intelligent in areas having to do with technology. But he could be completely, steadfastly clueless when it came to humans. Sure enough, he stepped right in it. “Brianna’s been weird lately,” Jack said. “Ever since we came up to the lake. She’s like, all…” Sam refused to ask him to continue. Dekka shot a sidelong look at Sam and said, “She’s like all what, Jack?” “Like all… I don’t know. Like she wants to … you know…” “No, I don’t know,” Dekka growled. “So if you’ve got something to say, spit it out.” “I don’t know. Like, be friendly with me. Like, she made out with me the other day.” “Poor you,” Dekka said in a voice that would have frozen a more sensitive person into a block of ice. Jack spread his hands. “I was busy. She could see I was busy.” At that point Sam decided it might be a good idea to weave off the road and knock into a fence post. “Sam! Sam, Sam, Sam!” Jack yelled. He jerked in fear, which, because of his ridiculous strength, pushed the seat so hard Sam was smacked into the wheel. “Ow!” Sam stepped on the brake. “Okay, that’s enough. Do either of you two want to drive? No? Then shut up. Jeez, my head is bleeding.” The truck moved again and soon the wheels went from gravel to the smooth pavement of the highway. Sam drove a quarter mile down the highway, spotted a landmark, and parked on the shoulder of the road. “Cut across here. Right?” Sam asked. Dekka peered out, nodded. “Yeah, this looks right.” They climbed out and stretched. It was still half a mile to the shore. Half a mile across a zeke field. The zekes hadn’t bothered anyone since the humans and the worms had worked out the arrangement of tossing blue bats and other inedible—to humans—animals into the fields to feed the worms. But just in case, Dekka had some baggies of fish entrails and bits and pieces of raccoon and deer tendons and the like in a pack. She emptied one of these out at her feet and instantly the zekes seethed up out of the ground and swarmed over the food. But left the three of them unharmed. “The stuff we get used to,” Jack said, and shook his head. Sam said, “Listen, guys, you’ll hear about it soon enough: there’s something hinky going on with the barrier.” “Kinky?” “No, hinky. Weird.” Sam told them what he had seen. “Maybe it’s Sinder’s powers causing it,” Jack suggested. Sam nodded. “Possible. So tomorrow we’re going to have to explore a bit, see if the same thing is going on anywhere else.” They had crossed the fields and now had to make it through a strip of weeds and sea grasses that ran along the top of the bluff. It had been a while since Sam had seen the ocean. Not since they’d gone to the lake. It was black, painted with only the faintest glimmers of starlight. The moon was not out yet. The sound of the ocean had long been muted: there were no real waves in the FAYZ. But even the soft shush … shush … shush of water lapping on gritty sand touched something in Sam’s heart. They had miscalculated their location by a few hundred yards and had to walk north along the sand in order to find the crushed container. The steel box—a shipping container with MAERSK written down the side—had fallen from a great height when Dekka lost control of it hundreds of feet in the air. The contents—long, heavily constructed crates—had spilled out onto the sand. One of the crates had popped open. Sam decided to use a bit of battery power and flicked on a flashlight. Tail fins were clearly visible. He flicked the light off. Paused. Something not right. “No one move,” Sam said. He played the light around on the sand. “Someone smoothed the sand.” “Say what?” Jack asked. “Look how flat and neat the sand is here. It’s like when they drag the beaches at night and in the morning all the footprints and everything are gone.” “You’re right,” Dekka said. “Someone’s been here and then covered their tracks.”

No one spoke for a few minutes as each thought through the implications. “Caine could easily lift these things and move them,” Sam said. “So why are they still here?” Jack asked. Then he answered his own question. “Maybe they took the other missiles and just left this one. We should check the seals.” Sam took slow, cautious steps closer. He aimed the light’s beam at bright yellow tape that sealed each crate. The tape had been carefully sliced and then pressed back into place. “They’re gone,” Sam said flatly. “Caine has them.” “Then why leave the one?” Jack asked. Sam took a shallow breath. “Booby trap.”

“YOU CAN’T LET him get away with this! ���

Penny shrieked. Caine wasn’t having it. “You stupid witch,” he yelled back. “No one told you to let it go that far!” “He was mine for the day,” Penny hissed. She pressed a rag to her nose, which had started bleeding again. “He tore his own eyes out. What did you think Quinn would do? What do you think Albert will do now?” He bit savagely at his thumb, a nervous habit. “I thought you were the king!” Caine reacted without thinking. He swung a hard backhand at her face. The blow did not connect, but the thought did. Penny flew backward like she’d been hit by a bus. She smacked hard against the wall of the office. The blow stunned her, and Caine was in her face before she could clear her thoughts. Turk came bursting in, his gun leveled. “What’s happening?” “Penny tripped,” Caine said. Penny’s freckled face was white with fury. “Don’t,” Caine warned. He tightened an invisible grip around her head and twisted it back at an impossible angle. Then Caine released her. Penny panted and glared. But no nightmare seized Caine’s mind. “You’d better hope Lana can fix that boy, Penny.” “You’re getting soft.” Penny choked out the words. “Being king isn’t about being a sick creep,” Caine said. “People need someone in charge. People are sheep and they need a big sheepdog telling them what to do and where to go. But it doesn’t work if you start killing the sheep.” “You’re scared of Albert.” Penny followed it with a mocking laugh. “I’m scared of no one,” Caine said. “Least of all you, Penny. You live because I let you live. Remember that. The kids out there?” He waved his hand toward the window, vaguely indicating the population of Perdido Beach. “Those kids out there hate you. You don’t have a single friend. Now get out of here. I don’t want to see you back here in my presence until you’re ready to crawl to me and beg my forgiveness.” Penny said two words, the second of which was “you.” Caine laughed. “I think you meant ‘——you, Your Highness.’” He lifted Penny up with a slight motion of one hand and tossed her out through the open door and into the hallway. “She could be trouble, Your Highness,” Turk said. “She’s already trouble,” Caine said. “First Drake, now Penny. I’m surrounded by psychos and idiots.” Turk looked hurt. “One thing, Turk. You ever see me freaking out, like Penny is pulling something on me? You shoot the witch. We clear on that?” “Absolutely,” Turk said. “Your Highness.” “You get that you’re the idiot, right, Turk?” “Um…” Caine stormed off, muttering, “I miss Diana.” Quinn was still vibrating with rage by the time he made his way to Clifftop. Rage. But fear, too. In getting Cigar out of Penny’s grip he had made a very dangerous enemy. Maybe two. Or even three, depending on where Albert came down. Walking through the carpeted hall, feeling his way in the dark, Quinn realized with surprise that he was hearing voices. From a room at the far end of the hall from Lana’s oceanfront room he heard children playing. He stopped and listened. “You lose; you totally lose, Peace.” “Because you cheated, you little thief!” “Guys, keep it down, huh?” That last voice Quinn recognized as Virtue, who was often called Choo. Sanjit had moved his siblings into Clifftop? When had that happened? The whole bunch of them, all the island kids, had moved to the lake with Lana. But after a few days she’d returned. Clifftop had become a part of Lana. It was where she felt safe. Quinn realized with a stab of jealousy that Lana had okayed the island kids moving in here. No one argued with Lana. And until now she had placed an absolute ban on anyone sharing even a tiny corner of her Clifftop redoubt. He knew that Lana was sort of seeing Sanjit, the new kid. But letting him move his whole family into Clifftop? There had been a time when Quinn thought Lana and he might… But then events and realities had killed that daydream. Quinn was just a working guy, a fisherman. Lana was the Healer. As such she was the most protected, respected, even revered person in the FAYZ. Not even Caine would dream of messing with Lana. And as intimidating as all that was, there was more: Lana was as tough as a spiked baseball bat. She had seemed far, far above Quinn. Patrick heard him and set up a loud and sustained barking. Quinn knocked even though it seemed superfluous. The peephole went dark. The door was opened by Sanjit. “It’s Quinn,” he yelled over his shoulder. “Come on in, man.” Quinn stepped in. In the weird glow of a small Sammy sun the transformation of Lana’s room was shocking: it was clean. Really clean. With the bed made and the coffee table clear. The usual overflowing ashtray was nowhere to be seen—or smelled. Even Patrick looked as if he’d been bathed and brushed. He ran over and began rubbing himself against Quinn, probably looking to pick up some pleasant fish smell to replace all the odors that had been rudely shampooed away. Sanjit, a slim Indian-looking kid with an infectious smile and long black hair, noticed Quinn’s surprise but said nothing. Lana came in from the balcony. She at least had not changed much. She still had a huge semiautomatic pistol stuck in a thick belt. She still had

Patrick fell in beside Lana. “He’s at Dahra’s. “Yeah? Tell the voice in my head. “Don’t wait up. sensing an adventure. “I know.” Lana said. Even talking about the gaiaphage cast a shadow on him.” she told Sanjit. the thing that named itself the gaiaphage. “Black.” “Nemesis?” “Man. you know. she deserved some peace in her life. Quinn. like she might just as easily break down in tears or shoot you in the stomach. Right?” Lana shook her head. “Hi. “What does it want from you?” Quinn asked. “Yeah.” Quinn said.” Quinn muttered.” “It’s not my business.” “Little Pete. “But it’s no one else’s business. bright by contrast. “The barrier. “Nemesis.” Lana said. “I got lonely. The voice in my head is scared. “I get nightmares.” Lana explained. And her expression was still somewhere between vulnerable and forbidding. Sounds weird coming from me. It wants him night and day. but the truth was. The gaiaphage is scared.” “But Little Pete’s dead and gone. If she knew that Quinn was feeling jealous she gave no sign of it. Quinn knew she meant the Darkness. Down the hallway. letting the word hang there between them.” Quinn was trying to nurture his resentment.the same pretty but not beautiful looks. Anyway. what is it?” There was nothing embarrassed or ill at ease in her tone.” They walked on quickly. “It wants Nemesis. then down the stairs to ground level. “It’s Cigar. Too late. It helps having someone there sometimes. He couldn’t stay mad at her.” Lana said. “Doesn’t feel good. It’s looking for him. made his breathing heavy and his heartbeat too loud. “So. Lana stopped and faced him. Then I need someone to. so she just shifted to a gruffer tone and said.” “Changing color? Changing to what color?” Lana asked. You and I…” She didn’t quite know how to finish that. Lana nodded and grabbed her backpack. Sanjit was actually living with Lana? In the same room? Was Quinn misunderstanding this? Because that was sure what it sounded like.” He quickly told her what had happened.” “I saw…” He winced. Something big is happening.” “A little bit. “Who would I tell?” Quinn asked rhetorically. “You ought to have someone to tell. pitiless laugh. Not what I’m here for. feeling guilty to be letting his own feelings gain any hold when the picture of poor Cigar was still so fresh in his mind.” Quinn said. Something definitely not good. bring me back. “It still reaches me sometimes. Sometimes it’s bad. Quinn.” “That’s probably a good thing. do you?” “I’m mostly hanging with my crews. Quinn told himself. Lana led the way through the pitch-black lobby and out into the night. Quinn. Quinn swallowed hard on that.” . you don’t get any of the good gossip. he should be telling Albert first. Had for a long time. he liked Lana. Lana laughed a hard. Quinn.” Quinn said. It seems like it’s changing color. and sometimes it’s like that voice is screaming in my head. It may be turning black. it’s your business.

In some ways it really wasn’t a very good game. She listened to the room. Carrying the candle. In the tree. Brianna could keep her super-speed and her worn-out sneakers and the broken wrists she got when she fell. who is there?” No answer. Right in front of her. Taylor pictured Lana’s hotel. Taylor owned the gossip of the FAYZ. There were avatars. and there was the Darkness glowing at the bottom. In the moonlight her skin was still gold. Her black hair was still black. It was all inside. Which was how she ended up working for both King Caine and Albert. She clumsily thumbed a lighter and brought fire to the wick. Albert had inventoried it—and watching an old Hey Arnold! on DVD. was controlled and very limited. Her golden flesh shining dully in the moonlight. She was in the forest. life was good for a smart girl with the power to simply pop from place to place. like two long spiral ladders joined together. They hadn’t seemed very interesting until he looked very close at them and saw that each one was a complex spiral. He had touched a couple of the avatars. Clean sheets! The equivalent of living in a palace compared to life in the rest of the miserable FAYZ. Or maybe had never been there to begin with. plus information on Caine. So once Caine had arranged for Taylor to visit the island—San Francisco de Sales Island. and the rest of it. was the perfect avatar. Delicate. which was a lot. From head to toe. He had tried to move the Darkness but his controls had no effect on it. It made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. screaming. wild and out of control. Her left hand and the outer edge of her left calf had materialized in the tree. “Okay. grabbing. no. It made her very useful. No wonder his earlier moves had destroyed the avatars. Taylor was enjoying the best of both worlds. not standing on anything. and the ball itself. Because maybe she was just hallucinating. They were beautiful. And the pain! . Crazy. Taylor reached for the remote control and saw that her skin was gold. but occasional electricity was part of her salary. my God. So much he could do. But the real question was: what was the point of the game? He didn’t see any score. But either way. really. but every square inch of her skin was the color of actual yellow gold. All he knew was that it was all inside the ball. flitting magically from place to place. In the flesh. There were a lot of bedrooms in the mansion. 25 MINUTES SO FAR PETE had experimented only a little with his new game. ready to bounce out of here in a heartbeat. She was letting her imagination— Something moved. Then she leaned close to look at the reflection of her own eyes. this was weird. And Albert wanted some of that. she switched out of her bed shirt into jeans and a T-shirt. It was a very complicated game with so many pieces. And there. She was hanging from her hand and her leg. “Hey!” She was poised. The room she was in had been called the Amazon room because of the leafy green color of the walls and the jaguar-print bedclothes. The game did not see outside the ball. he had just been scrambling up the intricate latticework. then twisted and compressed so that if you looked at the avatar from a distance you didn’t see anything but a symbol. She bounced. just hanging from… She screamed again as she realized she was not at Clifftop. But if she ever got lonely. where you were lucky to have a mattress no one had peed on recently. just hanging. Caine wanted information on Sam and what was happening at the lake. the hallway. but when he did that they blurred and broke and disappeared. She was gold. Or maybe the CIA of the FAYZ. and neither of them was affected by the game. “Oh. The pain was instant and unbearable. Like something transparent but distorting had moved in front of it. Nothing. Not real. She was the TMZ of the FAYZ. So maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do. For just a second the TV screen had blurred. She searched in the dark and found a candle. Whatever had been there was gone now.NINE 35 HOURS. She was in bed munching on slightly stale saltines—she had to be careful about raiding the pantry. and zoomed in on it until he could see the spirals inside spirals. Her skin was gold. because the irises were an even deeper gold. hanging from a tall tree. She dangled. This time he would try something different. but she was too small in a number of dimensions. Could it be Bug? She would know if Bug had been brought out to the island. Which meant that Taylor slept in a fabulous bedroom in a fabulous mansion. And that was when she screamed. She was imagining things. about three hundred of them. She could have also worn Jennifer Brattle’s amazing wardrobe. so she needed to have someone else look at her. Shaking. Pete picked an avatar at random. All in all it was the most useful power imaginable. too. No. Nothing.” she whispered. Using her power she could “bounce” from the island to the town to the lake. The fuel for the generator. Taylor screamed and thrashed and the pain only grew worse. Her left hand and the outer meat of her left calf felt as if they were pressed against red-hot steel. Taylor just had to picture a place where she’d been. And just as important: pop right back out. Yes. she could just picture Perdido Beach and be there. that was most likely. Her first reaction was that it was a trick of the light from the cartoon. and amazingly some still had clean sheets. formerly owned by Jennifer Brattle and Todd Chance—she could bounce back anytime. Taylor climbed out of bed and went to the window. At the moment she was lying in her bed. right arm and left arm reaching. she went to the bathroom to look at herself in the mirror. Like nothing she had ever felt or imagined. Suddenly Taylor had the feeling someone else was in the room. But after a few seconds she decided. and pop! There she was.

“Not Brianna? Or Orc?” “They’re both powerful. Neatly cut off at the wrist. on the dusty roof of a Lexus. just a sudden ending. put his arms around her shoulders. For a moment she thought she’d embarrassed him by using a word he didn’t understand. “Four of the ten have no powers or mutations. But I was. She shook her head ruefully. maybe. More so with Orc. too. Holy men … women. Then she answered her own question. “You mean like the irony of an illegal from Honduras ending up being what I am?” Astrid smiled.” Edilio said dryly. a prison. Always down. landed on her chest. Edilio: I killed it. “Yeah. horrifying death. Sam. Taylor bellowed in pain and terror. Me. It was strange enough to see a fifteen-year-old girl pregnant in any context.” Edilio looked very sad. fell the four feet to the pavement.” Edilio smiled affectionately. She put her elbows on the table and held her head in her hands. they go through bad times. The FAYZ was a place of sudden. they lose their faith. Taylor screamed and fell back and lost consciousness. Pushed back the pain for just a second … just… Taylor bounced.” “It’s my superpower.” He came to stand beside her. You. “Quinn. a purgatory maybe.. you know? Brianna’s cool. The stumps of her legs didn’t do a very good job of holding her in place.” Astrid folded her arms in front of her. But they come back to it. So I just looked. No blood. sharp-tongued girl and a boy who had never been anything but evil. even if it was a dream. But so do I.” “True. Taylor could not see her calf. Her legs ended in neat stumps. She was not in her bedroom. not asking her questions. bounce back to her bedroom. He laid his gun down carefully and slid into a seat opposite her. never up. nodded at Astrid. Edilio?” Edilio raised a skeptical eyebrow. And when I looked…” She made a gesture with her fingers. Edilio came in. but she was on it. “Really?” “Yes. I was all alone and I had no one to be right to. But after a long. It’s hard for someone who has had to carry the nickname ‘Astrid the Genius’ to admit she was wrong.” “But you made peace?” Astrid took a deep breath. Astrid had found the sight of a visibly pregnant Diana disturbing. But so much pain. She was on a car in the driveway of Clifftop. “So have you.It had to be a dream. Or a monk. Astrid shook her head. It’s about her baby.. sure. “Edilio. not wanting. And who had changed all that? A cruel. Dekka. She had to bounce away. Diana Ladris: mother. reflective pause Edilio said. She hadn’t bounced here.” Edilio said. The hand was gone. Her flailing caused her to topple over.” Astrid acknowledged. Just like her left hand. Diana was bringing one into the world.” “I’m not a holy anything. The FAYZ was a trap. “I’ve changed. Diana.” “She’s changed.” Edilio said. No blood. “Old-school. unfortunately. Edilio?” Astrid asked him. Astrid had taken a life. But a nursery? Each week that had gone by from that first day. or something I’d heard. Not a place of life. “Who would you say are the ten most powerful people in the FAYZ. “Lots of people. “Or maybe like Diana having a baby?” That forced a laugh from Astrid. “I have to get back out there. Wouldn’t have stayed out there all on her own..” she said. the number of kids alive in the FAYZ had gone down. “Never.” She made a wry smile. and she hugged him. too. she fumbled for and reached the door handle and used it to pull herself up into a seated position. I didn’t worry about looking like a fool. just above the knees. Drake. I guess … going off to the wilderness to make peace with God. No.” “Ah. “I think it’s more than that. In the FAYZ it was far more jarring. He was being discreet. like things blowing away. Both of her legs were in the car. On the car. but she’s not someone who other people follow.” “Number one is Albert. Except me. Nor could she feel it. Honest with myself. I held it up to the light and I stared right at it and for the first time I didn’t hide behind something I’d read somewhere. I didn’t worry about what anyone would think.” “I didn’t lose my faith. This couldn’t be real. I’m a bit more tanned. Astrid invited him to sit down. . Same with Jack. and poured himself a glass of water from the jug on the counter. Taylor strained to visualize her room. scattering in the wind. huh? Like a hermit. Astrid sat on the sticky plastic cushions around the houseboat’s tiny dining table. Not about happy. that’s not the right word. “You like irony. “you have to believe what’s right for you. “But I found out that I was … not happier. She had materialized with her legs sticking through the roof.” Edilio gave her a shrewd look. it was just a horrible nightmare. But they don’t have the kind of power that moves other people. Like that?” Her silence was confirmation.” Edilio stood up. what you feel. But … honest.” “Irony?” “And Diana’s importance isn’t about her power. Shaking with fear. Lana. “The old Astrid would never have just disappeared like you did. Like that.” He thought about it for a moment longer and said. “I was… I was doing penance. probably. “You are the most underestimated person in the FAYZ. She rolled once. “Then Caine.” “Yeah.” Astrid said evasively. to scare her off.” Edilio said.” “You notice something about the ten people you named?” Astrid asked.” “So you think I’m lying to myself?” Edilio asked softly. “There was nothing there.

She felt around. It was her old nightgown. She hadn’t had a pillow in a long. Sam needed someone to take care of him. and she hoped he’d found that. . in his bed. Sam kept it with him. Instead of a pillow her hand touched sheer. The two smells had always been connected in her mind. She knew it. Her old nightgown. looking for a pillow. “Use Sam’s bunk. Good. A nap. She wondered who he had found to be with. You should get some sleep. the filmy white thing she used to wear back in the days when she didn’t need to sleep with her clothes on and a shotgun nestled to her breast.” He nodded. Just a brief one. long time. Well. She made her way to Sam’s bunk and flopped down. good. and now the idea of one seemed incredibly luxurious.” Astrid felt weariness rise up and almost close her eyes where she sat.“It’s good to have you back. Astrid. silky fabric. She pulled it to her and ran the fabric against her cheek. The bed smelled of salt and Sam. Surely someone by now.

TEN 34 HOURS. just stand still. 31 MINUTES “I’M GOING TO risk some light. They did not have to wait long. I’m going to scoop the sand out from under your foot.” Jack said. “Okay. “We can’t leave this thing booby-trapped. don’t be a wimp. His eyes scrunched on sand.” “You sure?” “I’m right here next to you. Sam.” Sam said. “Now we all just back away. “I was going to say first we should all lie flat so we didn’t get blown up. but the mention of Astrid left an awkward hole in the conversation. too. Then he used two fingers from each hand. Oh. But I guess that was good. The two lights banished some of the shadows. Then a bit more. Anyway. In the eventual silence Sam said.” “Oh.” He looked toward the south. Which meant the four-month-long peace was coming to an end.” Sam called up to her. “Seriously? Brianna runs in miles per hour.” She zipped over to the wire and zipped back holding the loose end.” Dekka said. was … doing what exactly? That was the question. I’m going to die!” Sam formed a third light down by Jack’s feet. Down there in town his brother. Sam raised his hands. Some innocent person could stumble across this place. Caine would be careful. In five minutes Brianna was vibrating to a stop next to them. aren’t I?” Sam snapped.” Dekka teased. “Aaahh!” Jack yelled. and no one was looking at him. Debris seemed to take a long time to fall back down to earth. this booby trap? Had he heard or seen the explosion and was he now rejoicing. Nothing blew up.” “Any idea what a safe distance would be?” “Far. Now he could easily see the taut wire crossing the toe of Jack’s boot. my foot is underneath a wire. pieces of driftwood. you don’t have to yell. but I’ll tie the string around the wire. “I think so. Sam felt a blast of heat on his face.” Sam said. what are you guys doing?” It was Brianna atop the bluff. “But first—” BOOOOM! The containers. From where he was standing he couldn’t exactly see Perdido Beach. Brianna said. Don’t believe what you see in movies.” “Since I’m the tech guy. “What’s with all the light? I thought we were being all—” “Stay right there!” Dekka yelled.” Sam said. I’m not moving. Would Caine really let Diana have his child and stay with Sam? It did occur to Sam for just a fleeting moment that Caine might not be the one who had taken the missiles. Jack rolled his eyes and sighed his condescending geek sigh.” He’d said it lightheartedly. “I can’t outrun an explosion. “I think some light would be a great idea. now just move your foot back. So he leaned to his right as far as he could without moving his feet and hung a second light in midair. believing Sam had been killed? What would Caine do if he thought Sam was dead? Would he come against the lake? Could Albert stop him? Caine wouldn’t dare attack the lake as long as Sam was alive. But he wondered how long it would be before Caine moved against Albert and Sam.” Dekka said.” “Yeah.” Sam said.” “Okay. There were no lights except for his eternal Sammy suns. A ridiculous possibility. bushes on the bluff all erupted in a fireball. Caine. “Don’t move!” “I’m not moving. Jack moved his foot. jeez. “Okay. “It’s good to have Jack to take over that job. Breeze.” “Hey. “I don’t guess you can outrun an explosion. “Breeze.” Sam said. “Okay. so Sam didn’t feel too guilty about the fact that he was smiling. “Dekka. His ears rang. and disarming a booby trap is a sort of tech problem. No. very delicately scooping sand. come on. are you clear?” Sam asked. Jack. .” Brianna blurred out of view. like a pale greenish sun. let’s all go down to the water. God. “Okay. Had this been Caine’s idea. everyone kneel down real slowly and check all around your feet. I’m not moving. Ridiculous. As long as Sam was alive and could join forces with Albert. “In the old days I always had Astrid around to humiliate me when I asked a stupid question. But there was really only one other possibility. Jack. and a ball of light. then move back to a safe distance. “Find us a rope or a long string. began to form in midair. the sand. That’ll take the pressure off the wire. It created more shadows than illumination.” Sam used his two index fingers to begin very. I can see where the wire runs now.” Sam instructed. It was dark. “I vote we blow it up from a safe distance. and they would be behind curtains at night. “Okay. Caine had the missiles. We either have to disarm it or blow it up.” Sam explained what was going on. “Who gets to yank the string?” “She who ties the string pulls it. right?” Sam asked doubtfully. Jack’s shoe dropped half an inch. Explosions happen in feet per second.

” Her hands. That witch has to be stopped. The screams still threatened to tear his throat. wasn’t it? “Who are you?” Cigar cried out. And that was all that Cigar saw. No. stiletto fingers into Cigar’s heart and… No. Quinn gasped. Like the earliest hints of sunrise. “Your eyeballs are jerking around and it may be that the light from the Sammy sun bothers them. It’s me. brother. “Something is happening. “It’s Lana. “We’re going to cover your eyes with a cloth. Something. She outshone both Quinn and Sanjit. Dekka stared out of the window. at least.” An eternity. And if you don’t have arms how did you light those cigars. okay?” Sanjit said. She was a moon to their stars. empty darkness. “You might be feeling something.” Lana said. Cigar stared at it. And it seems like tiny little eyes are forming. Lana’s fingers slid back. however it turns out. helpless sound. too. no. distant light. no.” Sanjit said. Jack slept. “We’ve been here all night. Unless she was the creature that smiled before chewing your fingers off and then ate its way up your arms. a hopeless. Was it coming from him? “I’ve never been able to grow an organ back. After all. “Last time I tried… Let’s just hope you don’t end up with whip eyes. He needed something to not be a nightmare. seeking a way into her head. like the blackness was just a little bit less black. The light he could see was real. in and out of screaming nightmares. His real name. snoring from time to time. tearing. Lana was real. those big fat cigars and puff until the ends were glowing red and so hot and then plunge those red-hot tips into the empty holes of your eye and then shriek in agony and beg God.Cigar felt hands touching him. “No. Maybe. The light bar. but not so loud that it bothered Sam. kill me”? “The nerves are regrowing.” “It was Caine’s doing. “Don’t get your hopes up too much. On his brow.” Lana said at last. during which he slid in and out of consciousness. “Nerves. At times scorpions burrowed into his flesh. chewing him. Unbelievable.” Quinn laid his calloused hand on Cigar’s shoulder and it made him want to cry. like an infinitely long snake that writhed and probed at her.” Sanjit said in a kind voice. “Yeah. a steady silvery light.” “We’re going to take the cloth off now. He screamed. kill me. All the while. “Can you hear me?” How much time had passed? The madness was not past.” Lana said.” Sanjit said. He knew she was there beside him.” There were snakes in Cigar’s dried-blood eye sockets. At times his skin crisped like bacon. Sam drove slowly. He could feel them. So how had he clawed the roaches out of his eyes if he had no arms? Answer that. “So whatever you’ve got is what you’ve got. At times he was on fire. the need for secrecy was . “He knows what Penny is like.” Sanjit said. Quinn. A boy’s voice. Answer that. Quinn enveloped in what looked like the beginning of a tornado. Her touch was real.” He knew her voice. I can’t do any more. no bigger than BBs right now..” Sanjit put his hand on Cigar’s chest and dug his ripping.” Lana said angrily. Because everything around the three kids was blank. slowly she probed toward the black sockets. Cigar saw Sanjit behind him. Helpless. But wrapped around her was a sickly green tendril. but it was diluted. piercing shafts like bright moonlight. They had waited until dawn—no point risking another drive through the dark.. “Cigar. Maybe hands. That wasn’t real. But a Quinn with a storm of purple-and-red light around his head. Maybe the paws of a monster who would sink terrible claws into him and rip the flesh from his arm. Her eyes were beautiful. but something is growing. He couldn’t be sure. “Look! Something’s happening.” “My eyes!” Cigar screamed. needle-toothed mouth. “Listen to me.. That was her touch on him. “It looks like the gouging and the cuts are healing up. A bar of faint. She’s evil. On his temples. willing it to be real.” Lana said. Bradley. hadn’t he? He didn’t have arms anymore. “Aaaaahhhhhh!” Cigar cried. a lion’s mouth roaring out of his throat. Maybe. He tried to claw at his eyes but his hands were pinned.” Cigar didn’t recognize that voice. Cigar felt the cloth slide away. Sudden. Then he saw Lana. he could mount some resistance. dude. She was always twisted.” But then Lana’s more astringent voice said. ripping until he screamed and screamed and his screaming throat became a roaring animal. He tried so very hard to hold on to that.” Lana’s voice said. Had he ever stopped screaming? He heard a far-off wail. Little white balls. He needed something to be real. Lana kept her hands on his face. “He’s trying to claw his eyes again. He glowed softly. Bradley. you’ve got a place with your crew. Cigar saw something that looked very much like Quinn. You’re one of us. Sanjit. but he could hold them off. That wasn’t real. nooooooooo!” he wailed. that faint glow was growing.” “I’m here. Shifting rainbows. blood spurting around its grinning. weakened. Yes. laughing at his pain. Slowly. He’d had his arms chewed off. She’s a mental case. “Look! Look!” “My eyes!” “Not yet. It’s me. They were writhing like mad.” Sanjit agreed. There was no teasing or even conversation on the trip back to the lake. dude. “Listen. but after her injuries … something snapped in that girl.” “Who are yoooooou?” “I think he means me.” Sanjit said. “This can’t ever happen again. “Kill me.

and sidled down the narrow passage to his bunk. He felt eyes on him. She kissed him and slid on top of him. At some point in the hours that followed he said. but then she gave a theatrical sigh. Sam was stiff and tired. He turned and her lips were on his. careful not to wake anyone. winked at Sam like she had already read his inner thoughts.” But she didn’t zoom off. I’m good.” he muttered. that feeling of not quite seeing something. and zoomed away down the road. slightly condescending tone. and it was like he’d been awakened by an electric power line. huh? I’m really beat.long gone. No. Despite the nagging voice in the back of his head that told him that if Caine had the missiles he’d have long since used them to move against the lake. Not gentle. And yet. I just want to crawl into my bunk and pull the covers over my head. Caine was probably just biding his time. but nothing that involved words. The shades were drawn and of course there were no lights. They got back to the lake just as the faintest light of dawn shone from the false sun of the FAYZ. Then he felt soft breath on his cheek. I don’t want to think about it. “Coyotes. “Astrid?” “Don’t you think you should have made sure of that about three times ago?” Astrid said in her familiar. She kissed him hard. He crept onto the houseboat. They got nice sunrises on the lake—if you could get past the fact that the “sun” was an illusion crawling up a barrier that was no more than half a mile away across the water. Sam noticed that Dekka refused to look at her. Not soft. He collapsed on his back. so it was a pleasant walking speed for Brianna. That was stupid. The truck was moving at no more than twenty to thirty miles an hour. They said many things to each other after that.” “No. there it was again. . Something watching him from out there in the black desert night. “Not tonight. He could barely keep his eyes open. so he felt his way to the edge of his bed and crawled across it on hands and knees to find his pillow. Breeze. Brianna came running up alongside the truck and made the signal for Roll down your window. “You’re not letting Caine keep those things. are you?” Brianna asked. but he was talked out. “Otherwise I’ll go catch some z’s. “You need me anymore?” Brianna asked. He thought of talking to her about it.” Brianna looked as if she was going to argue. she kept pace. But even at the edge of sleep he was aware of something different about the bed. Sam had no doubt that Caine had the missiles. No real doubt. And he almost believed it. Waiting. Their bodies did the rest.

Chandiramani had a tense but proper relationship with Major Onyx.’ It must be the five-year-old she’s talking about. “Who did it. Francis was alive. Mary cried aloud. The major frowned and whipped out his iPhone.” Dr.” He frowned thoughtfully and scribbled a note. Mary.” “Delusional.” Dr. He didn’t answer it. But no way had yet been found to communicate with him. “A five-year-old did not create the anomaly. Greene said. Chandiramani reached for the call panel and yelled. yelling and roaring along and definitely not looking for what they found.” “Hello. In reality the major clearly thought he was in charge of the ward. puzzled. a dark tan. boiled. “Change topic. Chandiramani asked. this is very important. but two miles away from the barrier. Greene. and intense blue eyes. He glanced at the monitor. She had leaped from a cliff inside the FAYZ at the exact moment of her fifteenth birthday. Dr. “The littles. The soldiers needed answers.” Dr. “Do you mean the little children you took care of?” “I killed them. watching the monitor. Chandiramani had pretended not to understand any of it. She was forty-eight and wore her white coat over a traditional sari. Greene asked. one is four. Because what they thought they had seen was a terribly mangled animal. “Who created the anom—the place you called the FAYZ?” “Little Pete. Dr. So he was conscious. but the doctor had not always confined her studies to medicine. Chandiramani. It was an understandable mistake. Greene was getting on her nerves. Not on the sand and rocks beneath the cliff.” “Do you have children. She had landed.” the psychologist said in a soothing voice. “Darkness. Greene said. Chandiramani said. and Dr. He and the doctors often clashed. And Dr. He tapped it a few times. Chandiramani said. Chandiramani said. Chandiramani asked. Greene leaned closer. No. “What can you tell us about conditions inside?” “Mom?” she had asked in a voice that was barely a whisper. But the Pentagon’s priorities were somewhat different from those of the doctors. “One is twelve. because nurses were already rushing in through the door.” “Everyone’s afraid of the dark. Maybe she’s afraid of the dark. thin doctor in green scrubs swept in behind the nurses. and in both adjacent rooms. Chandiramani had finally agreed to allow Major Onyx and an army psychologist to question the girl. “What does that mean?” Dr. sorry. Major? I do. with never a raised voice. And she knew a mass spectrometer when she saw one. She had appeared in a dry gulch and would have died but for the two dirt bikers who were racing across bumps and drops. In theory he was there only to offer Dr. But now they had found the right mix of sedatives and antiseizure meds. So were the major and his horrified stare. The doctor in charge was a woman named Chandiramani. “Mary. There were brain waves. were effectively inside of a sort of super-sensitive mass spectrometer. “Your mother will come later. Mary had somewhat more potential. “I am Dr. They’d had to remove some of the grotesque teeth that had grown through her cheeks.” Mary said. Does anyone know how this all started?” Nothing. Chandiramani and her team any necessary support. code blue. They had called animal control. She knew that this room. My kids. The major was supposedly the liaison with the Pentagon. What other instruments the major had packed into the walls and ceiling and floor she could only guess.” The two doctors and the soldier looked at one another. The doctors wanted to keep their two horribly damaged patients alive and comfortable.” Major Onyx had close-cut black hair. Chandiramani could see him fighting the nausea that people always felt seeing Mary. Mary was in a special ward at the UCLA hospital down in Los Angeles. but it was in a continuous state of spasm. a sound of keening despair. “The littles?” Mary asked. But he had no mouth or eyes. Dr. “We have two ‘Pete’ or ‘Peters’ listed. With me is Major Onyx. he would have turned five.” he explained. It was all very polite. Unfortunately she had only screamed and leaked tears out of the smear that was her only eye. She had a mouth and it appeared to have some limited functionality in terms of speech.” but it was unnecessary. Tears flowed from her one tear duct and ran down the seared. The first questions were overly broad.” Dr. lobster red skin.” Dr. and Francis’s room. At the same time Major Onyx’s smartphone began chiming.” Dr. He had one appendage that might be an arm. And they had performed other surgeries to repair her tongue and mouth and throat to the best of their abilities. The Darkness. “Code blue. A tall.” “What are the ages?” Dr. “Surely not.OUTSIDE come through the barrier four months ago. No twelve-year-old would be happy to be called ‘Little Pete. The result was that Mary could speak. “Where is her heart?” MARY TERRAFINO HAD . The monitor above Mary’s bed suddenly beeped urgently. “Our information is that she took care of the little children. The ward had two patients: Mary and a boy named Francis. that definitely had nothing to do with Mary’s medical condition. who has been taking care of you these last months since you escaped. In earlier life she had made a serious start at studying physics. but Dr. so even if the fingers had not been oddly jointed claws he would not have been able to use either a keyboard or a pencil. The bikers had not called for an ambulance. “FAYZ Wiki. but he did open an app of some sort. Major Onyx had arranged to have equipment installed in the room. Mary?” Dr. He put his stethoscope in his ears and asked.

Chandiramani was alone with her patient. But don’t ask me what they are. Something pulled his plug.” “What does ‘J wave’ stand for?” the doctor asked. So did the twins. indicating that the other doctor and the nurses should get out. too. We can detect them. brain. All lines on the monitor had gone flat. They didn’t argue. “Some smart-ass physicist at CERN called them ‘Jehovah waves. Four months after her ghastly appearance.” “So what just changed? Did something happen with these J waves?” The major started to answer but. and a last appalled look at Mary. Heart. that’s what we call them. as well. because we sure don’t know what they do or where they come from. The name stuck. everything suddenly and irreversibly dead. because we don’t know. Chandiramani pointed to the unlikely place. . stopped himself. J waves. the ones who’ve appeared since? They’ve always had a sort of … umbilical cord … connecting them to the dome. All at the same time. Which was not how it happened.” “Are you going to tell me what you’re talking about?” Dr.” Major Onyx said calmly. The rest. But she knew it was useless. “You’ll find the other one’s gone. consulting his phone.” He left and Dr. Major Onyx closed the app and put his phone away. “Francis. “The conversation we just had? Never happened. The major jerked his head. Major Onyx barked out a laugh.’ According to him they might as well come from God. Mary Terrafino was dead. but they are not something encountered in nature. “The people who were ejected when the dome was created? They came out clean. Chandiramani snapped. with a visible effort.Dr.

too. The while longer eventually came to an end. “I forget.” “Move at?” she mocked. “I didn’t mean to…” He wasn’t sure what he hadn’t meant to do. He saw none of those things. “It wasn’t the word ‘girlfriend. Then she grew serious.” . They climbed aboard and toweled off. The ‘my.” “No girl is an island.’” Astrid said. and water. Let’s talk.” Astrid’s eyebrows rose.’ But I realized that was stupid of me. From this high up the fall could be a long. The memory shocked him. incredible relief. He wasn’t that guy. just over his heart. so fast and so insistently he was afraid the vibration might wake her. which was starting to beat faster. Her breath tickled. shapely. “Okay. He loved that laugh. How about if I just tell you the truth?” “That would be good. Maybe guilt. That kind of joke would be beneath even you. afraid that being awake would just invite something terrible to appear. “The stain is everywhere I looked.” “You think it’s growing?” She shrugged. but we thought maybe it was because of what Sinder’s doing. the end of her nose. Taylor’s probably been here and gone.” “Gossip this juicy? The speed of light is nothing compared to the speed this will move at. undiluted happiness. smoothing her hair back and revealing the tan line on her forehead. most likely Bug. “Well. and she met his gaze squarely. One of her hands was on his chest. Astrid got down to business. It’s everywhere. Their eyes met.” Sam sat up. I traveled along the barrier. my scientist girlfriend was off in the woods. He shrugged. “I know it’s growing.” Several bits and pieces of leering jokes came to Sam’s mind. First.” “Don’t be so sure. We’re experimenting a little.” he said quickly. but I saw areas where it rose maybe twenty feet or so. I had to do my best. how could he suddenly do a 180 and now feel so different? Because of Astrid? Because of the fact of her in his bed? Without moving he could see the top of her head—her hair looked as if someone had cut it with a weed whacker—part of her right cheek. but Astrid had gotten there quicker and she shook her head and said.” It was good to have her back. effect. Her eyelash flickered. “What is Sinder doing?” “She’s developed a power. They dressed and came out onto the top deck with breakfast: carrots. “Are you ready for that?” “Astrid. much-scarred and bruised leg entwined with his own leg. Remorse. Was he? If he was that guy. let’s jump in the lake for a minute. by now not only everyone at the lake. “I have an idea. And she was asleep with her head on his arm. “But I’m out of practice lying. yesterday’s grilled fish.” She laughed. evasive. seeing if there’s any kind of … you know. because the FAYZ didn’t make a habit of allowing him pure. but everyone in Perdido Beach and probably whoever is out on the island knows all about it.” Astrid said. She has a little garden right up against the barrier. Astrid’s gaze flicked away. He opened his eyes. His body had a different idea. She smelled like pine trees and campfire smoke. Her breathing changed.” She looked at him with a frankness that embarrassed him.” Astrid said. Loathing. cautious. “It was the possessive. Just yesterday he’d been bored and longing for conflict. Like she was taking inventory. “I came back because the dome is changing. Sam’s mind was happy to let this go on forever. The FAYZ made a habit of stomping on anything that looked even a little bit like happiness. but as long as that blond head was right there his arm could stay numb.” “Seriously? You’re misquoting John Donne? To me?” “Hey. profound. and farther down a long. There’s no better way to say it. sometimes just a few inches visible. “No.ELEVEN 26 HOURS.” Astrid said. You don’t know. It’s just that I haven’t been thinking of myself as anyone’s anything.” Astrid laughed. And this level of happiness was surely tempting retaliation. She can make things grow at an accelerated rate. “Are you back?” Sam asked. eating just a little of the vegetables. Like she was storing images away in memory. He closed his eyes as soon as he opened them. “Your preposition is dangling. Especially my own. “why was I so against doing that?” Sam smiled. 45 MINUTES SAM WOKE TO a feeling of utter.” Had she just reacted to the word “girlfriend”? “Sorry. Then she seemed to think better of it. “I’m not about to remind you. I’d like to try to measure it. Astrid finally pulled away and sat up. His arm was asleep.” They made their way on deck and plunged off into the chilly water. He swallowed hard. She said. maybe I’ve spent the last four months reading poetry. long one. “People will see us. I just don’t know how fast. “You’re suggesting gossip actually moves at speeds that are impossible. Astrid was back. completely numb. Sam didn’t know what he expected to see in her eyes. Had that really been him grinning in the dark at the prospect of war with Caine? Surely not.” “Very scientific of you.” she said. Don’t. “How long can we go before we have to talk?” “A while longer. I guess living alone kind of made me intolerant of BS.” he said.” “The stain?” “You’ve seen it?” “Yeah. Sam. her eyelashes. almost flinching.

” Sam said it to hear it. That it’s going dark. Not in the total dark.” Virtue said as they ran up. frightening marble-size eyeballs hanging from snakelike tendrils of nerve inside black crater eye sockets… He had clawed his own eyes out. The boats rocked almost imperceptibly on the faint swell. Virtue held his breath and put his ear close to Taylor’s mouth. “Complete darkness. He had made the mistake of being happy. huh? All we’ve been through? And I’m still scared of the dark?” “Everyone’s afraid of something. but this seems like some kind of breakdown. Quinn thought. Look higher up and you see an illusion of sky. Pitiful little Sammy suns and blinding beams. A girl with golden skin suddenly minus a hand and both legs. Then he saw the flash of suspicion. Quinn watched the dock and the beach. Quinn said nothing.” “I’ll get Lana!” Sanjit raced back inside. He wondered who would react first. giving them something else to do.” Sam took a deep breath. Neither of them touched her.” Phil objected.” Sam looked around at the lake. to see if he could accept it. He deserved punishment. He wouldn’t have to be completely in the dark. “Come on.” “Like you’re a human being. But Sam wasn’t listening. circling around a huffing and puffing Virtue. “What if it keeps growing?” “The barrier has always been a kind of optical illusion. “What the… Oh. He couldn’t be in the dark. “But there’s no fish this close in. The FAYZ punished happiness. Cut off. Quinn said nothing. how many times do I have to tell you not to surprise me!” Lana raged. He realized his palms were damp and he wiped them on his shorts. The sight of Cigar. down the hallway to the room he shared with Lana. The girl with skin the color of a gold bar and both lower legs and one hand simply gone.” Astrid said. You know how sometimes a movie projector—like the one we had at school. “I don’t know. as it usually was. They’ll panic. He doubled back and saw his brother bent over something. Look straight at it in front of you and you see a blank. “It’s possible. He changed it to. I mean. Moved by a grim instinct. we have a nice view of the beach and the—” Sanjit stopped because Virtue had disappeared behind a car. The way she sometimes did.” She was thinking aloud. It’s an illusion but it’s also our only source of light. God. But not to be tortured. not bright yellow suns or even moons. “Lana! Lana!” He found himself staring at the bad end of her pistol. There was a volcano inside him. Then she twined her fingers together. “Like I’m a little kid. angry look she got when she felt the distant touch of the gaiaphage.” “We’re still going out? After what they did to Cigar?” Phil was outraged.” Astrid said. Followed. he was sure of that. “But that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it. He tried out a wry grin. Cigar had done wrong—a terrible wrong. He’s one of mine.” He felt as if a hand was squeezing his heart. and that she knew what he was feeling. But the only reason he was confident was that he. a distance where people onshore could still easily see them. “Stupid. and the phrase went over and over in his head. “I found her legs. “She’s definitely breathing. But Lana was just staring with the same horror he felt. She wasn’t meeting his gaze but looking slightly past him. When he glanced up he knew Astrid had seen. Let . The oars came in. this is good for you. looked at one another. then to his right. at the sun sparkling on the water.” Lana said. Two hundred yards out. that was my first thought. “Sanjit.” “Maybe the stain will stop. He wasn’t the only one. “I’m going to get some sleep. himself. “Nothing will grow. “It’s the endgame. “I don’t know. He didn’t trust himself to say anything. Kids will figure that out. “Virtue? You and I can carry her inside. Not to be driven insane. His head was buzzing from lack of sleep.” Virtue said through gritted teeth. night sky—but never a plane. Would it be Albert or Caine? He closed his eyes and pulled his hat down low. the hard. Some kids were laughing. and climbed in after him. Astrid started to reach to touch his leg and stopped herself. little kids playing at the water’s edge. Not to be made into a monstrous creature that no one would be able to look at without stifling a scream. but he couldn’t quite get the words out. His three crew members hesitated. The other three boats all did likewise. He wasn’t going to freak out.” “Hey. Day sky.” he began. yes. “Use the oars only to keep us in position if needed. first to his left. muscles clenching. Sanjit peered through the dirty windows of the car. remember?—will get dimmer and dimmer until pretty soon you’re squinting to see anything?” “You’re talking about it going completely dark?” He was relieved that his voice did not betray him with a tremor. non-reflective gray surface.” “Get them. Choo. had the power to create light.” Sanjit looked at Lana as though she might understand what this meant. “And I found a pulse in her neck.” he said. We won’t be able to fish. “I guess. who was definitely not much of a runner.” “I know.“What do you think it is?” he asked. We’ll… We’ll wander in the dark until we die of hunger. “I think she’s still alive.” he said. Quinn climbed into his boat. The moon waxes and wanes as it should.” Sanjit and Virtue found Taylor that morning when they went outside for some exercise: Sanjit running back and forth. by her jaw tightening. “Oars in. “Do you think…. One of mine. A nullity. He burst inside yelling. what happened to her?” Sanjit knelt next to Virtue. But he himself would have light.” she said. He said nothing. She shook her head slowly. It wouldn’t be long before someone reported to Albert and/or Caine to tell them the fishing fleet was not fishing. They cast off and shipped oars and began to make their way out to sea. with those creepy. Quinn gave a quiet order. just took her hand and drew her along with him. and then he saw the something he was bent over. side to side. The way he had missed.

Until it happens. we sit. In his head Albert ran the numbers: maybe three days’ worth of food. “Okay. And Quinn. had grown and matured and become what he was now: useful. But even that wasn’t enough for Albert’s security.” He made a hand-washing gesture. He had come very. Albert watched him for a while.” He sat down as if to emphasize his point. . In the interests of business. She stays gone. Albert knew he could never take Caine on in a fight. It would always pay better to side with Albert. look. Albert only wished there was some way to get Penny at the same time. Quinn pulled his hat—nearly unrecognizable as having once been a fedora but now stained. What Albert saw from the end of the dock was not good. Turk. and if the choice was between Caine and Quinn. “I didn’t say anything about money.me know if anyone comes. It was a threat.” “You got it. Enough with both of them. And yet. “She leaves town. but it was a nine-millimeter in a brown leather holster. He had to resolve this before Caine did. Albert. “Justice? People have been waiting for justice since the dinosaurs. sounding puzzled.” Quinn said nothing and Albert cursed himself for indulging in sarcasm. releasing his frustration. Unfortunately that still left Caine. When that happens we fish. No. “What is it you want.” Quinn said. He hurried. don’t you know that if you don’t work this out with me you’ll be dealing with Caine?” “We don’t think his powers reach this far. Both Caine and Albert had spies—sometimes the same kids—but Albert paid better. then at least determined. Caine had created a problem that could bring everything crashing down.” Quinn said. So why don’t we get down to it?” “Penny. Albert bit his lip in extreme frustration. Now he hired a total of four.” Quinn said. He seemed distracted. Usually what people really want is money. I can up your share by five percent. Albert had around-the-clock bodyguards now. So he made sure he knew exactly what Caine was up to. robbed and shot him. The self-anointed king. I know: justice. if not smug. Didn’t they have anything better to do? “Hi. “Quinn. a kid named Lance. People with tempers were bad for business. eavesdropping. It was a good long walk from Albert’s edge-of-town compound to the marina.” Quinn said. “How long is this supposed to go on?” Albert asked.” Albert shouted back. The fourth guard was on call. But that’s as much as I can do. Everything Albert had built. too. cut. He was furious to see that three kids were on the beach. Just a pistol. Caine had executed one of the villains. He ran some numbers in his head. signaling that it was a take-it-or-leave-it. had been reprieved and now worked for Caine. One of them had to go. living at Albert’s new compound. If the bat supply stopped. then there was no safe way to harvest the worm-infested fields. Someone very close to Caine worked secretly for Albert. plus the on-call guard. who had once been such a reliable coward. No Quinn. the answer was simple. torn. “And we kind of think he likes to eat. They each worked an eight-hour shift. Caine had a temper. Another one. He had learned how to shoot it. It might just be time to kill the king. He had taken to carrying a gun himself. Quinn. boss. And as a final line of security Albert had made sure that everyone knew he would pay whoever brought proof of a plot against him. no crops. Whenever Albert stepped outside of the gate he would have whichever guard was on duty. not a long gun. his keeping Turk around. just two days’ worth of blue bats. He seemed. both heavily armed. “I can’t afford to pay you any more. “Quinn!” Albert shouted.” “We want Penny gone. And Albert was sure that he’d seen Quinn motion for someone to stay down. there would be no bribing Quinn. no fish. “Yeah. Two tough kids. Four boats and fifteen kids doing nothing. seven days a week. “Until we get justice. Caine would not give in—he wasn’t the type. scratched. It was a message from Caine to Albert. despite all this preparation. a serious.” Albert heard about Quinn first. He took a deep breath and blew it out. they were both pains in his butt: Albert was trying to run a business. Simple math. Quinn? I mean in practical terms.” Albert considered. The trap he had long since laid for King Caine was ready and waiting. no fish. Albert’s previous bodyguard had been killed by Drake. very close to dying after the remains of the Human Crew had broken into his house. The tricky part was in delivering the news to Caine.” Quinn called back. Albert had let this new problem sneak up on him. dangerous gun. and twisted—down over his eyes and kicked his feet up on the gunwale. too. Maybe it was time to tell Caine that some very interesting toys were sitting in crates on an unfrequented beach.” Quinn said.

They aren’t very bright but they’ll hopefully keep people from going completely nuts until we can figure out— Sorry. like someone had poured peroxide into it. Spidey. But Lana had told him everything about her desperate battles with the gaiaphage. “Sanjit. like she was trying to surprise someone. Lana didn’t explain. she twisted her head to look behind her. Lana drew back. “Not this. yanked him closer. one in each hand. I was starting to sound like I had a plan. and felt his forehead with her palm.” Lana said. “I tried to regrow eyeballs and got BBs. It’s possible the whole barrier will go dark. Mo?” Mohamed nodded. “She’s… Okay. “But there was something about giving birth to babies and then . “Okay. I’m sure you can figure out just how bad that will be if it happens. and laid them on the bed beside her.” Sanjit said. then added. Then. “She’s cold. Then in a mordant tone he added. “Drake?” “Drake.” a couple of times. who was now breathing a little more audibly. So when I’m done writing this I will read it out loud in front of Toto and Mohamed. Lana shook her head. Mo. eyes gleaming. “He believes it. And no one wanted the little kids to come in and see this horror. In the meantime I’m sending a copy of this to Albert and asking if the two of you will allow me to go to Perdido Beach to create at least a few lights. He took both and stuck them in his jeans pocket. Something wrong. Instead it was bubbling. And I was ready for a war. No information yet. Mohamed waited while Sam wrote out a copy for Albert. If the FAYZ is going dark.” Sam said. I had to stop myself there. Virtue was watching the rest of the family. have I written and spoken the truth?” Toto nodded. “That’s true. “Knife?” It was just Lana and Sanjit now. or so she said.” Lana said. Tell Caine—tell my brother—that I was expecting him to use those missiles of his against us. Something … something else. “Has she? Because it looks to me as if all her injuries are sealed off. “Nothing you shouldn’t see. one more thing. The wound was not closing. “What’s that for?” Sanjit didn’t doubt Lana. —Sam Temple He read the letter aloud. turn away.” Lana said. You’ll probably figure I’m up to something.” “Get me a knife. He could understand how even now she could feel the creature’s mind reaching for hers. I’ll do my best to hang so-called Sammy suns around. a thready. And we will all be in total darkness. She seemed almost to be cringing away from Taylor. But I can feel … something. voice level. 8 MINUTES CAINE. The cut was shallow and bled only a little. uncertain sound. I just want to test my powers on Taylor before…” She fell silent as she touched the wound she had made. But it’s possible this thing will just keep growing.” Lana said. I don’t know what she is. Suddenly Lana grabbed Sanjit’s arm.” “It’s not the Darkness. but he wanted to know. Something is happening to the barrier.” “Toto. But this was something different. so Sanjit handed her his knife. Lana pushed Taylor’s shirt up a little and drew the blade across her abdomen. “The Darkness?” Sanjit guessed. If you do I’d like to hear it. And her eyes were not filled with the barely suppressed rage and fear she showed when the Darkness reached her. She was already pushing Taylor’s T-shirt up and Sanjit hastily looked away.” “Okay. as he had promised to do. its voice calling to her. I’m writing this because I don’t really have a choice. Toto muttered. “She’s lost a lot of blood. The time before that when I tried to regrow an entire limb I didn’t get quite what I expected. Things that he’d have dismissed as impossible in the old world—things that were impossible—happened here.” “Good enough. It is turning black. We’re trying to figure out how fast this stain is spreading. then at Taylor.” Lana said. Then she released him and placed her palm on Taylor’s forehead. He touched the severed legs. But we are past that now.” “I forget exactly what all the signs are of a mammal. Mo will be able to tell you that Toto testifies I’m telling the truth.” Sanjit saw her brow furrow deeply.” Lana said when they had what was left of Taylor laid out in an unoccupied hotel room.” “Then what would make her so cold?” Because now Sanjit had noticed it.TWELVE 25 HOURS. Room temperature. Next he heard Lana unzipping Taylor’s jeans.” She closed her eyes and rocked back slowly on her heels. Taylor’s legs were the same temperature as her torso.” Sanjit turned back and gasped. She looked at the blade for a moment. “Enjoy the sunshine. “Listen. “Walk fast. “No. We’re calling it the stain. then his own. and to keep up a flow of conversation to keep from thinking about Taylor. “I would tell you if someone was sneaking up behind you. too. He had no stomach for this. Now she seemed puzzled. then Taylor’s forehead. I don’t. Sanjit had carried her legs. “Something is not right.” Sanjit was inclined by his nature to be skeptical.” Lana said.

Other street kids had called him a two-headed monster. Don’t walk. Or stopped being human. forked tongue flicked out. “And none of the freaks have ever developed a second power. too. His gaze was drawn irresistibly to the monstrous parody of Taylor. and Sanjit would earn good karma for a charitable deed. Taylor. Sanjit felt himself back on the streets of Bangkok. as if the man and the dog were a single malformed creature. “You can’t tell the future. a monster. “What do we do with her? She’s still alive. “She was already a freak. There was no way to help her. shutting her off in the world she shared with forces Sanjit could not understand. Sometimes they would throw rocks at the beggar. It made him feel very isolated.” Lana nodded. Her eyes remained blessedly closed. But he’d also heard people of his religion say. ‘No.” Lana didn’t answer. “Kinda feels like a war is coming. baby. “Do you ever have feelings you can’t really explain?” Lana asked. I ignored my feet. to touch her arm. “Get her a room.’” “And?” “And a car bomb went off. You can never take a life because if you do you interrupt the proper cycle of rebirth. Haven’t I told you what ‘Sanjit’ means? It’s Sanskrit for ‘invincible. Not even in this place. Just not what I thought it was telling me. But what do you mean?” “Like … like feeling that a storm is coming. Her face was very grim. So: what do we do with Taylor?” Lana sighed.” “Darkness is coming. is that all? In that case all we have to do is figure out how to survive. Then she smiled wryly and took his hand back. I went to the market. She seemed to be staring at the space a few inches in front of her face. And it was as if my feet were refusing to move. “I remember: you can’t be vinced. It’s been coming for a long time. He let her be. just kept his position close by. “Taylor’s not a mammal anymore. Sanjit was startled out of his own thoughts. Taylor no longer has any of that … those…” She shook her head. Even Orc seems to be human beneath that armor of his.” Lana said.” “So the rules are changing. holding it between hers. something so rare it broke Sanjit’s heart.” He touched Taylor’s hair. They carry with them the warning that what happened to them might happen to you. “It’s happening. “Or being changed.” .” “In the market where you didn’t want to go?” “No. But he stopped himself. It felt like a sheet of rolled-out Play-Doh. Or that if you turn the wrong corner at the wrong time you’ll come face-to-face with something awful.” Sanjit shrugged. “Yes. It’s the ones who are too human. “No one can.” Sanjit said.” Lana said.’” Lana actually smiled.” “No one vinces me. He was a freak. Ten feet away from the place where I was standing when my feet told me not to move.” Sanjit said firmly.nursing them. Taylor’s karma would determine her next incarnation. And being warm-blooded. Or that you’d better not get on a plane. remind her she wasn’t alone.” “Hair. He made them afraid. “Oh. A part of Sanjit was telling him to kill this monstrous body.” Sanjit did take her hand now and she didn’t refuse him. It would be an act of charity. after all. dark green. her smile fading. Samsara. trying to clear her thoughts. seemed to taste the air and withdraw. “Mammals have hair.” Sanjit said. Like they were telling me.” Sanjit broke out a grin. Sanjit reached for her.” Lana said. It’s not the monsters who are so completely different that are scary. “Intuition was telling me something. was just one manifestation of a consciousness that would go on forever. Taylor’s mouth snapped open. “Once I was to see a friend in the market.” “What’s happening?” She fidgeted and dropped his hand. A long. Lana’s wall of solitude was going up. One of the beggars he’d known back in Bangkok had a two-legged dog he kept on a leash. Sanjit reflected. And the beggar himself was legless and his hands were formed into two thick fingers and a stub of thumb. “So she’s a freak?” Sanjit suggested.

She fired again. Once again. Its gait was shuffling and it seemed lopsided. Astrid stood rooted in place. Astrid shrugged. Wasn’t. First. It was almost immediately clear that the coyote was not a threat. It fell over. when it had come down to survival. And. No. finally. very much needing to be able to justify herself. changed color and shape. some abstract standard to judge herself by. just kept walking on two coyote front legs and twisted furless legs—bent human legs—in the back. Second. And yet. Astrid smiled and turned away so Edilio wouldn’t see it and be embarrassed. Then Astrid. So Astrid gave Sam a plan and Sam asked Roger—he liked to be called the Artful Roger—to build ten identical wooden frameworks. “Couldn’t hurt. they measured off a hundred feet from the base of the barrier. Like picture frames exactly two feet by two feet. cocked. just in case the stain is moving faster than it appears to be. “Probably better come back tomorrow. it was alone. We see how fast it grows and whether it’s accelerating. She took a photograph through each frame. She had always needed some kind of moral and ethical framework.” Edilio said.” “What do we do about it?” Edilio asked. but then again he might not think of it. there was a certain crude morality at work there: she had sacrificed Little Pete for the greater good. She didn’t want forgiveness.” Edilio sobbed. It’s her face.” Edilio said. What she had done was immoral. There they dug a hole and set up the first frame. that owning your own sins. The gun kicked in her hand and a small. hitting the creature in its canine neck. The three of them spun toward it. “I don’t know. She had not brought her shotgun. each exactly five feet high. walked along the barrier from west to east. could make you feel stronger. “We measure it.” Astrid allowed. Astrid thought. The frameworks were mounted on poles. the avatar broke apart. She didn’t want to be washed clean of her sin. Edilio wept as it kept moving. and another frame. He ran to the creature now just twenty feet away and so terribly visible. his voice shrill. Yes. and throwing her brother into the literal jaws of death… It wasn’t that she doubted she had done wrong. but good was still good. but he looked sick. Had this been her desire all along? To find some excuse to go running back to Sam and to throw herself on him? It was the kind of question that would have preoccupied Astrid in the old days. with Edilio for security. “Madre de Dios.” she whispered. “As it should be. They paced off distances of three hundred paces.” “And then what do we do about it?” Edilio asked. too. Shook her head and stared again. She stared and blinked. That. it was barely able to walk. a long. using a long tape measure. Astrid shook her head. That fact would be part of her forever.” he moaned. Kept walking as though those empty. It wasn’t that she doubted she deserved punishment. A sound.” “I guess I’ll pray. and those shell-like pink human ears were deaf. Astrid aimed her revolver at the creature’s heart. No. and fired. Astrid had set aside her religious faith. of course. But that was the excuse of every tyrant or evildoer in history: sacrifice one or ten or a million for some notion of the common good. to doing whatever it took to end the horror. It was not that Astrid was lonely. It was not that she was just looking for an excuse to go to Sam. refusing forgiveness. carefully thumbing in the day and time and approximately how much of the area inside the frame appeared to be covered by the stain. Blood pumped from the thing’s neck and formed a pool in the sand. Her first thought was that the coyote had a child’s head in its mouth. just behind the shoulder. The old Astrid would have been very concerned with her own motives. go to Sam. red hole appeared and began leaking red. We see how much it advances in the first twenty-four hours. “When do we check back?” Edilio asked her when they were finished installing. At each frame Astrid stepped back to a precisely measured ten paces. and it happened. because it was real. Edilio had his submachine gun off his shoulder. But she had her revolver and drew it. and stopped. It.THIRTEEN 25 HOURS IT WASN’T POSSIBLE to draw on or mark the surface of the dome. she had done the ruthless thing. and the safety off in a heartbeat. drawn-out wail. In fact. . it was the very idea of forgiveness that made her rebel. Something so wrong that Astrid could hardly encompass it. The creature ignored Edilio. It was wrong. She had done something terrible. And something was wrong with its head. but vowing not to repeat them. blue. Because Jack might be smart enough to think of measuring the stain. This was why Astrid had come back. human eyes were blind.” How strange. look what had happened when she did.” Astrid hissed. “It’s a coyote. Then we see how much it advances in the second and third twentyfour-hour periods. Then. Pete had tried to play with the bouncy avatar and it had broken apart. She wanted to own it and wear it like a scar. “It’s her. Roger sort of slid behind Edilio. “It’s Bonnie. round. Another three hundred paces. since she was carrying half of the measuring frames. “As it should be. then another carefully measured hundred feet. and evil was still evil. Roger put a comforting hand on Edilio’s shoulder. and it couldn’t be made to unhappen. she had judged other people the same way. Then. and Roger to help carry.

No. projected. and with just the smallest touch. a shape.” Caine snapped. But.” “Washing?” Albert shook his head.” “What?” “It’s just a crazy rumor. The new Pete wasn’t scared of noises and colors and things that moved too fast. But they didn’t. The stream is clean—most of the dirt and debris and old oil and so on has been washed away. pretended to be absorbed in reading something. I don’t have to tell you how dangerous things get when kids get hungry. Nothing happened. He couldn’t just wish them and make them happen. That was the old Pete. He enforced rules. He had wanted other things and they had happened. things were running more smoothly than they ever had under Sam or Astrid. the ironically named stalls and card tables that were the market outside the school.” “We can replace Quinn. “Here’s food production over the last week.” well. Finally. Had he ever laughed before? He laughed now. If he wanted something badly enough it happened. which is more than we need for drinking. So it’s probably drinkable down at the beach reservoir as well as directly from the rain. The truth was Caine did keep the peace.” “Then we’d better get started. Then added. So he had imagined the avatars all back the way they started. You see a drop today because we have nothing from the fishing crews. there’s a crazy story going around about one of the artichoke pickers being turned into a fish. If Caine wanted to call himself king. that didn’t cost Albert a single ’Berto. Fewer threats.” Albert said. either. I’m here with my report. And he longed to reach out. Those were good signs. Astrid.” Albert said. And he was beginning to feel bad when the avatars fell apart. with enough left over to water gardens and so on. Had he ever felt lonely before? He felt it now. And his fingers were all thumbs. Eighty percent of our protein comes from the sea. affecting an expression of unconcern. So if Caine wanted to be called king… “Your Highness. And this dotted line is the food supply over the next week. He’d always been afraid when the big sudden things happened. His sister. There had been fewer fights. and he has all the nets and poles. Albert had even seen a decline in the number of weapons being carried. “I’m not giving in to Quinn! Quinn is not the king! I am! Me!” “I offered him more money. “As you know. There had been very little shoplifting at the mall. Not everyone is a money-grubbing…” He decided against finishing .” Caine’s face darkened. Even without the stabbing bright blue eyes. Flow rate is twenty gallons an hour. Good and steady. He knew her. Panicked. Was this the game? It wasn’t very fun. Screaming inside his overloaded brain. He had wanted the terrible sirens and screams to stop and the world not to burn up and he had created the ball he now lived in. And between the threat and the reward.” “I’ll make a proclamation. Cai—Your Highness … sixty percent of our vegetables and fruit comes from worm-infested fields. He stood patiently while Caine. Proclamation. those avatars. now he was feeling sick inside and he wanted the avatars to go back and be right again. It took Quinn a long time to get to be as good and efficient as he is. And that was enough for a while.” Caine said. He bit at his thumbnail.” Albert said. so delicate. Albert. a coil of strings. “No.” Caine cursed and shook his head slowly. He felt very lonely. But things always happened when Pete wanted them really hard. Get other kids out in other boats. Albert put away the graph and said. but right now no one is harvesting artichokes. and Albert liked and needed rules.” Albert went on. But he kept a straight.He had tried to play with another avatar and it had melted into something different. Not much of a decline.” Caine said. oh. Caine looked up. “In three days we’ll have major hunger. If we decided to replace him. Albert shook his head. To make matters worse. seated at his desk. but every now and then you could actually see a kid forgetting to carry his nail-studded baseball bat or machete. “Your Highness. The frenzy that used to take him over couldn’t touch him now. The new Pete was just bored. Like he was doing a bad-boy thing. A week from now kids will start dying. without the shrieking voice. A pattern. “No. An avatar floated by and Pete knew it.” He drew a nine-by-twelve poster board from his briefcase and held it so Caine could see it. impassive face. “Of course not. Didn’t it? Well. Pete corrected himself. and if he wanted people to call him “Your Highness. Best of all. Albert. then stopped himself. at least. it would be probably five weeks before we would get production back up to nonstarvation levels. to let her know he was here. Plus he has the best boats. He’d always been scared. Without Quinn we have nothing to feed the worms. And we can’t have kids showering in the rain as it falls. “The good news: Water continues to flow from the cloud. He isn’t looking for more money. “I made a graph. “Food is not as good. There were times Albert almost couldn’t resist the impulse to laugh. The joke made him laugh. kids showed up for work and they put in a full day. Kids are washing their butts in what will end up being drinking water once we open the reservoir. And Albert paid them.” Caine said. Which means picking and planting basically stop. King Caine scared kids. Caine jumped up from his chair. He wasn’t afraid now. Albert had made the decision early on to play Caine’s ridiculous game of royalty. “There’s a learning curve. Four hundred and eighty gallons a day. “Go ahead.” Caine slammed his fist down on the desk. Not everyone is you.

At last Caine used his powers to scoot the desk back into place. Kids can just go where they want. The desk left a long. But the cheap shot rankled.” Albert was actually surprised. and we’re on the ocean. Caine’s prayerful hands fell flat on the desk. way back.” “Except for you.” Caine threw himself back in his chair but banged his knee on the desk. because that was what he did.” And if you don’t. They’ll think I can be beaten. “Kids leave town and head for the lake. all those ego shots of the original mayor.” Albert pointed out. but did not say. because what happened to Cigar turns everyone against you. Second. because Penny is a sick. “We both know what happens. Albert. “Of course you can be beaten. “It’s power he wants. He and Sam Temple are friends from way. Albert reminded himself that Caine. Your Highness.” When Caine started to object. placing his elbows on the table. It’s not just Quinn: everyone thinks it’s wrong. With an angry sweep of his hand he threw the desk crashing into the wall. Albert added silently. right. I will suddenly learn about a cache of missiles up the coast. finally evincing his impatience. while an out-of-control egomaniac. It was a waste of time. since you ask. he thought. this town will empty out. And third. but kept ranting. everyone will think…” He took a shaky breath. “Meanwhile Sam’s sitting up there with that lake stocked with fish. Albert?” Caine said bitterly. “I’m only alive because of luck and Lana. This kind of outburst irritated Albert. and tapping the fingertips thoughtfully against his forehead. if you don’t and if Quinn stands firm.” He glared at Albert as if it was all Albert’s fault.that thought. and somehow he has Nutella and Pepsi and Cup-a-Noodles. was also extremely powerful and dangerous.” Caine said. “What do you advise?” Since when had Albert become an adviser? But he said. Albert. an almost prayerful position. “Okay. She was bound to cause problems. I think you should send Penny away. and she’ll cause more. The impact was hard enough to knock the ancient pictures down. Furious. forming his fingers into a steeple.” he said. “I’m the king. And you. triangular dent in the wall. He wants to bring me down. raised his hand.” Caine said bitterly. Caine sat chewing his thumbnail and Albert stood thinking of all the more useful things he could be doing. He decided against answering the question. . will go to take them. “This is why it’s no good having two different towns. He seemed to need something to lean on in a dramatic fashion. I should have never let him stay. and what do you think happens if kids here start thinking we have no food?” Caine was red in the face. Believe me: I stopped thinking I was unbeatable. Everyone can be beaten. King Caine. unstable person.” And made plans. “If I give in. “You’re my adviser. Caine seemed not to have heard. “Turk and Lance shot me. Albert knew he shouldn’t let himself be baited. I should have made him go with Sam!” “He fishes in the ocean. and his own fields. “First. with his hand on the doorknob.

And there had never again been so much as a crumb of anything edible in her tent. I guess. He wasn’t alone.” she said. The way the abomination bled out in the sand. She had jumped up and run for the water. But Astrid knew better. a teenager. “I want to make love to you. And the fabric of the tent itself needed checking. And though it made no sense she worried about her tents. BANG.” “Get back to work. “You want me to go out and check the measurements again. Then swung them inland. The kids out in the fields probably wouldn’t notice.” she answered. Once again she saw him as he must have been once upon a time. Happy and carefree. Well. “Edilio’s bringing it in so we can take a look at it. She didn’t have to be Astrid the Genius. conscious. When the final night came with no prospect of dawn. . “I want to make love to you again. She recalled once waking up in the tent to find a steady stream of ants crossing right over her face and picking at a morsel of food she’d let fall.” His face was bleak. All she’d had to do was get enough food to eat each day. He didn’t need some new thing to worry about. Terrors. “So is Howard. that would have to wait. A big. but past her. or Astrid Sam’s girlfriend. So was she.. It knocked the breath out of her. He was seeing a world of total darkness.” Each time he said it—and it must have been two dozen times—he used the same gruff but ultimately reassuring voice. A huge accomplishment that was all hers.” he whispered. I’ll let you know. He looked suddenly very young. When they get it here I’ll see what I can learn. and beetles and ants were very good at finding such openings. “You were telling me something. too. he would be done. “I think it’s growing faster than that. That image made her hurt. “Inappropriate. Believing the woods around them were haunted by spirits.” Sam frowned. “Get back to work.” He almost smiled. He wasn’t looking at her. “Life goes on.. Without light he would not survive. His eyes were drawn toward the barrier. and accompanied each time by a deliberate exhalation. The stain was clearly visible to kids as they worked. BANG. long. A tear welled. a boy who ought to be yelling happily as he ran into the surf with his board. She imagined him drawing strength from the sun beating down on his brown shoulders. when she was sure Sam had at least a couple of minutes to think clearly. I’ll let you know. Living in little huts with their animals. But she had learned from that.” He nodded and she saw his jaw clench. he was.” He lowered the binoculars. He’s just… Okay. She could see it in the way his hands would form into fists. The FAYZ had finally found the way to beat Sam Temple. So was Astrid.” She nodded. Sam had binoculars to his eyes. I don’t know how many more times I’ll see them. And what about the time she found a snake in her boot? Lesson learned there.FOURTEEN 24 HOURS. He shifted slightly. 29 MINUTES THEY WATCHED MOHAMED leave.” “I know we were thinking tomorrow morning. People would hold on to each other. They came in ones or twos or threes to ask Sam what it meant. She went on this way for a while. long ago. but not before the ants panicked at her panic and bit her a dozen times. the way his forehead formed twin vertical worry lines between his eyes. He looked like he wanted to cry but knew it was futile. too. But they’d forgotten about all that in this world where they were the elders. He wasn’t fooled. He looked like a kid.” Astrid made a wry smile. the way the gun bucked. Wolves and werewolves. but the release was forced. “Figures. Now she recalled.” Sam seemed barely to pay attention. She pretended to have a speck of dust in her eye and wiped it away. good-looking boy out in the waves. I came straight back. Because all Sam had time for right now was the mesmerizing advance of the stain. tighten and then release. She saw the way the corners of his mouth tugged downward. Astrid. “Mo’s on his way. She could hear the sound of the gun better in memory than she had at the time. or Why-won’t-she-shut-up Astrid. She could smile at the memory now. but the ones still here in the town around the marina couldn’t avoid seeing it. waiting for doom.” “I have to ask you to do something dangerous soon. trading jokes with Quinn.” Sam said. “No.” he said. At the time she’d been numb. “We’re scared. Earlier. And he would say. He put his arms around her and drew her close. The way the little girl’s face relaxed in death and the blind eyes filmed over. because small tears got bigger fast. The image of the coyote with the human face and legs came suddenly to mind. She couldn’t see the fear in him and not want to just hold him like he was a little boy. Sam. I guess. If I need you to worry. I think we need to know whether we’ll have a sunrise tomorrow. Howard’s heading to his still to bring back one more shipment of booze. fully aware of the fact that she was nostalgic over things that had usually been pretty miserable. giddy that they were skipping school. scared in the dark. “You have to open your eyes. out in front of him by a quarter mile.. The ropes needed tightening periodically or they would start to sag. She could feel the tension bleeding from his every pore. So the awful freak monster thing she and Edilio had found. What terrible thing was happening? Why couldn’t she figure it out? Why couldn’t she help Sam to pull off one more impossible victory? One of the great reliefs about living on her own had been the fact that she had no expectations to meet. His imagination was torturing him. If no one picked her blackberries. “Most of human history people huddled. So that they wouldn’t be so afraid. Astrid supposed. At the time it had made her cry at the weirdness and sadness of her stupid life. If you need to worry. waiting. or Astrid the Mayor. Astrid told him what they had found in the desert. He checked the barrier.” Her cheek was wet when she pressed it to his. Then.” “Very funny.” he said. realizing that she was as trapped as Sam in waiting. I think you’re right. the birds would get them.” “Human. She couldn’t look at him for fear of crying. now I can’t see him.

Like…” She didn’t have the words for what it was like.” Pack Leader bared his teeth. the current Pack Leader.She kissed him. no.” Jezzie said simply. the whispered-about. Their heads hung low and the tails dragged. And Sinder might have pointed that out on some other day. long ago. searching with deadly focus for weeds. news of Caine from Perdido Beach. So she just shook her head. Once upon a time. Sam was a tiny. “I mean. Orc. affectionate speculation about Edilio and the nature of his friendship with the Artful Roger. a hundred feet high before it slowed and stopped. “Me. “Are you bitching out the gaiaphage? I’ll whip the skin off you!” Drake unwrapped his tentacle arm. Drake found the light almost unbearable. many with names she and Jezzie had given them. Diana. Now her color was green. How long since he had seen the sun? Weeks? Months? There was no time down in the gaiaphage’s lair. She loved green. extra wide. As if reading Drake’s mind. Darkness does not feed pack. “Take me to the lake. Their eyes were dull. who was a half dozen rows away. “But thanks. And she saw the line of stain push slowly now. who most people didn’t like but whose baby everyone worried about. It’s like… You know…” “It’s a miracle. But when her friend stood up there were tears running down her cheeks. Drake had a mission.” She’d found a root of something she didn’t like and was pulling on it. “No.” Orc rumbled. the White Witch from Narnia. Pack Leader—well. Killed by Bright Hands. Pack Leader said. “I feel bad inside. wake-up time. Jez. but the barrier itself was a long way off. Jezzie wiped dirt from her brow and managed to actually transfer more dirt there. but each lived within green. Pack Leader retreated a few dozen feet. down on her knees.” It was a fact of life in the FAYZ that kids cut off from TMZ and Facebook and the ins and outs of Hollywood and reality shows focused much of their gossip hunger on the closest thing they had to celebrities: Sam. The gaiaphage would not listen to excuses. extra. of course. no pups. too.” Drake said. An overprotective mother had nothing on Jezzie. She glanced at Orc. He had been to the lake before. He did not kiss her back. And then there was the problem of Brittney. Except that every person at the lake felt his or her own fate was all too closely tied to Sam Temple. He saw seven. Sinder looked out across her garden. grunting with the effort. The success of his mission lay in stealth and surprise. Jezzie didn’t answer—she frequently didn’t when Sinder turned loquacious. “Humans take all prey. Light becomes energy becomes food and becomes energy again when we eat it. She hoped Jezzie hadn’t seen it. “At first when I heard she was back I thought it was a good thing. He knew he could follow the barrier. slowly but relentlessly. or alternately a sort of Jadis. toward the sky. distant figure from where she stood.” Pack Leader said.” Jezzie said. “it would be a miracle if it didn’t also work for weeds. “He doesn’t look good. When he stepped into the garden things had a tendency to be crushed. The coyotes were waiting for him in the ghost town below the mine entrance. if not the original— licked a scab on his right front paw. No food for pack. There were bare patches on all of them where scraped gray-and-red flesh showed through. long. She had painted her fingernails black. all adults. They weren’t as big as wolves. Jezzie said. but they were big. much-speculated-about relationship (or lack of same) between Brianna and Jack and/or Brianna and Dekka. Take me.” Drake barked out a disbelieving laugh. But the truth was that something about the way Sam held Astrid was wrong. “No. No prey. no!” both girls cried. Dyed her brown hair jet-black. The girl hated weeds with a burning passion. What had been a ragged. But it was easy to see that they were not well. no rising or setting moon. I thought Sam would be happy. but never alone. Remarks about Sam’s state of mind were no more unusual than speculation about Lindsay Lohan or Justin Bieber had once been. bugs.” Orc said. The pack might be weak with hunger but they were still far too quick for Drake to catch. Then it would be a miracle. which had been wound around his torso. who most people liked and everyone worried about. The coyotes of the FAYZ were not the runts that coyotes had been back before the FAYZ. Sinder followed her gaze and saw Sam and Astrid holding each other close on the top deck of the White Houseboat. From one side she would see the miraculous leaves outlined against the backdrop of the lake and the marina area. “Pack hungry.” “Too bad. but he was absorbed in reading. just gazed at the growing stain. I remember learning about it in school. She looked up from the plant and saw the stain suddenly shoot upward. Donned clothing that was either black or some secondary color chosen to accentuate the black. or disease that might endanger her beloved plants. She was looking down toward the marina. but if he had they’d probably have been size twenty. and. undulating wave of black extending only a dozen or so feet above her head blossomed like one of her charges to become a terrible black bloom thirty. Their fur was mangy.” Drake frowned and counted the pack. Sinder nodded. Pack Leader stared at him with yellow eyes. Now she was looking at the feathery structure of a carrot top against the blank black of the stain. You know: he’s been lonely. It had the odd effect of making the leaf seem like a work of abstract art. He felt uneasy. Sinder had been very fond of black.” Orc did not wear shoes. Pack serves Darkness and pack goes hungry. Extra. Killed by Swift Girl. The setting sun stabbed his eyes with jagged pain. in particular betting about its gender and possible powers. it turns light into food. “Darkness says don’t kill humans. “Many die. “I could pull that for you. The green turned light into food. If he wandered around lost he might be spotted. theories about Astrid with passionate disagreement as to whether she was a good person and good for Sam. bath time. man. Had the gaiaphage told her what to do? Would she do it? Would she know how to find the way .” Jezzie said. who cared? Right? Photo-wuh? But I mean. fifty. From the other side she would see them almost like mounted specimens against the pearly gray blankness of the barrier. Carrots were orange and tomatoes were red. the baby itself. but. “How cool is photosynthesis?” Sinder called to Jezzie. the plants she knew as individuals. no mealtime. Sinder liked to get down low and look at her plants from close up.

It just seemed to explode upward. were with him.without the coyotes as guides? “How am I supposed to feed you?” Drake demanded. “And tell Sam something happened to you because I wasn’t there?” Astrid treated it as a joke and laughed. It was vandalism. As she watched. “Listen. or even Nemesis.” Edilio said flatly. The stain crossed the line between blank pearly gray and sunlight. But Edilio didn’t join in. But Drake knew which humans were expendable. then. Up and up. Sam wants me to check the frames early. . “Just send one of your guys. Then it slowed. You want to look at it now?” Edilio asked.” He blew out a weary breath and drank from a water bottle. craning her neck to see the tallest black finger yet. easy walk without having to carry those frames. “I got that thing. from a low point in the stain. Then. It was ugliness. “Sam’s all we’ve got. it looks like the stain is accelerating. The Artful Roger and Justin. Let’s get you boys some dinner. Come on. The gaiaphage had ordered the beasts not to kill humans for fear they might unknowingly kill someone useful: Lana.” Astrid found Edilio just coming back down from the Pit. and she tilted her head back to see it.” Edilio made an incredulous face. But now that the plan was revealed as absurdly optimistic.” “I saw it growing. it grew. She could see it moving. and up farther and farther.” Astrid said. that … whatever it was. And the rate of acceleration could only be increasing exponentially. It stretched three hundred feet up the side of the dome. a new black tendril shot up as fast as a car on the freeway. “Okay.” “It wasn’t. “Don’t come yourself. grown too fast. It couldn’t have been very pleasant. Up under a tarp. “Darkness say to coyote: don’t kill human. This Pack Leader was definitely a smarter animal than the original one.” Edilio said. the little kid Roger looked after. The idea had been that a frame that was 10 percent stain might grow to 20 percent stain and that then Astrid could calculate the rate of growth. Did not say don’t eat dead human. Then we go get Diana. but Edilio sent them both away when he spotted Astrid. “No. I’m sorry you had to do that.” Drake laughed with a certain delight.” Pack Leader said. She stood looking up. Faster. There was no chance of an accurate calculation: it had grown too far. “Pack Leader knows. All the frames were 100 percent filled with black.” The plan had been to allow twenty-four hours before checking the frames. But that slim black finger violated the sky like graffiti on the Mona Lisa. it’ll be a quick. “You know where I can find a human?” Drake asked. You’re all Sam’s got. It was the future written clearly for Astrid to see. A lot faster. “But I understand if Sam wants more information.

stayed out of the way of all the big wheels who were busy killing and being killed.” After all. And no one messed with Albert’s people. He had left Syria when he was twenty-two and didn’t miss it at all. at least his. They’d ask him if he represented. Hopefully his contractors would have run some corn and assorted other vegetables and fruits up to Coates and locked them in the rat-proof steel cupboards in the kitchen. but if he ever got out. selling gas and cigarettes and milk to a mostly Hispanic population. But that was the way it was. a man. And he would definitely want to hear what Mohamed knew about the secret mission Sam and Dekka had gone out on. his father had explained. Orc and him were friends. Was it tough sometimes being the only Muslim at the Perdido Beach school? Yeah. He’d want to know that she was measuring some kind of stain on the dome. For most of the time since the coming of the FAYZ. He’d eaten rat. He was thin and starting to get taller. No family inside the FAYZ. but he wasn’t really worried. Until then Mohamed had stuck to working in the fields. Kids picking veggies in the fields didn’t even work like Howard did. An important one. Howard would have to chop the produce up as small as he had patience for. His dad still worked there. don’t diss all the freaks. But Mohamed’s father would shut that down right away. He had a little firewood in place. Someday this would all end. People would realize it had been more like a war. “Human. Or tried to be. one way or the other. For Howard the same job could take fifteen minutes. “There’s your lunch. Allah understood all. He carried a pistol and a knife. That was what brothers were like. He hadn’t eaten pork since the coming of the FAYZ. Albert would want to know details of Astrid’s return. It was a really long commute. He’d have jumped all over a pepperoni pizza if anyone had one. the only one he’d spent any time with was Lana. Mohamed? Were you picked on? Did you ever run into all these insane freaks we hear about on TV? Did you ever kill anyone? What was it like? He hadn’t killed anyone. So. He’d had a couple of fights. but it was still better. Mohamed had lain low.FIFTEEN 22 HOURS. All those things—plus Mohamed’s basic intelligence—made him just right for the job Albert had for him: representing AlberCo at the lake. which made everyone feel strange and abandoned. working ten hours a day at the family’s Circle K. and fish and slimy things he didn’t have a name for. then carry it to the still. This bootlegging thing was getting to be a lot less fun. Were you scared. Howard was already en route to Coates. Staying alive was not a sin: Allah saw all. A man did what he had to do to take care of his family. mutant animal Astrid had supposedly killed. dog. And pretty quick people would realize they hadn’t just all sat around catching up on their homework. Whenever the barrier came down there would be all kinds of people talking to the media and telling all kinds of stories. Orc could haul a lot of firewood.” Pack Leader said. 16 MINUTES MOHAMED HAD SET out from the lake on the tedious walk to Perdido Beach as soon as he could get a water bottle and a little food in his belly. cat. Drake followed the direction of the animal’s intense gaze. Orc was like two swings and snap. “Yep. He’d been pushed around by Orc a few times. Drake stood atop the rise.” Howard muttered to the bushes.” . It was a lot more like real work. Mohamed walked down the familiar. the smart move was to just do the minimum to get food and shelter. Everyone knew he was under Albert’s protection. he’d been a medical student there and sold hot dogs to farmhands now. yeah. Mohamed figured he’d change that story a little. They’d ask him if he had stood up or wimped out. A man worked. Fortunately Mohamed’s family had never been all that strict about the dietary laws. dusty road. Someday the barrier would come down and his father and mother and brothers and sister would be waiting for him. Sometimes Moomaw—Mohamed’s paternal grandmother—would talk about going back to Syria. And not even shelter some of the time. Mohamed had been forced to commit. he’d change that story. Maybe he’d want to know about some weird. But pretty soon Orc had lost interest and most kids didn’t even think twice about where his parents came from or how he prayed.” Drake said. The school was supposed to be better than the one he’d been at in King City. bird. They’d ask him what he had done. How would he get along with his brothers? They would ask him all the questions his parents wouldn’t. not even a little. He had gone to Albert and asked his advice. yeah. It hadn’t been. Mohamed still had no friends. Mohamed was sure of that. Orc swinging an ax was a whole different story from Howard’s doing it. the log would be cut through. He walked alone. As for freaks. hopefully enough to get the cooker started. He was thirteen. and some nights his dad hadn’t come home. All of this used to be Orc’s job. But he had a job. “Boy needs to take a drink or six and start feeling it again. He’d just returned after a Brittney episode and was surprised to find that she had kept moving along with the coyotes. Yes. no. He liked the way Mohamed had managed to stay under the radar. sir. As crazy as things were in the FAYZ. “Gotta get Orc to be normal again. Even if it meant he saw less of them. When it came time for the Big Split. not to Mohamed. a growth spurt that had left his shorts too short and his shoes too tight. Howard realized with a sudden shock. Albert had liked him for the fact that he had no real friends. She had healed his butt and his wrist. one of them was pretty bad. Orc could haul a lot of bottles. Then while the batch was cooking he would have to hack around the woods looking for fallen trees. A kid—Drake couldn’t tell who it was—was down below. he was now working harder than just about anyone else. His family had just moved to Perdido Beach when his mother got a job at the power plant. And then all those questions. which he would then have to cut. Kids made fun of him for praying. He had a long day of work ahead of him. Nail in the butt sounded funny. but he would have in a heartbeat if anyone had some. For refusing the pepperoni pizza at lunch. In fact. but Albert had seen something in him. He’d had a nail driven into his butt cheek and broken his wrist. walking steadily along the dirtand-gravel road.

” “Stupid?” “Yeah. sighed. “With a human face.” Sam said. Stupid. She was not calm. Not here. Only an idiot would think you could just randomly plug pieces of human into a coyote. Alien-like. The mutations haven’t harmed anyone yet. dead things didn’t bleed. And look at the legs. just coyote. Like someone just randomly took parts from one and swapped them for parts from the other. She’d managed to seem calm when she came back from her quick trip with Edilio. No. 5 MINUTES “SO. And unless something changes that will be the last sunrise. What?” She shrugged. It’s articulated like a coyote leg covered with human skin and probably muscle. too. “What’s happened so far? Coyotes evolved limited powers of speech. Sam braced himself to burn anything that suddenly emerged. He’d given Edilio orders to come up with a list of places where he could hang a Sammy sun. it’s something that makes no sense. “It’s a coyote. really. Like wet dog and urine and sticky-sweet decay. He’d burned her open to get the bugs out of her. test the effect of Sammy suns on growing plants— after all. Solution. So far there’s been a lot of strange. Pretending.SIXTEEN 22 HOURS. How do you know it isn’t just something natural?” He thought about that for a moment. “It’s beyond creepy. the mutations have been survival tools. it was all coming back. Solution. anxious to reach some kind of conclusion and then bury the carcass and do his best to forget about it and get back to the twin thought streams of “solution” and “sex. It’s bizarre. But it may not. too. And back legs. WHAT IS it?” Sam asked. but not a lot of stupid. She pulled out a rag and tied it over her mouth and nose. “You can see the line where the human face stops and the fur starts. “Like someone tossed two different DNAs into a hat and drew out this and that and tried to fit them together.” “Okay. hoping not to puke. “The sun may come out tomorrow. Worms developed teeth and became aggressive and territorial. And throughout it all: solution. He was fighting the surge of bile into his throat. In fact. There’s no blurring. You shoot light out of your hands and never get burned. Solution. In the back of his mind the gears spun like mad. Like that would help. Brianna runs at a hundred miles an hour but her knees don’t break. seem totally in control when she was freaking out inside. not now.” He glanced at her to see if she was really as calm as she seemed. Her silent staring went on and on. Plans that would fall apart as soon as the kids in Perdido Beach realized the only light they were likely to see was up here at the lake. A person. hopeless brain merry-go-round that sang the solution song sang a much nicer tune. Plans they all knew were bull. It made a six-inch cut. from the cut. and tossed them onto the open wound.” Sam had run out of useful things to say or energy to say them. Where was the solution? Where was the answer? Astrid took the cleaver and slammed it into the creature’s exposed belly. And now as Astrid used the big knife to saw away and widen the cut. though. No. and added. a meat cleaver—borrowed from a seven-year-old who carried it for protection—and an X-Acto knife with a less-than-perfect blade. Move to more use of nets for fishing.” she said. opening the animal up along its length. It’s like a really bad plumber tried to attach different-size pipes together. but Astrid could do that. “Or at least what passes for natural in the FAYZ. Sam. Plus the creature itself smelled. Astrid was wearing pink Playtex gloves. maybe a hovering Sammy sun would bring fish to the surface. Some of us developed powers. Solution. They’d had a very calm discussion of other ways to prepare: start food rationing. “You don’t have to be here.” “So it’s a mutant?” Sam asked. Soon. The endless.” “Do I have to?” “You can see organs attached to each other that just don’t fit. It’s obvious it wouldn’t work. Incredibly a second line of thinking was forcing its way into his consciousness. “No. more capable human being.” “Wait a minute. I love watching autopsies of disgusting mutant monsters. She’d been calm when she said. What was it? Astrid had laid out a large chef’s knife.” And he had put on a pretty good show of looking calm himself. The “it” in question had been carried to a picnic table not far from the Pit. But nothing popped or squirmed out. It serves no purpose. It’s a clean line. “Every mutant so far has been survivable. She rolled the creature onto its back. Sam was going through the motions.” . A plastic tarp had been spread out over and under it—after all. A sudden gust of wind bringing the smell of the Pit did not help. Astrid turned away from the smell to compose herself. There was no bleeding. Plans that were about nothing but prolonging the agony.” Astrid didn’t answer. He had terrible memories of what he’d had to do with Dekka. to herself more than to him. You’re acting like this is someone doing it. “This is bits of human—probably the missing girl—and coyote. mostly. “Look at this.” She looked at him as if she was surprised to be talking to him now. He wanted her. Solution. “I mean.” Astrid said. but soon. Why couldn’t he just crawl into his bunk with Astrid and let someone else break his soul searching for a nonexistent solution? Astrid now cut vertically.” Sam said. Snakes grew wings and developed a new form of metamorphosis. She looked like a very pretty bandit. maybe his own personal light could trigger photosynthesis. There’s no human hair. this is something different. Putting on a brave face to delay the inevitable total social meltdown. really. It had been the most gruesome thing he’d ever done. But Astrid was still talking. Solution. At last she said. Like the goal was to build a stronger. It’s … it’s stupid.” “Why would—” Sam began. But the bones inside? Those are coyote bones. Mix and match. The stomach is the wrong size for the large intestine. this”—she aimed her finger at the carcass of the monstrosity—“is just stupid. No. pulled off her gloves. The picnic area was inconveniently far from town but still had a nice view of the lake. I can’t believe this thing lived as long as it did. He felt like throwing up and she hadn’t even started. This. kids still used these tables sometimes.” Astrid shrugged.

“The gaiaphage?” Sam asked, feeling in his gut it was the wrong answer. Astrid held his gaze for a moment but her brain was somewhere else. “Not stupid,” she said. “You just said it was—” “I was wrong. It’s not about stupid. It’s ignorant. Clueless.” “Is there—” He wasn’t surprised when she interrupted him as if he hadn’t even been talking. “Unbelievable power,” Astrid said. “And absolute ignorance.” “What does that mean?” Sam asked. Astrid wasn’t listening. She was slowly turning her head, eyes aimed all the way to the right, as if she thought someone was sneaking up on her. It was so compelling that Sam followed the direction of her gaze. Nothing. But he recognized the movement: how many times in the last months had he done the same himself? A sort of paranoid, sidelong glance at something that wasn’t there? Astrid shook her head slowly. “I’m… I have to go. I’m not feeling well.” He watched her walk away. It was irritating, to put it mildly. Infuriating. In the old days he’d have called her out on it, demanded to know what she was thinking. But he sensed that what he had with Astrid was fragile. She was back, but not all the way back. He didn’t want to start a battle with her. There was a war coming, no time for battles with someone he loved. But her abrupt departure had the effect of leaving him with only one thread to follow, one thing to think about: the solution. The solution that did not exist. Penny lived alone in a small house on the eastern edge of town. From her upstairs bedroom window she could see just a narrow slice of the ocean and she liked that. She wanted to move into Clifftop. But Caine had denied that request. Clifftop was Lana’s to do with as she pleased. Even when Lana had moved to the lake—temporarily, as it turned out—Clifftop had remained a no-go zone. “No one messes with Lana,” Caine had decreed. Lana, Lana, Lana. Everyone just loved Lana. Penny had spent some time with her when Lana fixed her shattered legs. It had taken a long time, in fact, because there were so many breaks in the bones. Penny found Lana stuck-up. It was certainly a relief to have her legs fixed, and it was very nice not to have that pain, but that didn’t mean Lana had a right to act all high-and-mighty and above it all. And have an entire massive hotel all to herself. Deciding who could come or go. It bothered Penny that Lana had that kind of respect. Because Penny knew she could leave Lana crawling and crying and tearing her eyes out like Cigar had done. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Five minutes alone with Little Miss Healer. See how she liked it. See how high-and-mighty she was then. The only problem was that Caine would kill Penny. Caine felt nothing for Penny. She had hoped after Diana took off… But no, there was no disguising Caine’s look of contempt whenever he saw Penny. Even now, even with all Penny’s power, Caine was still the big man, the popular guy, the good-looking guy who would spit on someone like Penny, with her scraggly hair and awkward, bony arms and flat-as-a-board chest. Even now life was all about who was hot and who was not. But Caine wasn’t the only boy around. There was a soft knock at the back door. Penny opened it for Turk. “Were you careful?” she asked. “I went way out of the way. Then I jumped a couple of fences.” He was breathing hard and sweating. She believed him. “All that just to see me?” Penny asked. He didn’t answer. He flopped down in one of the easy chairs, sending up a cloud of dust. He leaned his gun against the side of the chair. Then he pulled off his boots, making himself comfortable. Suddenly a scorpion crawled onto his arm. He yelled, swatted at it frantically, jumped out of his chair. Then he saw the smile on her face. “Hey, don’t do that to me!” Turk cried. “Then don’t ignore me,” she said. She hated the pleading sound in her own voice. “I wasn’t ignoring you.” He sat back down, carefully inspecting for scorpions—as if it had been real. Turk wasn’t the smartest guy, Penny acknowledged with a sigh. He was no Caine. Or Sam. Or even Quinn. Maybe they could ignore Penny, and not even treat her like a girl, and curl their lips in disgust at her, but not Turk. Turk was just a dumb punk. Penny felt a surge of fury so strong she had to turn away to hide it. Overlooked, ignored, forgotten Penny. She was the middle of three girls in her family. Her older sister was named Dahlia. Her younger sister was named Rose. Two pretty flower names. And a plain old Penny in between. Dahlia was a beauty. As early as Penny could remember their father had loved Dahlia. He had dressed Dahlia up in all kinds of outfits … feathers, silky underwear … and taken hundreds of pictures of her. Right up until Dahlia started to develop. And then, when their father lost interest in Dahlia, Penny had naturally assumed she would be the one, the beloved, the admired one. She assumed she would be the one posing, bending this way and that, showing and concealing, making little coy faces or scared faces, depending on what her father needed. But her father had barely noticed Penny. Instead he’d moved past her to pretty little Rose. And soon it was Rose starring in the pictures her father uploaded to the internet. It was a few years before Penny came to understand that what her father did was against the law. Then she had waited until her father was at work and she had taken his laptop with her to school and shown the pictures to some of the kids. A teacher had seen and called the police. Her father had been arrested. Penny’s mother started drinking more than ever before. And all three girls had been sent to live with Uncle Steve and Aunt Connie. Surprise, surprise, poor little victimized Dahlia and Rose—poor, pretty little Dahlia and Rose—had gotten all the sympathy and all the attention. Their father hanged himself in his jail cell after other inmates had beaten him. Penny had put Drano in Rose’s cereal, just to see how pretty she would be with her throat burned out. And then Penny was shipped off to Coates. In two years at Coates she had not heard from her sisters. Or her aunt and uncle. Her mother had written her once, an incoherent, self-pitying Christmas card.

Penny was as ignored at Coates as she had always been. Until she began to develop her power. It came late to her. After the first big battle in Perdido Beach, when Caine had walked off into the wilderness with Pack Leader. When he returned at last, ranting and seemingly insane, Penny kept her secret to herself. She knew better than to show Drake. Drake was ruthless: he would have killed her. Caine was softer, smarter than Drake. When at last Caine came back to something like sanity, Penny started to show him what she could do. And still she was ignored in favor of Drake and, worst of all, that witch Diana. Diana, who never loved Caine, who always criticized him, had even betrayed him and fought with him. In that terrible moment standing at the edge of the cliff on San Francisco de Sales Island, when Caine could save only one of them, Diana or Penny, he had made his choice. Penny had endured pain like nothing she could have ever imagined. But it cleared her mind. It strengthened her. It obliterated what faint echoes of pity were still left in her. Penny was no longer ignored. She was hated. Feared. No longer ignored. “You have anything to drink?” Turk asked. “You mean water?” “Don’t be stupid; you know I don’t mean water.” Water was no longer in short supply. The eerie cloudburst Little Pete had created still rained down. There was a stream running right down the street, all the gutters carefully blocked so that the stream ran all the way down and out through a gap in the wall to form a pool in the sand of the beach. Penny fetched a bottle from her kitchen. It was half-full of whatever vile liquid Howard brewed. It smelled like a dead animal, but Turk took a long, long drink. “Want to make out?” Turk asked. She slinked toward him, unconsciously mimicking the things she’d seen Dahlia and Rose do. Turk made a face. “Not like that. Not like you.” Penny felt it like slap in the face. “Like you were the other time. You know, in my head. Make it like the other time.” “Oh, like that,” she said flatly. Penny had the power to send horrifying visions. But she also had the power to create beautiful illusions. They were one and the same. It was one of the ways she had driven Cigar over the edge. She’d found a picture of his mother and made him see her… Now, for Turk, she made a vision of Diana. And a while later she spoke, using the vision of Diana still to say, “Turk, the time has come.” “Mmm?” “Caine humiliated me,” Penny said with Diana’s voice. “What?” “He’s the only one who can stop me,” Penny said. “He’s the only one who can humiliate me like that.” Turk was dumb but not that dumb. He pushed her away. She became herself again. “One of these days he’ll kill you, Turk,” Penny said. “Remember what he did to your friend Lance?” She drew a long arc in the air and punctuated it with a “Splat!” Turk looked nervously around. “Yeah, I remember; that’s why I am totally loyal to the king. He’s the king and I don’t mess with him.” Penny smiled. “No, you just fantasize about his girlfriend.” Turk’s eyes widened. He swallowed anxiously. “Yeah, well, what about you?” Penny shrugged. “Anyway, she’s not even his girlfriend anymore,” Turk said. She stayed silent, waiting, knowing he was so very weak, so very fearful. “What are you even talking about, Penny?” Turk cried. “You’re crazy.” Penny laughed. “We’re all crazy, Turk. The only difference is I know I’m crazy. I know all about me. You know why? Because sitting there with my legs broken and wanting to scream every single minute, eating the scraps Diana brought me, that kind of clears out your mind and you start seeing things the way they are.” “I’m out of here,” Turk yelled, and jumped up. He made it two feet before Caine was standing right in his path. Turk stepped back, one leg collapsing, barely caught himself from falling. The Caine illusion disappeared. “Just let me go, Penny,” Turk said shakily. “I’ll never tell anyone. Just let me go. You and Caine … whatever, okay?” “I think you’ll end up doing what I want you to do,” Penny said. “I’m done being ignored and I’m all done being humiliated.” “I’m not going to kill Caine. No matter what you say.” “Kill? Kill him?” Penny shook her head. “Who said kill? No, no, no. No killing.” She pulled a prescription bottle from her pocket, twisted it open, and shook six small, pale, oval pills into her palm. “Sleeping pills.” She slid the pills back into the bottle and closed it again. “I got the pills from Howard. He’s very useful. I told him I was having a hard time sleeping and I paid him with… Well, let’s just say that Howard has his own fantasies. Which, by the way, you would not believe.” “Sleeping pills?” Turk said in a shrill, desperate voice. “You think you’re going to take Caine down with sleeping pills?” “Sleeping pills,” Penny said, and nodded with satisfaction. “Sleeping pills. And cement.” Turk’s face was drained of color. “Find a way to get him here. To me, Turk. Bring him to me. Then it will be just the three of us running things.” “What do you mean, three?” Penny smiled and with Diana’s lips said, “You, me, and Diana.” Howard smelled them before he saw them. The coyotes smelled of rotten meat. He quelled the urge to run in panic when Pack Leader slouched onto the road ahead of him. He couldn’t outrun a coyote. But the coyotes hadn’t

attacked anyone in a long time. The rumor was that they had been warned off by Sam. That was what people said, that Sam had laid down the law and threatened to go medieval on the whole coyote population if they messed with anyone. The coyotes were scared of Bright Hands. Everyone knew that. “Hey,” Howard said with all the bluster he could summon, “I’m a good friend of Bright Hands. You know who I mean? Sam. So I’m just going to walk on.” “Pack hungry,” the coyote said in his slurred, high-pitched, mangled speech. “Hah, very funny,” Howard said. His mouth was dry. His heart was pounding. He swung his heavy pack down. “I don’t have much food, just a boiled artichoke. You can have that.” He reached into the pack, fumbling noisily among empty bottles, searching for the feel of metal. He found it, closed his hand around the heavy knife, and pulled it out. He waved it in front of him and yelled, “Don’t do anything stupid!” “Coyote not kill human,” Pack Leader said. “Yeah. Yeah, you’d better not. My boy Bright Hands will burn you mangy dogs down!” “Coyote eat. Not kill.” Howard tried a couple of times to speak but the words would not come. His bowels were suddenly watery. His legs were shaking so hard he feared they would collapse. “You can’t eat me without killing me,” he said finally. “Pack leader not kill. He kill.” “He?” Howard felt a prickling on the back of his neck. Slowly, horror draining the strength from his muscles, he turned. “Drake,” he whispered. “Yeah. Hi, there, Howard. How’s it going?” “Drake.” “Yeah, we did that already.” Drake unwrapped the whip hand. He looked more wolfish than the coyotes that now emerged from cover to form a circle around Howard. “Drake, man, no, no. No, no, no. You don’t want to do this, Drake, man.” “It’ll only hurt for a while,” Drake said. His whip snapped. It was like fire on Howard’s neck. He turned and ran in sheer panic, but Drake’s whip caught his leg and sent him facedown into the dirt. He looked up to see one of the coyotes looking at him with greedy intensity and licking his muzzle. “I’m useful!” Howard cried. “You must be up to something; I can help you!” Drake straddled him and slowly, almost gently wrapped his tentacle arm around Howard’s throat and started squeezing. “You might be useful,” Drake allowed. “But my dogs gotta eat.” Howard’s eyes bulged. His whole head felt like it would explode from the pressure of blood. His lungs sucked on nothing. Mohamed saw the circle of coyotes. He ducked quickly behind a scruffy bush that wouldn’t really hide him if anyone was looking. But it was all the cover he could find. He had come across a slight rise in the road and, reaching the top, was practically on the coyotes before he saw them. Then he realized he was seeing more than just coyotes. Drake. Mohamed took a sharp breath, and the ears of the closest coyote—maybe a hundred yards away—flicked. There was something … no, someone … on the ground. Drake had his whip hand around someone’s neck. Mohamed couldn’t see who it was. Mohamed had a pistol. And a knife. But everyone knew Drake couldn’t be killed with a gun. If he tried to play hero, he would just get himself killed, too. There was no right answer. No way to stop what he was witnessing. There was only surviving. Mohamed backed away, crawling like a crab on hands and knees. Once he was out of sight of the bloody horror he got to his feet and ran back toward the lake. He ran and ran without stopping. He had never run so far or so fast in his life. He reached the blessed, blessed lake, pushed past kids who said a pleasant, “How’s it going?” and ran for the houseboat. Sam was on the deck, sitting with Astrid. Mohamed registered the fact that he had set out to tell Albert she was here and realized how completely he didn’t care about telling Albert anything. He leaped aboard the boat, spun as though half-convinced the coyotes had followed him, and fell panting and gasping on the deck. Sam and Astrid both came to him. Astrid pressed a water bottle to his parched lips. “What is it, Mo?” Sam asked. Mohamed couldn’t answer at first. His thoughts were a tangle of images and emotions. He knew he should think about controlling the situation, at least find some kind of way to put himself in a better light, but he didn’t have the heart for it. “Drake.” Mohamed gasped. “Coyotes.” Sam was suddenly very still. His voice dropped in volume and register. “Where?” “I was … on the road toward PB.” “Drake and the coyotes?” Astrid prompted. “They were… They had someone. On the ground. I couldn’t see who. I wanted to stop them!” Mohamed said this last in a pleading voice. “I had a gun. But… I…” Mohamed looked at Sam, tried to meet his gaze, looking for something: Understanding? Forgiveness? But Sam wasn’t looking at him. Sam’s face was like stone. “You would have just gotten yourself killed,” Astrid said. Mohamed grabbed Sam’s wrist. “But I didn’t even try.” Sam looked at him as if he had just remembered Mohamed was there. His cold gaze flickered and became human again. “This isn’t your fault, Mo. You couldn’t have stopped Drake. The only one who could have stopped him is me.”

” He pointed his finger at her and leaned forward. She was respected to the point of awe by younger kids. Orc came into view accompanying Sinder and Jezzie. tangible enemy. everyone knew how highly Sam thought of her. and Edilio met on deck. make sure we’re getting everyone back from the fields. As soon as the boats had all their assigned passengers they cast off and rowed or poled or just drifted out onto the lake. “Hey! Listen up. the plan had worked. so there was no question of thirst. Brianna blurred out and Sam heard a cheer go up from multiple boats. “Wait!” Sam yelled before she could disappear.” Something electric passed between them and Sam had to stop himself from laughing out loud. went to the side. She was the antipanic presence. most likely. Howard. “None. Drake. “Find. trotting along with all the food they could carry. Go!” Dekka came at a run. cabin cruisers. They had planned for this day. out where anxious kids peering from the surrounding mismatched watercraft could see them. The one with a sawed-off double-barreled shotgun sticking through the bottom. “What’s up?” “Drake. you think I would go and pick a fight? Me?” That earned a laugh from everyone but Dekka. and all their stores of food were likewise in the boats. Something definite. And if you ignored the fact that the whole world might be dark very soon.” she said. The only boat that didn’t pull out was the White Houseboat. When the bell rang certain kids were to run to the fields and alert kids there. Edilio rang the bell and the few kids standing nearby looked around baffled. And the kids could quite easily survive out there on the boats for a good week. “Anyone have any idea who was killed? Who’s missing?” Edilio shrugged. Sam debated sharing his suspicions with Orc and decided against it. As soon as Brianna’s free I’ll send her to scout. maybe even two. “Don’t know. and Mohamed had been packed off to other boats. motorboats. climbed up and up. Everyone knew she had been right up close with the most gruesome kind of death.) It was important to send the signal that they had things under control. An actual. and houseboats that formed the Lake Tramonto armada. The alarm was a big brass bell they’d taken from one of the boats and mounted atop the two-story marina office. “And come back. “He’s been seen with a pack of coyotes. The lake provided a reasonable amount of fish. You just could not freak out when Dekka was eyeballing you. Slower than Brianna. It looks like they killed someone. “I got it. “Go. Look.” Dekka’s “thing” was basically being Dekka. and the sound of that laugh was reassuring to the scared kids in the boats. She’d also been the one who saved the littles when Mary took the poof. (Sinder. Then Orc. and began ringing the bell. turning the pack into a holster. Sam looked out at the lake with some satisfaction. first things first. They had practiced this three times before. “Just what Brianna needs: a boost for her ego.” Dekka said. In an hour all eighty-three kids were in seventeen different craft. Toto. 19 MINUTES “SOUND THE ALARM.” Then he said. Edilio ran to the tower. Don’t even know for sure he’s coming this way. And. So her place during the drills had been standing by the dock while everyone rushed to the boats. Sam. “Hey!” Sam yelled. She had her runner’s backpack.” Sam said looking at Brianna. He knew that Dekka was doing the same. Kids were just beginning to stream in from the fields. Sam wondered how long that illusion would last. In thirty minutes most of the population was in the motley collection of sailboats. A part of Sam’s mind was curious how well everyone would behave.” “No mercy this time. Brianna. and amazingly enough. “What is it?” “Drake. all three weighed down with vegetables. on the bow of a sailboat. watched over by a flitting Brianna. He could picture him clearly in his mind’s eye.” Sam agreed. Not some vague process or mysterious force. The kids who had been in camp were already emptied out of the trailers and tents and had begun to take their places on the boats at the dock. making sure she heard. or onto smaller boats. “Okay.” Sam ordered. Astrid. He couldn’t have the boy-monster charging off on his own. “This is not a drill.” “How soon?” Dekka asked.” “You think he’s on his way here?” “Probably. Something real.SEVENTEEN 20 HOURS. and yelled to the boats. the Breeze!” “Breeze versus Whip Hand!” Sam looked at Edilio and said. of course. He might need Orc’s strength and near indestructibility.” Brianna made a fake wounded expression and said. Breeze!” “Yeah. this is the real thing! Do it the way Edilio taught you!” Brianna appeared in her usual startling way. “But before you worry about him. If you ignored the fact that accidents would happen. “What. And stupidity would happen. Each tent or trailer had an assigned boat to go to—either to the houseboats or sailboats. The water they were on was drinkable. and so heavy that the entire boat was two feet lower in the water at . All his people were on the water. Is anyone missing?” For a while no one had any suggestions. “Do your thing. anything bigger than a rowboat.” Sam said. Jezzie. And that something was scrambling kids and coyotes together like they were making an omelet. Dekka. Drake. without much problem. He stood up.

get me a place where I won’t be seen until dark. either. It was as if his master was reaching up from far underground with black claws. It was a reminder that this mission was not born out of the gaiaphage’s .” Sam met Edilio’s gaze. Like he was reaching to grab and then envelop this unnatural world with thousands of fingers.” He closed his fingers back into a fist. of course. If she found them she would take out the coyotes in a few bloody seconds. Maybe later…” “I don’t think Orc and I—” she began. He just needed a way to stay out of sight. “If she doesn’t show up. “Human hunter sees. “So? So the lights are still going out. bounding way. She couldn’t smell him or even hear him unless he was pretty loud. “I have to hide until night comes. there.” Astrid said through gritted teeth. “The easy thing? Drake suddenly shows up after being off the radar for four months? Don’t you think maybe it’s all one thing? Drake. and I converge. Marmaduke.” “That’s for another day. She couldn’t kill him. But he’s always … you know … going off by himself. “I don’t care. He’s just dawdling.” “High place with deep cracks.” “Then send Edilio and a couple of his—” “Not now. Ready to forget about the disgusting mutation under the tarp. It was uphill at first until they topped a rise. Justin. finally—he had a straight-up fight.” “Where is that ninny Taylor. Astrid took his shoulder and pulled him aside. I may need Orc. “I see him.” she said with only a trace of sarcasm.” Pack Leader tilted his head and in his mangled speech said. Both of them had already guessed it was Howard.” Toto confirmed. “I got five-year-olds getting two-year-olds where they’re supposed to be.” “Brilliant observation. shifting the entire boat and in the process scaring Roger. How soon before they sent Brianna after him? Soon. “He’s supposed to check in.” “Yeah. but she could slow him down. This was the same black stain he had seen begin to spread into the gaiaphage itself. And we’re still facing a possible disaster. and sink any ashes into the lake inside a locked. Jack looked uncomfortable.” That stung. Astrid.” It was true: Brianna was not a coyote.” Jack said. piece by piece. He raised his tentacle and snapped it down. You’re doing the easy thing instead of the smart thing. “It’s good you’re back. He cursed the coyotes. She had chopped limbs from him. that this might be the last real day they had. said. Maybe this time Sam would burn him inch by inch. As soon as he reached the dock Edilio demanded to know what he thought he was doing. but one of my two certified geniuses is asleep?” “Sorry. It was a distant sound but edgy and penetrating.” “You’re choosing the priority.” Drake heard the pealing of the bell. sir. This time maybe Sam wouldn’t be put off by the emergence of Brittney. “One. then send Brianna to get that note to Caine and Albert.” “Brianna didn’t wake you up?” Sam asked. He stopped and stared. because now—now. for the moment. His head jerked up. “They found the mess you left back on the road. “I was asleep. Ready to forget. and pointed with her chin. Breeze locates him. So you may have to talk to him. Two. “I need to hide.” “Brianna? Pull her off hunting for Drake? Good luck. Jack was a hundred yards away.” Sam said to Astrid. “I haven’t seen Howard. chopping the air with his hand to cut off debate. moving with a sort of relentless fluidity around obstacles. weighted metal box. That kind of damage took time to repair. as he had started to do once— “Aaaarrrgh!” Drake shouted. It was a reminder that maybe not everything was right with the Darkness. whatever your ‘ignorant’ force is?” “Of course I suspect it’s all one thing. He went below. He didn’t want a conference with Astrid: he had things to do. Not without listening first. He was pumped full of adrenaline.” “What’s going on?” Jack asked sheepishly. He felt the urgency behind it. “Sam.” “On his way.” He held up one fist and began running down a list. whether he is Drake or Brittney.” “Let’s make it quick. who were out there with him. raising a finger with each bullet point. He guessed what it meant. “We’re not talking. And then she would keep him from advancing. They took off at a quick lope. He had fought the Breeze before. looking peevish. Sam and his little helpers. “We’re putting an end to Drake once and for all. Jack. “He is. Ready to push all those intractable problems and unanswerable questions aside. and not quietly. she would bring Sam.the front than at the back. before they get around to sending your friend Swift Girl after us. But it made Drake uneasy. “Okay. “Orc trusts you. “Yes. This means your letter isn’t getting to Caine or Albert. and Diana. Sam ignored him.” Sam pointed angrily at the boats bobbing on the lake. “You’re supposed to be armed and you’re supposed to be at the Pit. There Drake saw the barrier within a quarter mile.” The coyotes did not dawdle. So?” “So?” Her incredulity was so sharp it made him take a step back. anyway?” Astrid said angrily. But he couldn’t quite say no. The coyotes watched impassively. “We have a slight emergency here. And. Now they’ll be ready for us. It should have been inspiring. And you don’t know what Caine or Albert might do. making a loud crack. burn him in detail. It was a shameful thing to admit. at least.” Drake said. “That’s why I want you to get some help. Sam stuck his fists on his waist and glared impatience. Does not smell or hear. “Where’s Jack?” Edilio asked. Sam. Priorities. Sam. Dekka. Sam saw Orc stand up. we cut him up.” he said. the stain.” Sam snapped. Three.” Pack Leader offered no comment.” “Jack!” Sam bellowed. Jack started running in his powerful. Ready to forget his worries about Caine and the missiles.” Dekka answered.

If he could see. barely room to stand. and a sliver of the sky. Drake hurried along behind Pack Leader. And he could see a narrow slice of the lake. . He could see the lake spread out below. One of the advantages of hanging out with coyotes: no one knew the terrain better. He had to suck in his breath to squeeze through the crack they’d found for him. “Move.” Pack Leader urged anxiously. a few boats. There was no room to sit. he could also be seen. They were partially silhouetted atop the bluff. disappearing quickly amidst a maze of fallen rock and rain-etched bluff. But Brianna wouldn’t find him. he was confident of that. but out of fear. Drake ducked low. Night was coming on.ambition alone.

by seven ounces. not identical. His current assignment was to Camp Camino Real. But he had a thick. “You know they still call Perdido Beach ‘fallout alley.” Darius suggested. Then the general choppered out. “And I kept it together. “The fallout?” “No. whispering that David was dangerous. “I had twins.” Darius said with interest.” “Why?” Darius shrugged. tilting his head. Darius drank his third beer and flopped in the chair with his feet up on the end of the bed. Basically Sergeant Darius Aston was killing time. and leaned in. Wrong. He said he was Caine. Connie sat on the bed drinking red wine. The madness had been so real. and Connie knew there was something big coming. very wrong. just part—was that she was using him for information.” he said without preamble. “I was afraid I might harm him. That he was evil.” Connie said dryly. It was where she regularly met Sergeant Darius Ashton.” “Must have been something to see. Pretty bad. “I had postpartum depression. making it impossible to speak. this powerful belief that there was something wrong with David. determined not to get weepy. “I gave him up. And for a long time he disappeared from my life.” She took a deep pull at the wine. Right?” “That’s what I hear.” ..” he said dryly. Connie liked him. hard body decorated with tattoos and scars he’d brought home from Afghanistan.. her hormones go seriously off-kilter. toes occasionally playing with hers. Worse than ever.” she confirmed. “Sons? Plural?” He looked sharply at her. I wasn’t even employed there at the time. but he heard things. “My sons are in there. There’s no David Temple. And smart. was the only person killed. She was at the Avania Inn in Santa Barbara.” “And you have no idea what it was about?” He shook his head slowly. He was adopted immediately. The general choppered in. “I never knew who had adopted him. the father of my two little boys. After all. I loved him. Something very. though. Sam was a few minutes older. And with it this conviction.” “Wrong?” “Yes.” Connie smiled slightly. wasn’t it?” “Thirteen years ago. Like there was a voice in her head.. She chased it with most of a glass of red wine.” Darius frowned. She liked the fact that he was smart enough to know that part of the reason she was with him—not all. “Like. He had lost most of the sight in one eye. “Is he out?” Connie asked. “There are.” “Heard about that. He hated his job. And soon after that they had realized that they would need to keep their relationship secret. although not much lately.” Connie said. But I was afraid of him. though. “They were fraternal. they didn’t tell me that. Well.” “You could say that. He popped another. She let Darius in. I was filling in while their regular nurse was on maternity leave.” “So there are pills and all. whispering.” Connie said.” “Good strong names. “So I’m telling you the truth. after she gives birth. It was so strange. “I’ve only heard you talk about your boy Sam.” Darius said. He had a six-pack of beer in one hand and a sheepish grin. It worked better than Prozac for her. “After that the depression came back. He was the smaller one. He had been assigned to maintenance. They had a chat that could be heard from some distance.” Darius set aside his now-empty beer. He had shown up at one of the Friday cookouts. I knew immediately. only a couple of inches taller than she was herself.” She started again and was surprised to find that her voice betrayed her with a wobble.” Darius shook his head. You know what that is?” He didn’t answer but she saw that he did not. I would have noticed because of the last name. “Harsh. twenty years ago. “Nah. He never suffered. Something he was leery of telling her. She wasn’t in her trailer. “Then the accident. left her less tired. I asked him his name.” The memory of those days swept over her. He had no direct access to anything classified. I knew this. That’s how trust works. But early on I formed this … this fantasy. I guess I liked the biblical names back then. She turned on the TV and clicked without any real interest through the movies on demand. Until one day I was at work. So. Never any doubt. what they told me was that my husband.” “Yeah. And this boy was brought in. so Darius was never going back to combat. at Coates. the actual impact. “I want you to trust me. Sam and David. “Sometimes a woman. I’m a nurse. Which would make her feel tired. Never even knew what was coming. shaky breath. He was a beautiful little baby.” she said. He hesitated before he went on. and that was that.” She took a deep. What had begun as a symptom of postpartum depression came to be something like a psychotic symptom. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He saw things. “I’ve read through the Wiki. That something was wrong with David. I gave all my attention to Sam and told myself I had done the right thing. The meteor. Connie knew he had seen death in Afghanistan. She powered through it. A meteor smashes a nuclear power plant? People must have freaked. Harsh. I don’t mean physically.OUTSIDE NURSE CONNIE TEMPLE swallowed the Zoloft. I never knew where he was. Afraid of what I would do to him.’ Naturally they told us everything was fine. He liked killing that time with Connie. He was short.” Darius sat up. because I worried that I would prefer him to Sam because he was bigger and so alert and so beautiful. Connie heard the familiar knock. They had started going out months earlier. and if he couldn’t be a combat soldier he was determined to leave the service when his enlistment was up.” “Killed by a meteor. In fact. I suppose. “I hear the colonel threatened to resign. “Something is up.

Sam lashed out with his power. And very smart.“How had he turned out? I mean. “He scared me.” “He got his looks from his mom. Connie opened her laptop and tied into the hotel’s wi-fi. Ruthless.” Darius said. He’d seen a side of her he had never expected. He didn’t approve. but Sam was a totally different person.. Well. What is it you aren’t telling me?” Darius stopped at the door.” Connie said.” She could see that this shocked Darius. Something involving a possible radiation spill. A nuclear response team. “He was also cruel. “You cooking some ribs on Friday?” “Darius. “I was having an affair. Sounds innocent. Connie wondered if he would ever come back. Just saw a new one the other day I didn’t recognize on some vehicles that came into camp. . same father. but it is possible that they had different fathers.” Connie said. The same time as Sam. Maybe some controversial new experiment. And he was one of the first to begin the mutation.” “Same mother.” She spoke the words with great care.. “He was still beautiful. huh?” “What’s NEST?” “Look it up.” He left. I told you my secret.. technicians. considering each one. Which may have been how this whole thing had started to begin with. The room suddenly felt cold. I never had a DNA test. “I gave you everything. And so charming.” Connie lowered her head. her voice flat. actually. Manipulative. You should have seen the girls flock to him. “Except that the military loves acronyms. lost control of himself.” Darius said. and engineers who were called in to deal with a nuclear incident. See you Friday if I can. And the colonel threatening to quit.” Darius said. trying to be gallant. NEST. “I’d better get going. and so different?” “Same mother. you had this idea he was going bad. It took a few seconds to find that NEST stood for Nuclear Emergency Support Team. But Caine? He used his power without the slightest concern for anyone but himself. She opened Google and typed in NEST. “I can’t tell you anything. Something dangerous. and was devastated by it. They were the scientists. why should he? She didn’t approve of herself. Something was going on.

and that … that … he didn’t know what to call it. But he knew if he gave in to that need. When it came close to him he would have visions of Penny. He said. Penny did not fear a knock at the door. But the moon—or an illusion of it—was rising. happy creature that looked like a greyhound walking erect. how could you ever know what was real and what was not? Cigar realized he had to stop trying.” “Yeah. Sam drifted into sleep. Caine stood framed by silvery moonlight in the door. He sank into a canvas chair. This was not yet true darkness. Strange brain. and then the little boy would be gone. Drake could be in either place. could give him power over Penny. But Cigar’s thoughts never lasted for very long. did it? Did anyone ever really see what was there around them? Were regular eyes so perfect or normal minds so clear? Who was to say that what Cigar saw wasn’t as real as what he had seen in the old days? Weren’t regular eyes blind to all sorts of things? To X-rays and radiation and colors off beyond the visible spectrum? The little boy had put that thought in his head. but that … stuff … would calm the panic. It didn’t matter. But it was coming. “We have to talk. At those times he seemed to see something like dust in a strong beam of sunlight. “Sorry I snapped at you before. He assumed she was down in his bunk. There he was now. The guards were changed. Sam hadn’t seen Astrid in a while. Until the next panic. Strange eyes. It was like seeing someone through a narrow opening in a door. or whether it was madness that turned everything so strange and incredible. Edilio sat blinking sleep away. a streaming light as though. Making her suffer. reaching to touch her. But she knew better. They made love slowly. Some combination of the two? Even objects—the beds. He would have visions of himself doing terrible. Mad eyes. Astrid was waiting for him. already dark. He stood up and made his way to the door that vibrated and pulsed and called to him. . He wondered if the rising smoke. Probably. but no matter how quickly he moved his head. and when they were finished. Maybe she was mad at him. holding his face with her hands. silently. Right there where even Cigar could not see. “Catch some z’s. here I am—if then he would be able to get revenge on Penny. 55 MINUTES FULL NIGHT.” he said. More madness. the tables. Sam had recalled Brianna when the sun went down. that reached tendrils through the air. He would put together pictures in his head. A suggestion of a presence. rising sometimes like smoke from the floor and other times like a slow. Memories that made the screams rise in his raw throat. There was a knock on Penny’s door. He just didn’t know whether what he was seeing was a result of having his new eyes. Cigar realized. reach me. this stuff. Brianna raged and demanded to be turned loose again. She opened it without even checking the peephole. Cigar would sense his presence and look toward him. The darkness was deadly to her. When Cigar looked at Sanjit he saw a dancing. The one called Choo looked like a sleepy gorilla with a slow-beating red valentine of a heart. Dekka brooded. insistent. He scanned the woods and the bluff. One stumble and she’d be a bag of broken bones. “Where is he?” Sam wondered for the millionth time. sickening things to her. It was a glimpse. then they would fly apart like an exploding jigsaw puzzle. But it sensed something … something that interested it. When Lana came the green whip would follow her. Sam. the slow green whip. sliding away. “You awake enough to keep your eyes open?” he asked Dekka. would come to him and speak soothing words. If you had inhuman eyes and a shattered mind. It wasn’t easy to see the little boy. rather than being fixed in place.” She didn’t say anything but kissed him. The little boy always stayed just to the side. When that happened Sanjit or Choo or the little one.” Caine said. he might not have the strength to come out again. At times the little boy would come. And maybe he deserved it. He wanted to go down there and be with her. very different from the sparkly sunlit dust. Cigar’s thoughts fell to pieces again.EIGHTEEN 18 HOURS. There was another thing. Mere seconds later he heard her snoring. pale green whip. they were moving. reaching again. who looked like a spectral white kitten. It had no eyes. The light was dying. He scanned the beach. twirling. passing through objects. Sam sent her below to take one of the unused bunks and get some sleep. mad brain. Just outside of view. Bowie. Cigar knew he wasn’t seeing what other people saw. if he found peace and forgetfulness. He’d been curt with her. Cigar could never see the little boy clearly. and yawned. He wondered if he said yes—Yes. It couldn’t see him. a vibration. the steps at Clifftop—had an eerie glow. Beneath those dark trees. And sometimes Cigar felt it was looking for him. Or somewhere up in those rocks.

you know? Think about something more fun than just life and work and all. But not right out in public.” he said. I think I should make it be like I just chose on my own to leave. and she plopped them into his cup. but yawned again. Better than the alternative. where it had no doubt been a prized possession of whoever had owned this house. The snow globe had a little Harrah’s casino inside. He tried to turn but he couldn’t do it.” Caine relaxed a bit. right by the overturned FedEx truck. “I know why you’re here. “So I guess if I’m leaving and making it look like it’s not your fault. because that’ll look phony. She was bored with the game and sick of playing nice. “You look tired. Why don’t you close your eyes and rest a few minutes. but useful. That’s my demand for leaving and making it easy for you. The glass shattered.” He tried to stand up. Penny swallowed the rage that threatened to boil over. And he yawned. And then I’ll drop the wall on top of you. She could practically see the wheels turning slowly. too. She lit the Sterno.” she snarled. No one has sugar. Have a cup with me and we’ll work something out. “Fair enough. “Nighty-night. flopping down in her favorite chair. In addition to the Ambien I mixed in some Valium.” She closed the door. Forced his eyes open and said. “I just don’t think it should look like you made me go. but you do. He swirled it around to stir the sugar in. Let’s face it.” “Take all the food you want. She came around behind him. She went to the kitchen. I don’t think you’ll be able to worry at all pretty soon. Caine: you and I can still be useful to each other in the future. A long.” “I’ll … k….” he said. “You’re right about one thing.” “But we have to talk about how to make it look good. She picked up a heavy snow globe from the knickknack shelf. lacerating his scalp but also slicing her thumb. “First things first: if I see anything I don’t like. anything that comes from your sick imagination. “I screwed up with Cigar. A tacky keepsake. And Caine countered with another. no offense. Like he owned the place. He lit it with a Bic and set it on the table. well.” “Turk said you were ready to get real. unable to go on.” he said. He barely rose.” “I can’t…” He started to say. “You’re useful.” Caine didn’t ask why Taylor would have brought her something as precious as cocoa from the island. Your Highness. Penny.” He came in without waiting for an invitation.” “I guess you know I have a crush on you.” “Look. And she smiled and made a small objection. Your Highness. She would make him crawl. Believe it or not I can survive without you.” “What do you have in mind?” She sighed. but it wavered in the air. Penny showed a little anger then. slowly in his brain. Penny saw the look of distaste on his face as he worked it out. He slumped forward.” “Yeah. She got up quickly and stepped aside. “Too bad. . considering.” Penny said. don’t give me any details. even so much as a flea. “Because I can be anyone … in your imagination. then sagged back. Once a week I’ll meet Bug out on the highway. all right? But I’ll get by. He was already sitting. “So. He raised one hand. Taylor brought me some from the island. I already packed a few things. “Yeah. “I have a little sugar I could add. Could not get his body to respond.” “Hello to you. then brought in a large wooden salad bowl and a pitcher of water. “Worth it.” he said cautiously.” she snapped. She smashed the globe against the back of Caine’s head. “How generous of you. Caine did not follow her into the kitchen. Caine. She looked at the blood on her hand. we should maybe act like we’re fighting. He frowned. grimacing at the cup. I won’t hesitate. I’ve had a long couple of days. “It would have to be where people can overhear. “Kind of bitter. If I need something he brings it. And I know what happens if the food supply dries up. “Now…” He yawned.” She gestured to a backpack lying in one corner.” he said. but it doesn’t go both ways. “Talk later. In fact. King Caine. And sipped again at his cocoa. They each sipped. even though candles were rarer than diamonds in the FAYZ. It took all her self-control not to lash out at him. She wrapped a towel around the cut on her hand. I’ll throw you through the nearest wall. Make him scream and scream! She said.” he said. So spit it out. Taylor no doubt used Penny’s fantasymaking powers for something.” So Penny made a suggestion. Still: actual sugar? That’s worth a lot. right? So I need you to stay in charge. Penny. and I want to get this over with.” Caine stared at her.” She shrugged modestly. So very Caine: he would arrange to be dramatically lit.” he said. I’m not happy about it. to the little Sterno stove she used to heat the water and the cocoa. but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. “People like to get away. He blinked and stared at her.” Penny said. Fair enough. He tilted his head sideways and looked at her. He said you wanted to negotiate some terms.” “You have sugar?” She fetched it. King Caine. and breathed heavily. Penny.” Penny said. “Don’t worry.” “Okay. “Hey. Crazy.” Caine said. obviously trying to figure out what she was up to. because then it’s like Quinn won.” Penny said.” Penny said. long yawn. I’m not as pretty as Diana. Two sugar cubes.” “Do me a favor. “Let’s lay plans here. but you have to make sure I don’t starve.” he said. In the morning. “Did you…?” She didn’t bother answering. like I told Turk to tell you.“It’s the middle of the night. “Right now I have in mind some hot cocoa. I’m going to leave town. to cause his skin to burn and bubble. He was still sitting there with a puzzled look on his face when she handed him the cup. “The deal is I leave. “I’ll kill you. He had brought a candle.

.Then she dragged the heavy bag of cement from the closet.

Maybe she could just walk away.” Dekka jerked her thumb toward the land.” Astrid said.” “I’m going to Perdido Beach. pleasantly cloudy sleep that hovered right on the edge of consciousness. Tell him I won’t stop until I get it done.” “Anything else you want me to tell Sam?” Astrid knew what she was asking. But she had fallen asleep on one of the narrow. “Cut into the woods. which. “Listen to me. Hopefully this trip wouldn’t take too long. But she wrapped one arm around a chrome upright and the other arm uncomfortably around a cleat. smiling. cushioned bench seats in the stern of the sailboat.” That quieted Dekka’s struggles. She dressed in the shadows. No offense. Dekka.” “All right. five hours? She sighed. She had the letters.” Dekka was already straining against the rope and starting to spit the gag out of her mouth. The wood stock caught Dekka on the side of her face. like anyone else. And she was not happy about anything that might upset the delicate peace she’d achieved with her stomach. She would refill her water bottle from the lake. “Drake’s out there.NINETEEN 17 HOURS. A part of her was cruelly disappointed that she’d been able to get past Dekka. not the muscle. Caine needs us.” “Thanks. Roger had found some chalk somewhere and had kept the kids calm by drawing funny characters on the deck. If she’d been stopped. She was well within Dekka’s range. but she still had powerful memories of the days of morning sickness. You’re going to be the big hero and deliver Sam’s letter. “Sorry. Instead she said. Astrid cursed under her breath. she would have gotten some credit for making a brave effort. And I’m not necessary here. tucked a blanket up close to her chin.” Astrid said. T-shirt. Not enough to knock her out. drawn almost irresistibly back to him. was just as good. and later you can punch me back. “If you wake Sam up. toward the line of the woods. “Give me twenty minutes before you get Sam. She emerged on the dock side. They were asleep. think about it later.” she whispered. multiply patched jeans.” a voice said. Dekka. And the same coyotes that ate Howard for lunch. The whole plan rested on what she found when she went up on deck.” she said. huh?” Astrid nodded. But tell him also that this battle isn’t on him alone. yes. but enough to make her drop to her knees. Breeze cleared the woods pretty well. “Ah.” “Minus the ‘big hero’ snark. The houseboat was still moored at the dock—a symbolic defiance—but someone would be on watch. She found her old clothes. “Freeze. Dekka would cancel the gravity beneath her feet. She checked her backpack. He had decided his place was up on the front deck. If nothing happened. Dekka. Walk to Perdido Beach through the night or crawl back into bed with Sam and let him wrap his strong arms around her and entwine her legs with his and… “Now or never. .” Dekka had managed to spit out the gag. I’m in this. And she’d be back with Sam instead of walking. “Pick me up a pack of Ho Hos. She wondered if she would ever manage that kind of patience and playfulness. Dekka wasn’t struggling. She shoved Dekka facedown on the rough planks. Some food would be good. “Heading out for a snack run?” Dekka asked dryly. too. The other occupant of the boat was Orc. and it was hard to run while floating in the air. Good luck. Almost irresistibly. tense and fearful.” Astrid stood back. “I know this sucks. She stuffed an old sock in Dekka’s mouth. She had made it about six feet down the dock.” Astrid said. but Astrid had long since adjusted to extended periods of hunger. so this has to happen. She canceled gravity for a split second. Brianna was snoring. Diana hadn’t thought she’d be able to sleep out on a sailboat. Tell him you were knocked out. Astrid moved quickly to get behind Dekka and take advantage of her momentary weakness. where they couldn’t possibly fall out or be dropped. Without taking her eyes off Dekka’s she swung the butt of her shotgun up and sideways. but a sort of drifting. She folded them and stuck them into her front pocket.” “I’ve learned a few things. It almost made Astrid giggle to realize that she snored at normal speed. from Diana’s point of view. And hey: shoot first. Justin and Atria seemed to think it was all a sort of picnic. You’ll have a nice bruise to show him. She could yell now and all would be lost. “Okay: tell him I love him with all my heart. We need Caine. Boots. just enough to allow her to make the drop silently. Shotgun shells still there. stay away from the bluff. But it was one of those strange sleeps. Dekka stepped to the edge of the top deck and then off into space. she could make the walk to Perdido Beach in what. It wasn’t like there were waves.” Then with a sigh she said. Or at least they were quiet. Not complete unconsciousness. It was so hard to leave the warmth of his body. and sure enough she fell asleep. which meant Astrid had zero chance of getting away. “He knows I love him. but you’re the brains. On the boat were Roger and Justin and one of Justin’s friends. He was a magnet and she was an iron filing. For my money Drake’s in those caves and cracks in the bluff. 37 MINUTES SILENT AS A shadow Astrid crept from the bunk. Diana had watched Roger earlier with the two littles. blondie. the bow or whatever they called it. He’ll believe you. His weight lifted the stern so it was at an angle that threatened to spill her out of her seat.” She walked quickly away. She crept out into the hallway. The ones Mohamed had failed to deliver. a little girl with the interesting name of Atria. “Tell Sam I said I need to do this. “Yeah. Maybe whoever was on the top deck wouldn’t notice. and wrapped a length of rope around her wrists. honey. he’ll send Brianna after me.

” she said. It took too long. “But I ain’t ever killed anyone sober. She wasn’t even sure Orc could feel cold. Diana took a few steps closer. “Took care of me.. but she didn’t understand them or want to. But so am I. with both voices coming from her own subconscious. The words sounded tortured. Her body was all weird now. Baby was warm. moving swiftly toward shore. She knew it was a dream. right? Forgiving?” “If you do bad stuff and don’t repent. Diana cursed softly. squatted. It resonated up from her belly. so she said nothing. that book. made sure you stayed drunk. and sighed with relief. “Well. “I don’t want to start up drinking again. that would make sense.” That sounded stupid to her.” Orc said.” Orc said. “Sorry. She needed fresh air as an antidote to her overactive imagination. “Aren’t you cold out here?” Diana asked.. and this conversation was a fantasy. He sat with his back to her. “I’m sure he did.” “The book?” “It don’t say blessed are the weaselly little guys.. As if Orc had read her thoughts he said. that’s his job. .” Diana flashed on memories of her own.” Orc said. let alone the power to formulate words and thoughts and sentences.. Orc. Go back to sleep. Orc drunk could be dangerous. She had nothing to say and now she was regretting starting things with Orc.” she said. you know what? If Howard’s in hell. The boat rocked wildly. After all. But there was still something human in the slump of his massive gravel shoulders. right? So probably he forgave Howard. She had been shouting. I mean. “Then don’t.. She couldn’t have them looking at her. Things she’d done and now couldn’t bear to think about. We all do bad stuff..” Orc said. “Yeah.” Plus a thug and a murderer. She could feel the lift and fall of the boat when Orc moved. of course. One of the kids yelled a sleepy. “Hey!” Diana went back up on deck and saw that Orc was gone. Baby was in the dark. I guess. driven by superhumanly powerful thrusts of the oars.. Other kids were staring at her. It was a voice at once new and familiar. Diana wondered if Orc had been drinking. or when another drifting boat jostled theirs. wondering what she meant even as she spoke the words.” She turned to go. silly. a pleasant fantasy invented by her subconscious. you go to hell.” Yeah. She searched for something kind to say about that thief and drug dealer. “He liked me. lovable teddy bear. Diana’s hazy dream suddenly filled with storm clouds. then thudded hard to make it up.” Diana snapped. What are you? her dreaming mind asked.. She could see white eyes in the almost pitch-black. His head hung so low it was barely a bump. found the pot they were all sharing. Do you mean Caine? My father says I must come to him. Who? Who whispers to you? My father… Diana’s heart skipped beats. Then. His few remaining human characteristics were invisible from this angle.. “I worry because maybe he’s in hell. “He liked me..She could hear voices. Diana had felt the answer. He whispers to me. wearying of the conversation. No…” Diana pulled her ratty blanket around her and went up on deck. At this point the baby—even if it was a little advanced for its age—didn’t have a functioning brain. Orc didn’t answer. But when he spoke at last his words were clearly enunciated. How had she gotten herself into this? Really: had to pee.. “I’m sorry about Howard. But she kept that to herself. Me worse than most. But it didn’t matter. She saw Orc. But wasn’t that what people said? Anyway.” Oh. I asked you a question: do you mean Caine? “Do you mean Caine?” Diana was awake. No voice answered. “Not saying he wasn’t a bad person a lot of times. Had known the answer all along. The small rowboat that had been tied to one of the boat’s cleats was thirty yards away. this was a dream. Her jaw muscles clenched. and since she didn’t know the— He wants me.. “Do you mean Caine?” Diana whispered. under her breath. Used you. She felt clammy all over. “Orc. Diana thought. Drops of sweat stood on her forehead..” Diana said. “You’re a big. where exactly was a place worse than this? Howard had been choked to death and then had the flesh gnawed from his bones. And she had to pee. Stupid question. Well. “Do you mean Caine?” She was breathing hard. The smile was gone. “I looked in the book and didn’t find nothing. like he was begging for a refutation.. well. maybe like people say.” she whispered. “I had a dream.” Orc said. She smiled. he’s in a better place.” Diana had run out of time. Her skin was goose pimpled. A dream..” She couldn’t look at them. It was in this state that Diana heard the voice. Probably hormones were to blame. She raced down the stairs. God is supposed to be forgiving. Her cot was suddenly seeming attractive. Baby was safe. I guess we can all have a big get-together soon enough.... she added silently. I mean are you a boy or a girl? Diana felt confusion coming from the dreamed baby. Baby… No. “Howard was … unique.

Brought down. But that still left Drake plenty of possibilities. If he could just figure out how to get to her. His hands were wrist-deep in the bowl. King Caine. And now it was deepest night. It made the coyotes nervous. And Orc. All during the evening he had cowered up here as every half an hour or so a whirlwind blew past. She considered him. But she was in no hurry. he still had a very nice chest. Then two things happened: Orc climbed heavily down into a comically small rowboat. They feared Swift Girl. And then Drake had had some luck. he needed one more thing. He found a flat surface of rock and in the few seconds he had left he scrawled the word “sailbo —” . He was in a very uncomfortable position. He should have thought of that. But Drake knew perfectly well the houseboat had been left there as a lure for him. It was farther away. Drake would wait until the behemoth was clear and then he could take the boat out to collect Diana. all the way down. Helpless. The most powerful freak in Perdido Beach. rolled it out. so of course she would be on the boat with Orc. She fetched scissors from the kitchen. The cement had dried pretty quickly. so very clever. Nothing that would harm the baby. And past Brianna. one of just two four bars. The coyotes would turn their ears toward the sound and lie perfectly still. The idea she had in mind made her laugh with delight. After all he had been through. Even by dim starlight he knew her. But before she could show him off.. He felt a sudden flash of rage. He would barely be able to stand up. she was not soft or weak. He snapped his whip in frustration. She found it. and the angle was bad for seeing anything other than the top deck.. Penny wasn’t sure how long it would take him to wake up. Brianna. There was no way even to know where she was. The muscles stood out in his flat stomach. But that whip had already shriveled to a third of its usual length. Each time Drake would sink back against the rocks. wrapped in a shawl or something. Say what he might about Diana. Now she was gone. He unwrapped it from encircling his waist. really. It was a testament to Drake’s power. Diana herself. Drake quickly bit his index finger. Perfect! Let Orc bring the boat in. He hadn’t seemed so clever when Drake had whipped the flesh from him and Sam had cried out in pain and tears had streamed from his eyes. He glanced at the big houseboat. He sat slumped forward on the couch. He wouldn’t be clawing at his eyes. No hurry at all. But Brianna had not seen them. No one else moved like Diana. Drake had watched everything from the high ground out past Sinder’s garden. There was a roll of aluminum foil in the kitchen. He shifted a little and moaned something as she cut the shirt apart and removed it. Not now. oh. But unfortunately it made it very hard to get to Diana. She sat watching him. unattractive little Penny. Much better. drawing blood. They wanted him to be stupid enough to attack. The one with Orc sitting in the bow. moving all his vulnerable people out onto the boats. had stepped into view on one of the boats. He wanted to feel the power in it as he gazed down at her. Sam. Of course. Sam would make sure she had a strong protector. A much more vulnerable look. at least. It made him happy to see that Sam and all his little charges were cowering in boats.” A low growl of pleasure came from Drake’s lips. the only thing still attached to the dock.Caine was still asleep.. She could be on any of dozens of boats. The big-deal four bar. Dekka had been on watch there. by bony. Not with five gallons—the content of the bowl—of cement on his hands. She would be brave at first. The only problem was the second thing that was happening: Drake was feeling the queasy sensation he got when Brittney emerged. The sight of her made his whip twitch. But the whip would change her attitude. and set to work by candlelight. and Swift Girl wasn’t so swift in the dark.

blissfully unaware. or Drake caught them. Edilio wasn’t finished. “No. I’ll bring her back. unwelcome: a picture of kids in absolute darkness walking lost in the desert. and we need to work together with them.” “I don’t live my life so everyone pays attention to me. jabbing his finger furiously toward the land. “I know what I do. “And you can’t send the girl I love to die in order to rescue the girl you love. The only one keeping his personal business personal is me. He started to push past her to where Brianna lay snoring. “She took the letters. but raw emotion was making him weak. Or Breeze hits a rock at seventy miles an hour and ends up dead or busted up. you don’t have anyone you need or love or care about.” Dekka said. You gotta look strong and stay strong. Everything Edilio had said was true. She pointed at the bruise on the side of her head and turned her face so he could see it by the light of the small Sammy sun. Maybe Caine and Albert knew what was coming. Suddenly Sam found his anger. and you are the big badass. turned. you’re making a spectacle of yourselves. But maybe not. “There’s a lot you don’t know. that’s it. Edilio. and Dekka snapping at everyone because Brianna isn’t a lesbian and doesn’t want to be her girlfriend. “I’m sending Brianna after her. “Drake is sick. so he pointed. If the kids in town weren’t prepared they would panic and then they would all be lost. He hates Astrid. So I don’t make this about me. I know who I am. He was sure he saw a guilty look cross her face before being suppressed. You don’t know what he can do. She was startled to see him up. He felt awash in feelings. But it was too late. And Astrid will hate you for it. Sam.” “I can see that. but I’m the guy doing the day-in. . He was heading for the stairs when he stopped. unbidden. And you’re going to get nasty about it?” He turned away and angrily shouldered Dekka aside. Sam. 20 MINUTES SAM WOKE SUDDENLY and knew something had happened. There’s a lot I don’t tell you. He pushed his way around Dekka and stood face-to-face with Sam. Moonlight picked Orc out of a pile of jumbled rock. so close they almost touched.” Dekka said. Astrid. Dekka.” “No. You have the light. At that moment Dekka came down the stairs. and saw confirmation: Astrid’s backpack was gone. He swallowed hard and shook his head once. Instead his voice broke. “Kids wake up tomorrow morning and see you gone without even an explanation.” Sam blinked.” Edilio said. He stepped out from behind Dekka.” “Astrid’s right: we need PB to know what’s happening. He pulled on his clothing and stepped out into the main hallway. none of which made any sense together. Knocked you out. or a coyote. sounds. day-out work of running things. and without people having to wonder what’s going on with me. to you and Dekka and me—and Astrid now that she’s back—and what do they see? You and Astrid rocking the houseboat every time you get a chance. Dekka. boss.” “She popped me with the butt of her shotgun. “She’s doing the right thing. and what I am to this place.” He regretted the words as soon as he spoke them. Most would die an excruciating death of hunger and thirst. This was the more important mission. and she knew that he knew.” Sam pleaded. but he knew it was the truth. Her shotgun was gone as well. and that’s all that will keep people together.” “You don’t understand. And those would be the luckier ones.” “Not Astrid. man. Edilio’s usually warm. An image came to mind. Dekka stepped in front of him.” Sam snapped. Then he got quickly to his feet.” Sam said flatly. It was as if he’d held way too much inside and now that the dam had burst it was going to come out. angrily shaking off the upwelling fear and loss. All these people look to us. Brianna continued to snore. He stabbed his finger in Sam’s face.” “Drake hates everyone. “She knocked me out. I also know what it takes to beat you down. you don’t have anyone. He pushed back a sliding closet door. because we got problems enough.TWENTY 17 HOURS. In the tornado of fear and fury he felt shame.” He practically spit the word “me.” She flared angrily. “You don’t understand a damned thing. Sam. She wondered if she needed to send word. it’s just you. sad eyes narrowed and went cold. and you may be the one everyone turns to when something goes bad. I know what I am to you.” It was Edilio. Sam’s lips curled into a feral snarl. “You two get it together. hazy notions of murmured conversation. Movements.” Sam felt his lip quiver.” Edilio said. that’s not my business. You may be the symbol.” Sam started to say something angry. and stomped away. He lay amid the twisted blanket for a few seconds trying to gather together the threads of unconscious perception. “You and Astrid. Kids are scared to death and what they’re seeing is you and Astrid having a great time. Someone needs to take that letter to Albert and Caine. Astrid wondered if Sam knew that Orc had gone ashore. “I’ll go after her. They would walk until a hungry zeke. I do my job without making me the story. “Right.” “If you send Brianna after her. but you’re putting your personal life first and you can’t do that: you are Sam Temple. She had to get to Perdido Beach. one of two things: Breeze finds her and drags her back. He wanted to be furious. and how much you depend on me. “Drake’s out there!” He tried to say more but the words couldn’t get past the lump in his throat. I’m not judging what you’re doing. “You don’t tell me no. No.” Sam stepped up to her.” he said with a ferocity to match Sam’s own anger.

Mostly.” Pack Leader couldn’t point. then she would endure. that unknowable evil. Cowards.” Brittney gritted her teeth. And only three pups. Astrid began to jog. “Are you dogs?” Brittney taunted. But still. Well. “Bright Hand is there. “Rock That Lives is close. He was meticulously scanning the ground. Yes. it was dark. Neither did he agree. But even now. She did not understand why he wanted her. But what? Most likely it was linked to the gaiaphage.” Brittney said. She should have made her case to Sam and tried to get him to agree. but there was something disturbing in the way Orc was searching. She loped along. Brittney knew what she was to do. . lumbering past. It had painted trim—possibly green. But she would outrun them or outthink them or if necessary outfight them. Pack Leader does not see Whip Hand. The stain had a reason if not a purpose. afraid of a massive stone hand reaching down from above. She didn’t have to ask. so it seemed. In the last four months she had become quite comfortable with rough terrain. Calm. or wanted Drake. he might know something.” Pack Leader’s tail flicked. Lana didn’t like to talk about it. Not to manipulate or convince. She needed to think. and the coyotes would show Brittney another hiding place if need be. It meant something. methodical way that was like nothing she’d ever seen from her former jailer. You’ll wait on shore to fight off anyone who comes along. Brittney froze.” “No. A pang of guilt stabbed her without warning. Methodical. Her hand brushed against a smooth rock face and she felt something wet. He was searching for someone or something. shoving boulders aside. but he could aim his eyes. “Whip Hand made blood. that was stupid. Orc would not find them anytime soon. “Pack hide from Swift Girl and Rock That Lives. The Darkness commands.Astrid steered clear of Orc. She didn’t need Drake’s memories to know that was where Sam would be. She stayed under the cover of rocks when she could and hunched down low when she had no choice but to cover open ground. a starlit beast. they didn’t know her. “Do you—” No. bobbing gently at the end of ropes or in some cases seemingly just drifting randomly. as far from her old life as it was possible to get.” Pack Leader said. She scanned the boats at anchor. careful to watch the path beneath her feet. She heard the monster moving rocks. She inched forward. nothing she could do to hide as she crossed the pebbly shore to the rowboat. Almost as big a surprise as the fact that when she peered out she saw Orc looming huge no more than fifty feet away from the opening. Dangerous. Orc was powerful. The coyotes would be no use against Orc. evil forces were on the loose. She might not feel pain like she once had. which could only be a good thing from her point of view. was it? Surely something was causing the barrier to darken. impossible to tell for sure. He couldn’t kill her. She crouched and looked hard at the houseboat. But to act. She was doing the right thing. But if she could only barely see them it stood to reason they could see her only if they were staring in her direction.” Pack Leader did not argue. “Rock that lives came from there. searching as he went in a steady.” Pack Leader said placidly. Does not see Darkness. But Pack Leader was unmoved. The last fifty yards there was no cover. He could rip her into pieces. The coyotes were already as quiet and still as statues.” “Swift Girl kills many coyotes. Orc moved on. But she reasoned that anyone looking for her would first check the main roads.” “You’ll have to take your chances. Listened. but Caine had broken free. She wasn’t sure if that was the smart thing to do or very stupid. But the gaiaphage had not given her the power to keep Drake’s memories as her own. until she was standing outside of the cave.” Brittney told Pack Leader. He would never have agreed. And she listened carefully for Orc. I’ll go alone. “Fine.” Brittney said. If she couldn’t do any of those. It had co-opted Caine at one point. She tried to think of something other than the image her mind had conjured of slow death by starvation in absolute darkness. Pack Leader did not read. As soon as she was well away from the lake she planned to stay just off the gravel road. “I’ll take Orc’s—Rock That Lives—boat. Then wait here. In this case she recognized the crack in the bluff and knew she was hiding from Brianna. The coyotes were calculating the odds and not liking what they saw. And with a bit more luck she would be back with Sam by tomorrow night. She shouldn’t have just run off on her own. But now it was night and that was a surprise. but she was sure that was his purpose. She stood perfectly still. or so the story went. “Pack almost gone. he would whip the fur off you!” “Whip Hand is not here. For once she was deciding to act. The FAYZ’s own personal Satan. Each time she emerged it was into a situation that might be totally unexpected. but the sound was not close at hand. Yes. But no one would expect her—of all people—to go overland through rough terrain. or Drake. “It’s too dark to see. Inch by inch. She saw no one on the top deck. The moon shone down on the forlorn rowboat.” He pointed his muzzle at the houseboat.” “If Drake was here. That didn’t mean eyes weren’t watching from the houseboat’s windows. A sailboat caught her eye. “We must go. Orc was slowly laboring up the hill. So that was it. silent. With luck she would reach Perdido Beach by morning. The god that named itself gaiaphage had told her what she and Drake were to do. Little Pete had been in contact with it. glorying in the sense of power from overcoming fear. The chimera that called itself Nerezza had been its creature. cautiously down toward the shore. It had trim that was very much like that on the rowboat. But she would feel something. manipulated by it. It would take her longer this way. intelligent eyes stared at her. Through the gap in the rock Brittney could see what might be a small rowboat. Brittney felt sick with dread at what Orc could do. Darkness wasn’t the end state. And Brittney would be helpless. “We cannot hide any longer. stomping through bushes.” Pack Leader’s soulless. She kept a sharp eye on the houseboat. It had to be Drake. Those massive gravel hands could tear her apart as easily as she might tear a piece of bread. Brittney began to pick her way quietly. No one knew much about it.

fixing the direction in her mind. but the cold did not bother her. She knew how to swim. She was not very buoyant. She gripped the rope and began to pull herself upward. She would fail the gaiaphage. She swam underwater. Maybe that was just for her old God. which made holding to a straight line very hard. to her mouth and nose. moving swiftly in a way that she could not. She could tell that it was cold. and the splashing would draw every ear in the small fleet. Maybe Drake could have done it. She would fail Drake. Then: a flash of genius. But she had no idea how to row a boat and was likely to make noise. she would be caught. And then it closed over her head. How many steps should she take? How far out was the sailboat? It had seemed like perhaps two hundred steps. but she had lost count after stumbling and losing some of the rocks that held her down. Freezing water filled her lungs. and that she was serving her master well. The water rose over her waist. It took a very long time. She breathed. She tied off the bottom of her shirt. as tight as she could make it. She was almost completely sightless in the water. The only light was from the moon. it would be even worse. The rocks controlled her buoyancy. over her chest. She walked directly toward it. Her feet came up off the stony lake bottom and she floated upward. What did bother her was the certainty that she was off course. no bubbles issuing from her mouth. If she tried to swim. Brittney began picking up small rocks and stuffing them in her pockets.Once the boat started moving… She rushed to the rowboat and crouched in its shadow. but she knew only the crawl. As the water rose around her she kept her gaze on the sailboat. she walked into the water. Brittney almost laughed out loud. All the while she looked around and saw nothing until she was near the surface. No choice now but to surface. careful not to yank on that line. but she did not need to breathe. If she tried to move the boat. silent. . Brittney wasn’t sure whether it was proper to say a prayer of thanks to the gaiaphage. eyes on the houseboat. The twisted wires of her braces glinted with moonlight. using her arms to hold them all in like a pregnant woman’s belly. Brittney focused all her energy on walking in a straight line. A boat—a boat with a tall mast and what might be green trim— was directly above her. then dropped more rocks down the front of her shirt. But she smiled in the renewed belief that she had purpose. She came up face-first. and it seemed to reach only a few feet into the lake. Then she saw a rope slanting down into the darkness below. but still she tended to float just a little. Then Sam and his people would hear and they would catch her and Sam would burn her to ashes. She opened the bottom of her shirt and let the rocks fall free. Weighed down.

” Astrid muttered. He reached to touch it. and although she was sure she was paralleling it. flat black of the stain.” she said aloud. bending him over into an upside-down U. terrible dread filled him. . He saw one then. As much as she hated to admit it. he could carry it. The sky no longer stretched from horizon to horizon. But his hands would not move. That thought sent a thrill of fear through her stomach.” So she found a patch of ground with some tall grass and sat down carefully.” she said. Had to not panic. But the road was not there. It felt like cuts. “I’ll settle for one last day of sunlight. “Do you like it?” Penny asked. nothing compared to the awful pain in his head. no. Or if it was there it was much farther off than she had imagined. so that it slammed onto the floor. He cried out. Looking up. twisted maggot. Sick. The FAYZ had neither. His head was pounding. The moon had set and the stars provided far too little light to see by. A headache so painful he thought he might pass out from the sudden onslaught of pain. he knew he was trapped. “Bad start. He fought to control it but he couldn’t. but the cement block weighed him down so that he stumbled forward and banged his knee against the sharp edge of the concrete.” she said. but yes. “Stupid. It banged against his thighs. Had to figure out… He was at Penny’s house. With all his strength he lifted the cement block. No. She stopped just inches from his bowed head. tried to free his hands. His head. He whimpered like a scared child. powerless. he could lift it.TWENTY-ONE 15 HOURS. His hands were in the block to the wrists. This quasi-desert was not her familiar woods. darkest blue just beginning to lighten on the eastern edge and push the stars away. but they were absolutely held fast by the concrete. walking toward him. And the funny thing about a road was that from a distance you couldn’t actually see it at night unless you were seeing streetlights or car lights. The streams of dried blood that had run from the crown she’d made of aluminum foil and then stapled to his head. just for the reassurance of hearing her own voice. Then he felt something else. wander until thirst and hunger killed her. He was staring at her feet. The sky was the circle at the top of a well. If dawn came. He looked up as well as he could and there she was. the only wise movement now was to stand still and wait for dawn. He set it down but missed the table. all around his head. shaped like a bowl. So she had gone slower and slower. she seemed now to be in much less austere countryside than that which the road passed through. Lost in the wilderness. he knew the cement could not just be broken off. Had to get a grip.” “Funny you should mention maggots. He had done this to people. Not the black of night with stars and the Milky Way and distant galaxies. Penny. She held an oval mirror down so that he could look at it and see his face. And before the day was done the sky would be altogether gone. He saw the gray cement block. he knew what it did. you sick. Pain in his knee. Caine woke. but the absolute blank. And they still couldn’t find their way out of the Sinai. which itched and squeezed his skin. Fear struck. Only it wasn’t coming from the cement. She’d managed to lose herself in just a couple of hours. “If … when … the sun comes up I’ll be able to locate the ridges and hills and maybe even see a bit of ocean. “Your Highness. And when she woke at last she knew that her one wish was not to be granted.” “I’ll kill you. 12 MINUTES ASTRID’S PLAN WOULD have been brilliant. A maggot. So the gravel road disappeared from view. it was coming from the skin of his wrist.” At some point sleep carried her off to unsettling dreams. People assumed it was thirst. he had ordered this done and he knew the results. but nothing next to the panic. Caine’s eyes opened. Itchy and sharp at once. Even by starlight she was helpless. But she’d read in a book somewhere that hunger— “Not helpful. She wondered which would do it first. no!” He tried to pull back. Except that in distancing herself from the road for safety she managed to get lost. So much for the newly competent Astrid. It was squirming up out of the concrete block. Powerless! He jumped to his feet. Or more accurately.” she admitted. The sky was a hole in the top of an upended bowl. “Can’t be a king without a crown. And then she had tried to turn a sharp right angle to intersect the road. But not far. “No. It rested on the coffee table. Beneath that midnight blue was black. she could make out a circle of deepest. no. How long had Moses and the Hebrews managed to stay lost on the Sinai Peninsula before stumbling into the land they were to reconquer? Forty years? “A pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. Panic.” she told herself. Just one. In total darkness she could wander forever.

it was one of her illusions. troubled look. so do me a favor and just clean up your room. King Caine. but .” Caine said. “Of course.” The maggots were gone. God. enough to avoid walking into them.” Caine snapped. Fear. Like they were pictures in an aged magazine. Sky blue. no. They would burrow into his flesh and— No! No! Don’t believe it! It wasn’t real. Funny-looking. The little boy was there. This was one of Penny’s visions. Bradley. but hundreds. okay? Don’t make me have to yell at you. no. Bushes beside the road were a thousand crooked fingers twisting together like the hands of a cartoon miser. hundreds of them eating into his hands. In his world. He could make out their edges. It’s morning. But the memory persisted. Dekka—all standing on the White Houseboat looking at the place where the rising sun should be. “I am fear!” Diana stood on the deck of the sailboat. But could feel. it was coming from him.” “I’m not going anywhere. no. But as she gazed in growing horror at that dark sky all Diana could think was. Oh. as if she suspected him of some trick. The red dust. Cigar wandered. cackling like a mad creature. Nothing looked like it should look. twirling. The little boy was really not so little. And even though he knew absolutely that they were not real. Or in front. “Get going. It was somewhere no eye could turn to. The feeling of them digging into him was gone. it was fear. no. not really knowing where he was. There were tears in his eyes. I’m doing it! Jeez! I said I’d do it! Ahead of him someone who looked like a fox. just not quite where his eyes could see. That was her thought. My baby. Maybe he was vast. Edilio. His Wii. Oh. in the space just to the side.” he said. Cigar followed the fox. Let’s let everyone see your crown. curbs. The controller was in the messed-up covers of his bed. “Now we’re going on a walk. He turned to see it but it wasn’t behind him. Then Cigar felt its presence. the sense memory was powerful. One hand was on her belly. and ooh. Maybe he could reach down with one giant finger and twist Cigar inside out. The red dust began to pulse. My baby. twisty worms.” Penny said. In the space of minutes he had gone from king—the most powerful person in Perdido Beach—to slave. She’d put maggots in with his hands! A second one was coming out now. pale hand waving good-bye. though. A palm tree became a narrow. Cigar followed the crowd that was heading toward the plaza. He could see things in his memory that were so different: people who looked flat and twodimensional. no. No bigger than a grain of rice. “No.” She laughed. Penny. The sky high overhead was actually beginning to turn blue now. My baby. It was like a parade of angels and prancing devils and dogs walking erect. Red dust floated up from them.” She threw him a haunted. too. “What?” “Don’t be shy. I have a clock. and when he looked close it wasn’t particles of dust. My baby. His resistance crumbled. this wasn’t real. Penny opened it and her step faltered. His stuff. But it was small and white. like a heart. and look. We have to get going. it was hundreds and thousands of tiny. skipping. Lana stood on her balcony. Your Highness. running. thickening as more of the kids came together. I am fear!” She liked it so much she repeated it. street signs. She didn’t understand why it filled her mind and simply shoved aside every other thought. mad assembly. More people. Let’s show off that washboard stomach of yours. Or on either side. She didn’t even know what it meant. The cement was real. The little boy. But living things were twisty phantasms of light. Was any of it real? How was he to know? Cigar had memories of days when he was Bradley. The dome was like an eyeball seen from the inside: where it should be white was opaque black. She was making him see this. A seagull floated overhead looking like a small. suddenly delighted.He stared at it. And it writhed. in that sliver of reality that was not where you could see. Have you cleaned your room yet? His room. But maybe the little boy was as suspect as everything else Cigar saw. Places that were so brightly lit the colors were all washed out. Impossible to dismiss. things—houses. With a desperate heave he lifted the block and staggered toward the door. not one or two. Eating its way through his skin. But then something dropped onto his left eyelash. looking back with sharp fox eyes and then running away. “I don’t have fear. “It’s still night. moving away. Bradley. He couldn’t bring it into focus. There was just enough light to see the black stain that had painted most of the sky black. Moving faster than him. no. Wow. nothing else. That brought the hard look back to her face. silent tornado funnel. but he could feel them now. I’m not afraid of anything. “You look scared. I don’t want to have that kind of day. But the red dust flowed over the heads and sank down into the mouths and ears and eyes of all the prancing. even a walking fish with gossamer fins. “Stop it! Stop it!” he cried. Penny shook her head slowly. oh. rubbing it absentmindedly. She saw the leaders—Sam. coming out of… No. like a slow strobe. Cigar felt fear squeeze his heart. abandoned cars—were merest shadows. My baby.

Crowds were dangerous. My baby. “Afraid. It had beaten her. Within hours everything he had built would be gone. realized who they had bumped into. and some encouraging words. And time was short. Taking a shaky breath she lowered the wall of resistance she had built around herself. Be afraid. The king will handle it. and then spread violence and destruction. The market would never open. Fear. It had overpowered her by sheer force of will. uninvited. She had had the chance to destroy it. It was the end. It filled her with rage. Made her a part of it. Leslie-Ann. “What’s going to happen. a girl’s voice—whispered. And every evil thing that later had flowed from that monstrous entity was on her shoulders. What is it you want so terribly.with a blue iris up above. Just the four of them would take the boat to the island. He could feel their desperation. Albert?” “What does this mean?” “What are we supposed to do?” Be afraid. too. They snapped open now. She closed her eyes and could almost see the green tendril reaching to touch her mind and invade her soul. with his trademark cool arrogance. It needed something. And she was cute. and one of them said. . the need of the gaiaphage. willing herself to do what she had refused to do before: to try to reach back across the void and touch the gaiaphage. He could feel the fear. he’d get that girl they called Pug: she was very strong and too dumb to make trouble. Kids brushed past him. There was a crowd around him now. “What?” “What did he say?” He stared at the kids. Behind him he heard a couple of uncertain cheers. I will. Any one of them might turn on him. Now again. Albert watched the crowd of kids all pushing into the plaza. out of the water. So be afraid and then panic. It was mockery. His maid. because there’s nothing left to do now. And to blow anyone else who arrived. He raised a disapproving eyebrow. That would be enough to keep watch and man the missiles he’d arranged to smuggle onto the island. because she could handle a gun but wasn’t ambitious. Albert thought. because she had saved his life. Idiots. Needed it desperately. It had used her. The bringer of fear was afraid. She was convinced of it. “And if he doesn’t. He felt sick inside. he added. Lana’s eyes had closed. as had happened from time to time recently. she felt the hunger. No crops would be picked. you monster? What is it you need? Tell me so I can kill it and you at the same time. But she felt something else. “You can start by not freaking out. A chill went down her spine. A fake light in a fake sky as darkness closed in to shut off the last of the light. He had to keep them calm long enough to make his own escape. that she was not scared. He could see it too clearly.” Then. The Darkness. Made her point a gun at a friend and pull the trigger. Her hand strayed to the pistol in her belt.” He turned and walked away. are you?” she whispered. No. She had crawled to it on hands and knees. She wanted to tell it that she was not beaten yet. One of his security guys? No. They’d bought it for now. Made its words come from her mouth. As he walked he went over a list in his head. stopped. And Alicia. A voice—Lana could have sworn it was a real voice.” he whispered. Lana squeezed her eyes tight again. “But you always knew it would come to a bad end. And she wanted it to hear her.

in the very place where he had often addressed crowds as king. But another part of Caine’s mind was yammering that there was no way to escape the concrete. Which left breaking the concrete chip by chip with a sledgehammer. the stunned and traumatized audience didn’t know how to respond.” She sounded unsure what to do next. “Yeah. They were the narrow shadows of high noon. It was a while longer before the first person noticed Penny and Caine. “Dance. Shakes of the head. shaking with fatigue. She was waving her awkward arms at the kids. but from time to time the tiny wounds would start bleeding again. then turn to see him dragging his cement block. the illusion. all walking toward the plaza. And now Little Pete was dead and gone. The dogs fell back. “What’s happening to the sky?” Penny demanded. “I said. dance.” And instantly a pair of rabid dogs.” Penny taunted. “Drop dead. don’t you like it?” Penny screeched. Lana might be able to help. jumpy sound kids got when they were scared. jumping up and down. and stupid not to realize the little autistic creep was the real power. Their eyes would widen. infinitely painful and humiliating walk/crawl to the plaza. Caine hadn’t known at the time that it was Little Pete’s doing. Caine opened his eyes and saw that the crowd had grown. The dome was black. After a while someone pushed his head back and he felt a jar touch his lips. “I need water. Like a dull flashlight.” Caine rasped. As the flames crisped the flesh on his legs Caine kicked and jerked madly in a bizarre parody of dancing. He had one hope: Albert. That kid’s cries turned every eye toward Caine. their teeth glowing pink from behind mouths full of rabid foam. The pain was instant and unbearable. She glared at the nearest kids. Caine searched the crowd through bleary eyes. their necks bearing massive iron collars. Albert had armed guards. but first would come the pain. Their faces wore expressions of horror and fear. His mouth and throat were parched. He blinked the blood out of his eyes and painfully twisted his neck back to see. He knew: he had inflicted this on freaks early on. up the first step. Albert would not let this stand. “Keep moving.TWENTY-TWO 14 HOURS. The sky was a blue hole in a black sphere. A couple of the kids nodded or muttered. any light at all. attacked him from behind. If there was any pleasure there it was very well concealed. dance. He had been deaf. He would gather his strength sometimes and heft the stone and walk painfully forward. Caine knew. Right now this crowd was scared. It was a long. He was probably figuring out right now how to save Caine. KING Caine. He could feel their teeth sinking into his buttocks.” Penny said. gulping it down. As soon as Albert dealt with Penny. 44 MINUTES “COME ALONG. slow. He watched the backs of heads as they craned to look up at the sky. How about that?” Again. Caine began to notice kids in the street.” she snarled at Caine. “Dance!” Penny roared in a voice that disappeared into a squeak. And the only reason any of them had been able to escape was that Little Pete had intervened. He didn’t know what to expect. like they thought the sky might fall on them. Outrage? Joy? What he got was silence. “I know!” Penny said. And then the blood would run into his right eye and all he would see was red until he could blink it away. “Here’s your king!” Penny cried in a gloating voice. he told himself. bent over. But it was too real. . And for a long time he thought it must still be night. as if he was looking at an old photograph. The pain would be unbearable. And now. then. the illusion. “Get up the stairs. but dim. It would break every bone in his hands. dance!” And suddenly the limestone beneath Caine’s feet burst into flames. And it had edged forward. finally noticing something beyond herself. “See? See the crown I gave him? Do you like it?” No one answered. Kids would be talking.” Penny said. Her fantasy hadn’t gone any further than this. no. Deep-down scared. he collapsed. The pain—no. He fell onto his imprisoned hands. Her temporary victory. she was trying to figure out how to enjoy her victory. Caine noticed Penny craning her neck and staring up at the sky. checking to see if there was still any light. Eyes went skyward again and again. “Dance. He had made enemies during his four months in charge.” “Okay. But what was happening now obliterated all of that. They were in the plaza now and Penny shoved Caine in the direction of town hall. Shadows were eerie. Backing away quickly. “Okay. People were walking hunched over. and the words would die in their mouths. But he couldn’t hold it for long. Caine dragged his burden up one step after the next. He drank the water. At the top. The street was dark. but snarled and foamed and barked so loud he felt he might go deaf. Their voices had that giddy. blind. “Answer me or I’ll make you wish you were dead!” Shrugs. choking but not caring. Light seemed to be shining down faintly from above. “Let’s see if King Caine can dance. but with an eerie quality that wasn’t like moonlight. Caine dragged the stone between his legs. dumb. dance!” Penny cried. The blood from the staples in his head had dried. urging them to chant along with her. He was exhausted beyond belief. it was impossible not to believe it as the dogs ripped at him and he cried out in agony and rage and dragged his burden away. The air itself seemed to have taken on a sepia color.

“I’m a businessman. “Hey. Quinn. um. Whatever happened. good for you. But in the dark this time. His own son or daughter. he thought. The Boston Whaler. Albert had half a dozen guys who would shoot Penny if he ordered it. She was in a very excited state. We have room for one more. They didn’t like this. “Where are you going. I’m important. What they were getting instead was a shrieking girl who had disabled the most powerful person in town precisely when they desperately needed someone to do something about the fact that the light was dying. They had fished for what they could get in the early hours. “Caine’s a leader. For that matter Albert could say something as simple as. attack her now. All that would be left of him when Penny was finished. Quinn thought: Albert speechless. It made his heart want to break. you’re a leader. “Not really your concern. This was madness. Do I?” No response. “I want him here so I can tell him how it is now. you know… But I’m thinking it’s better if we stick together anyway. Unless something changed no one would be seeing anything.” Albert waved an impatient hand and glanced over to see that the Boston Whaler was ready. or the loyalty they owed. you coward!” Nothing. But she had not expected to be completely overshadowed by this terrible darkness. And now all her rage. “You’re running out. He started toward town. Quinn saw the fear there. He had awakened very early in his camp up the coast—his biological clock ran on fisherman time—and seen that the stain would eat the sun. What’s coming next is craziness. all her jealousy. He had to locate Cigar. you can come with us. “Everyone who wants a job tomorrow. Caine panted. Then a voice from the back. If that helps. He’d known all along that she was a psycho. You’re a good guy. We’re going to need that.” “Albert. and I am the boss in charge. aren’t you. For the first time. Quinn: in my absence you speak for me. he was still crew. How rare. “Let him go. And how Albert would be able to see a white flag if he did.” His eyes glinted when he said that last word. “Go ahead and get in the boat. “Guys. Madness. “And I don’t have to tell any of you what I can do. We need him!” Caine didn’t recognize the voice. The strike was over whether they wanted it or not: their world was dying. Where was Albert? Quinn led his boats into the marina. bring me Albert!” she screamed.” Where was he? The top third of the dome was brightening. She had expected … something. But this wasn’t as simple as Drake’s evil ruthlessness. “It’s been good doing business with you. “Albert! Albert! Come out. But now the crowd was moving from fearful to mad. It’s about making a profit and surviving. She slumped a little and looked at him. Some of the last gasoline in Perdido Beach sent the boat chugging out of the marina.” Albert said finally. waiting for the next assault. “Now I am the queen. Quinn. Sam’s a leader. “I said. They were scared and they had come seeking reassurance. Yes. but what’s coming next isn’t about business. But it had no effect. We may never fish together again.” “And my crews?” “Limited resources. Caine thought dully. I’ve already come too close to being dead once. “Why aren’t you fishing?” Albert asked. She was insane. Albert?” Albert said nothing. his thoughts went to the baby inside Diana. Me?” Albert considered it for a second and shook the idea off. Albert?” Albert didn’t seem bothered. Caine knew she was insane.” No answer. I always knew it would end in madness or death. Madness. He was a powerless toy in the hands of a lunatic with the power to make him as crazy as she was herself. Last time. He knew that screech. If you want. Pug started the engine and Leslie-Ann cast off the ropes.” Penny announced. and they had bigger problems than the injustice done. Quinn. Their eyes met and he burned hatred at her. And. that one. He was looking at eyes that were no longer partaking of reality. Yes. then stopped and waited as his fishermen gathered around him. The three girls each had a backpack. but the cold. You’re an organizer. slowly advancing. Neither.” Quinn laughed a little. you stupid witch!” Caine appreciated that.” Albert climbed down into the Boston Whaler. But that only made it easier to see the tendrils of stain. “You’re a piece of work. Caine could hear Penny panting. Mostly she didn’t know what to do next. did Penny. “All that happens if I stay. “Who said that?” Silence.” Albert sighed. Quinn wasn’t buying that act. That thought made him think of Cigar. and one shrill voice screeching. “Where is Albert?” Penny demanded petulantly. apparently.” . though. He had helped to drive her mad.” Turning back to Quinn he said. Cigar and his creepy little BB eyes. maybe. To his three companions he said. Albert carried the big ledger book he used to keep track of his businesses. It would be a world of universal blindness. We’re going back to the days of starvation. all the hate that Caine had used for his own purposes was being turned against him.” Albert continued. The FAYZ. But now Penny seemed to be out of steam. but psychos could be useful.The flames stopped. voices yelling. It so happens that I’ve kept everyone alive for months. He heard a surge of sound from the plaza. “Don’t come to the island without showing a white flag. that would terrify the eternally rational businessman. It might have gone either way for Penny at that moment. So I guess I’m sorry if you don’t like me. “Let him go. But the heart was gone from them. Cautious silence. to Cigar. Craziness. “No. don’t know what’s happening. Albert and three girls were coming down the dock toward him. “is that someone decides to kill me. Quinn!” Albert shouted back. I don’t want to blow you up!” Quinn wondered how he would ever reach the island. The crowd was nervous and unsure. Tell you what. calculating part of his mind was wondering just where Albert was. I … I. but I’m not a leader. like a circle of teeth.

shouts.” “You can’t…” Penny said. As if someone had said something cruel to her. There were about to be more injured kids. There were injured kids. She put her head down and started to laugh. She laughed in rueful surprise. I’ve always regretted it. “For now. barefoot lunatic and a handsome boy with a crown stapled to his scalp and his hands trapped in a block of concrete. Lana could see kids falling back. armed with spiked baseball bats. Quinn. Penny raised her hands over her head and screamed obscenities. She’d found a scene out of some deranged horror novel. and axes. Mess with him. “Me?” he said. but she tore herself away to advance on Quinn. stood facing a prancing. very clearly: a head resting atop the sights of her pistol. Lana’s arm burst into flame. He walked toward the sounds of fear and anger with all his people behind him.” . He has to reach Sam. “I don’t think Caine is in any condition. “Yeah. chains. Make sure Penny leaves town.” Lana said. Penny had attacked! “Kill the witch!” a voice bellowed. Kill her if you want to. She made her hands into claws and pawed at the air. but it must have been awful.As an inspirational rallying speech. “You!” Quinn cried out in agony. “Good. Then she raised her voice to be heard.” They were chanting for Caine. Quinn quietly motioned three of his people to follow her.” Lana said calmly. She moved quickly. Not with hatred. Penny did not. I think I figured that out about you. “Let him go. Kids cried in pain. “Quinn. landed on her shoulders. The limestone beneath her feet was suddenly a forest of knives all stabbing up at her. Lana stuck her gun back in her waistband. “I don’t think I’m a guy who kills people. Kids were attacking one another. Taylor is done for. You lose a leg. A noose was flung from the ruined church wall. but with disbelief. Let him go. Lana leveled the gun at Penny.” Lana’s smile died. and you mess with me. all missed. “I’m kind of opposed to murder. I won’t heal you. “Well.” For what felt like a very long time Penny stood staring at Lana. They really wanted anyone who would save them. So you get this chance: walk.” Penny spit that last word.” Lana said.” Penny was staring transfixed at the wound on her arm. And I will cut you off from healing. She did not want to be recognized by anyone in the crowd.” Lana said. Or bang. I’ve gone one-on-one with the gaiaphage. skirting the crowd from the opposite direction that Quinn had taken. Keep walking. “Stop. So find him a gun. everyone has to kiss your butt. and suddenly from the far side came a wedge of disciplined kids moving forward with arms linked.” Lana said.” Lana said. Clear?” It was apparently clear. pushing between the steps and the crowd.” “I missed killing a monster once. And yet. Whatever visions she was inflicting on the people below her stopped. and we need to be working with Sam. Lana saw her very. Caine glanced and saw her. Get out of my way. knives.” she snapped at two kids blocking her path. She has to be warned. But she recovered quickly. Lana flinched as a crowbar rose high and came down with a sickening crunch. There was a wild look of defiance. As usual she sounded irritated and impatient. It began low and rose a few decibels at a time. they really wanted a king. Send one of your people to bring Sanjit down here.” Lana smiled her exceedingly rare smile. For now. I will stand by and watch you bleed out. unnoticed. “Yeah. Penny spun on her heel and walked quickly away. “You… No. “The Darkness is going after Diana. That caught Penny off guard. sobbed from the memories. Now I have work to do. “Get out of my way. She looked hurt. A chunk of concrete. In eerie shadows the crowd of some two hundred kids. Lana drew her pistol. A dozen or more kids were screaming now for her blood.” Quinn made a face. “So here’s the way it is: Quinn is boss. They were scared to death and now. wild-eyed. “If I shoot you. clawing at their faces.” Penny’s laugh choked off. I’ll blow a hole right where your heart is supposed to be. it worked. a knife. fist-shaking.” “You’ve got it. Now they were taking up a chant. A club went flying through the air. He could teach you a few things. demanding she be killed. It was a melee. Now.” She descended into the gore left in Penny’s wake. “Oh. but then it died. down First Avenue. finally. Penny took a step back. A chunk of something hit her arm and drew blood. Penny’s reddened face grew pale. crowbars. Healer. “Let him go! Let him go!” And a second chant: “We want the king! We want the king!” Sudden screams from those closest to the steps. There was no way to know what Penny was doing to him. Lana kept her hoodie pulled close around her face. don’t they. A panicky riot had broken out at the base of the steps as Penny wreaked all the damage her sick mind could conjure. The kids who’d been struck by her visions panicked and ran from her. but other kids were shoving forward. She made it to the church steps and crossed over from there to town hall. Her mission to warn Diana wasn’t going to happen. Stop it. it was pretty lame. Lana had had enough. Quinn came to her side. Being divided will get us all killed.” she said to herself. a tangle of arms and legs and weapons. dressed in mismatched rags and remnants of costume. “But if you don’t turn and walk away. crying out. “That won’t work on me. She had come down to town only to see whether Caine would arrange an armed escort for her. Her lips were drawn back in a teeth-baring animal snarl. It missed Penny. Lana recognized the boy at the center of that wedge. Sort of. “But you’re a human. table legs. The rope dropped over her head. because she’ll be trouble if she lives. Then another. seeing monsters where none existed. The visions ceased as suddenly as if someone had switched off a TV. so it’s communication the old-fashioned way. orders. and tightened around her throat.

And the Darkness needs to be born.” .“Diana? Why?” “Because she has a baby in her belly.

The square of light. Something had bumped against the side of the boat. Sam. Orc was still out searching. Barely room to move. Well. The last Sammy suns were for the big houseboat. then used the tip of his tentacle to push gently. but no high-pitched voices. very narrow slice of the world beyond. welcoming him back. They experimented a bit and discovered that the Sammy sun would stay in place relative to the boat when it moved. but . Just inches above him. You’ll have plenty of light on board. And not everything needed light to hunt and kill.” Sam sounded weary. He would wait and be sure. Then a second male voice that froze his marrow. He grinned.” he agreed. It struck terror right down to his core. In the smaller sailboats or motorboats he installed one or two Sammy suns. Could Drake take him? Right here and now when he was alone. Sammy suns were the long-lasting manifestation of his power. The way the floor seemed to move slightly beneath him. Sam rowed. hey. A quarter of an inch. a rather important consideration. “Hey. said. If she made it to Perdido Beach. Justin. Five in all.” “Good. But Drake had heard a female pronoun. The opportunity would arise. which then burned without heat and hung in the air. and Sam would rush to help. But a boat. including an especially large one floating beside the front railing. He would never get up out of this hatch before Sam started burning him. In the engine room. He lowered the hatch as quietly as he had raised it. A single spoke of a steering wheel. The Sammy suns were reassuring to kids. Is she up or is she asleep?” They wandered out of earshot at that point. “For a while.” The sound of running feet. He had no idea where he was. He couldn’t hold the position for long. he had to know where he was. Sam realized he was feeling very weary. He’d always assumed it was just the depression that followed any fight. one after the next. “Why don’t you kids go play? Old-people talk here. presumably “Roger. I’m just here to hang some lights for you. But he wasn’t really interested in watching Orc. 39 MINUTES DRAKE EMERGED.” “Sammy suns? So…” Roger hesitated. Good. He heard a muffled voice. How are you guys holding up?” The first male voice. damp place that smelled of oil. Probably not the boat where he’d seen Diana. It was a cramped. Good job. Atria. Now he was wondering if the use of the power itself had some kind of tiring effect. With his hand and his tentacle he felt around this tiny space. “Is it going to be totally dark?” Roger asked in a voice that quavered just a bit. Rather than firing light in a killing beam he could form balls of light. A bucket. It took some time to make sense of things. First. And then he could see a long. Well.” Sam said grimly. Could she have pulled that off? Simple metal-mouthed Brittney? No. Now he could hear the voices more distinctly. “Not totally dark. He had bumped against something steel. Nice. Maybe. The smell of oil. He was on a boat. It was Astrid he searched for. “We’re fine.” Edilio said. If they were lucky he might find Drake. “So it’s like that?” “Well. Was it possible? Was Diana on this very boat? He grinned in the darkness. Now what? He still had to get to Diana. Then a foot. “T’sup. He spent a good twenty minutes trying to squirm his body in such a way as to bring his head up against the hatch. not kill Sam. “For a while. It was inconceivable. presumably into the cabin.TWENTY-THREE 14 HOURS. But it didn’t matter. Easier said than done. Sam! Drake heard sounds of someone clambering up the side. Some of the boats.” Sam said reassuringly. we don’t know for sure. Doing fine. “That’s why I’m here. He held himself in place by wedging his hand against the engine block. They would be in the dark. He couldn’t help but pick up his binoculars and scan the shore. like the houseboats. a guy. He moved his head slightly and felt an impact that would have been pain back in the old days. At each boat he climbed aboard and crouched to enter whatever cabin they had. The light was very dim. without Brianna or Dekka to add to his power? No. His faith in the gaiaphage had not failed him yet. The darkness might keep Drake at bay. Halfway through the process.” whoever that was. got as many as three or four Sammy suns. she would have to literally crawl along the road. Drake told himself. He realized it was the edge of some kind of hatch. Roger?” Sam said. It moved up easily enough. He blinked. He’d had this same feeling after battles where he’d had to use his powers. Then. It came from a square in the low ceiling. what was the earliest she could get back? It had to be before the sky closed. But they would not be totally blind. The complex metal object. From boat to boat. A half an inch. well: clever Brittney. Roger. “That helps. If she was trapped out there in the dark. And his mission was to get Diana. gently upward on the hatch. Somehow she had found a way to sneak aboard one of the boats. Definitely a boat. No one—least of all Sam—could tolerate the idea of being trapped in perpetual darkness.

capable self. The white hulls brightened. but now the narrow streambed was choked with dried-out weeds. But if you run into him without Sam. People in Perdido Beach could see it without any help from her. she’d have to go through the hills. And meanwhile we’re stuck.” Brianna appeared seconds after the sound of her nickname died. The hills rose on either side. we can eat some big-ass radishes. Once upon a time there’d been running water.” he said. We don’t know why Taylor hasn’t bounced in to tell us what is going on. Of course I do. The sky itself was disappearing. “But if we do it now.” Brianna said with faux innocence.” Sam muttered lamely. “Sinder will need someone watching her back. His shoulders were knots of pain. “She wants permission for her and Jezzie to go ashore and harvest their veggies.” Sam’s palms felt itchy. It was one thing to know it was going to happen.. and nearby woods lit up.” “Yeah.” Before Sam could answer Edilio said. The road from the lake to Perdido Beach went in a southwesterly direction along the western slope of the Santa Katrina Hills. it will just be a beacon enticing all of Perdido Beach to come.” Sam said tersely.” he reported. Brianna was smirking. the best you can get is a draw. “Yeah. Edilio did not seem to fear the coming darkness. Astrid saw something move up to her right. Astrid set off at a trot. Brianna.” It made perfect logical sense. He was just thinking out loud.” Brianna said. when they had suddenly turned green. Sam looked up..” she told herself. “I mean. Normally that was reassuring.” Edilio agreed. Without thinking about it he held his palms up before his face. see what’s what. But she’d lost sight of the road.the coyotes and snakes and zekes… He had to do something. But Sam was having a hard time just taking a full breath. And he had no plan. And she’d somehow managed to wander into a gap between two hills. The road was presumably straight back to the west. though up close they could be imposing. The gaiaphage is … no one knows exactly where. and she might find herself hitting the road no more than a mile or two from Lake Tramonto. And that exposed rock looked like a grim-faced head. The dawn—such as it was—had come. He was exhausted from hanging suns and making all sorts of reassuring noises to his people on the boats. it’s Florida in July. Dekka came up a few moments later. She looked around. We aren’t ready for that. the little campground. a flash of something or . Stay on her until she and Jezzie are done. without rainfall in the FAYZ. “All this is just coping. She remembered seeing them from the highway long ago after December rain. She was very fit after her months living in the woods and could move at this half-run. Worse. The result was near panic. “Breeze! Dekka! On deck!” Then in a normal speaking voice to Edilio he said. But now they were just rock and desiccated weeds and stubby. Not to talk. steep and glowering. But he didn’t know what. It was a very different thing to see it. The rising sun cast deep shadows on Astrid’s soul. at least. Sam’s instinct was screaming that he was losing a fight with each passing. and Edilio was there. Flies on one of those sticky strips. She was sure some kids at least would already be on their way out of Perdido Beach. Edilio was watching one of the boats through his own binoculars.” Sam said bitterly. Welcome and heartbreaking when he contemplated the fact that he might never see it again.” Sam clenched his mouth shut. The sun was now beginning to appear as it rose above the edge of the stain. teeth still gritted. Then it intersected the highway. “Don’t get spooked. The mission to grab the missiles had done little to ease his desire for action. Somewhere. you know? Check on them. passive. looked and now saw nothing. How long since he had fired the killing light rather than just hanging lights? He realized Edilio and Dekka were both watching him with solemn expressions. It makes sense.” Dekka said. It would make Astrid’s mission to warn Perdido Beach look a lot less like Paul Revere and a lot more like the harebrained scheme of an incompetent girl. “We don’t even know what’s happening in Perdido Beach. Astrid was out there somewhere. half-walk pace for hours so long as she had water. If she wanted speed. rolling her eyes at the strange tea-stained light. To do. “Soon as Sinder gets near shore you meet her. He had no plan. All three of them had read his thoughts. up the sheer slope of what she was thinking of as Mount Grimface. Even that relied on speed. I can go in and out. If it dead-ended against some hill she’d have to climb.. then no problem. struggling trees. “Well.” Edilio said. “It’s light enough for you. I get it. but kept moving. The endgame was being played. The village. way too high in the sky. “Once we have a deal with Albert and Caine. That kind of thing had happened a lot in the forest: a noise. And then there was instinct. Which meant that all she could do now was hope to send a message of solidarity and to offer Sam’s services as a light bringer. “It’s Sinder. He hadn’t really expected Edilio to say anything about it. not a lot of people running off in different directions. that not knowing what to do. Breeze. Tied down. I was just making a joke. we’ll need you. He was his usual calm. that would be a problem. The Santa Katrinas weren’t the biggest hills.” “I don’t have to sit right on top of them. but to do. or watch. trying to orient herself. “I thought you wanted to go back out. They were dry. If Drake attacks us here. He squeezed his fists tight. The peak was exposed rock where some long-ago storm or earthquake had stripped the thin topsoil away. “I could hang Sammy suns along the road.” He raised his voice to a shout. a sudden movement. of course. We don’t know where Caine stands in all this. But the light was welcome. The water sparkled. But that could be miles. run down the road a ways.” “Yeah. His jaw hurt. or worry.” “Drake is here. “Astrid’s right to try to reach Perdido Beach. Chill. That would be humiliating if Sam had sent Brianna out to find her. He didn’t believe what he was saying. Way. He needed to be mad at someone. “Dude. There was logic. Darkness was coming. The one on the right began to seem oppressive. “We need a strategy.” “Yeah.” Sam said. The trail continued to be pretty easy. It ate out his insides. “None of it is about winning. Astrid’s probably in PB by now.” Sam said. patient second. If this pass went all the way through in a more or less straight line. We don’t know what Albert is up to. She didn’t stop. Already she’d been delayed. And he was still mad at Edilio. This would be the last daylight of the FAYZ. But it did nothing to address Sam’s desperate desire to do.

Those awful marble-size eyes in bloody-black sockets. The boy stopped walking. She aimed for the eyes. but it twisted into a grimace and then a terrible groan. The grin revealed broken and missing teeth. you know. and finally out came the shotgun and her fingers fumbled for the trigger. though there was nothing but the sounds of gentle breeze and grating grasshoppers. a cry of agony that stretched on and on before ending in a wild burst of laughter.” Astrid insisted.” Cigar said. And inevitably she’d been afraid it was Drake. “I’m real. Now. “What happened to you?” “I…” He tried another smile. but his eyes were elsewhere. looking up and left and everywhere but straight at her. He knows you. She came around a blind corner and almost plowed into him. “The little boy. How did it know her name? “Who are you?” “Bradley. “Penny. “What little boy. Seen? Nothing much.” Astrid’s throat was tight. Is his name Pete?” Cigar reached to touch his own eye. “Are you real?” the boy asked.” Cigar said. the sense that she was being watched was hard to shake. “What? Cigar?” The boy’s mouth made a sort of grin. Cigar?” “He knows you. “Are you… Are you Astrid?” She swallowed hard. but at the same time. The flesh on her arms rose into goose bumps.” Cigar giggled and placed his hand over his mouth like he’d said a dirty word. It was a boy. and I did a bad thing and then the candy was in my arm and then I was eating it and oh. But at last. Just as inevitably it had been a bird or a squirrel or a skunk. but stopped. Then in a low whisper.” she snapped.” Astrid tried to speak and couldn’t. and Penny gave me more. Astrid glanced over her shoulder. “Penny did this?” Astrid lowered the gun. She looked back.” Astrid heard the quaver in her voice. But everyone calls me Cigar. a boy. Halfway. not ready to turn around. maybe. Her head was already turning back toward Cigar when she realized what she had seen.” The gun lowered several inches of its own accord. sister. but like a blind person feeling for something he couldn’t quite locate. A twisting of the visual field. “She showed me things.” he whispered. So is this shotgun. His expression was impossible to read—the eyes. Nothing. just quick. as she took that curve. He looked for a moment as if he were listening to something. “The little boy. but her grip on the gun was steady and she was keeping it on target. That fact took a few long beats to penetrate her consciousness. My hands were…” He raised his palms to look at them. Then he nodded eagerly and said. Then back to Cigar. he told me. There were cuts on his face. “It’s the little boy. One squeeze of her right index finger and there’d be a loud noise and that horrifying head would explode like a water balloon. maybe. “Listen. And she saw blood on his fingernails. A distortion. see. He stretched out a bloody hand to her. Stared.” Cigar said. Screamed. it tasted so good. “Stay back. As if Mount Grimface really was a face and it was watching her and not liking what it saw. all the way down. and a moan came from deep in his throat. “Little boy says: ‘Hello.” The tiny eyes swiveled suddenly to look past Astrid. The urge to break into a full-on run was hard to resist. she had an almost overpowering sense that whatever had been watching her was now behind her. just a glance. She raised the gun to her shoulder. though. you need to tell me what happened. They seemed fresh. Ahead the path curved away to the left. very confidential. He had strong shoulders and a deep tan. strangled words came from her mouth. And coming closer. But she couldn’t look as if she was fleeing. The eyes seemed unable to locate her. sighted down the barrel. hesitantly.’” . Astrid stopped. so I ate it up and it hurt and there was blood. Then. She kept her grip tight and her finger resting on the trigger guard. “What was that?” “The little boy. “I see you. Screamed so that she forgot to draw her gun until she was already screaming and backing away. like he was telling a secret. lots of blood. maybe. those awful chickpea-size eyes—made any emotion impossible to guess. Couldn’t ask the question. and the gun went to her shoulder again. like the claw marks of a wild animal. But she did not sling it back over her shoulder. Cigar. panicking. “Don’t move or I’ll blow your head off.” Astrid said. Stabby blue eyes. and Astrid welcomed the chance to move away from the sinister mountain. “Screaming yellow hair. Couldn’t accept what the answer might be. Not some giant monster. “I like candy. almost involuntary because she wasn’t ready to lower her guard yet.other.

Report to building oh-one-four. Two clicks straight down and four clicks south. There was another way to reach the Evanston Air National Guard base. But as you can probably smell. “They don’t have an HVAC mechanic over there?” “Not one with your security clearance.” Darius felt cold. circuitous drive. hangar-style tin structure. and her assistant managed to break an ankle surfing. “A security clearance for an air conditioner?” The lieutenant wasn’t a bad guy. a number of command trailers. was waiting behind the wheel of a Humvee. But his lieutenant said a mechanic was needed at a site around the far side of the dome.” “It is that. There was a self-conscious sense of Very Important Stuff Happening. Then he handed Darius a paper to sign. Darius knew enough about machinery to recognize a drilling platform. The far end was formed by the barrier. The civilian shook his hand and identified himself as “Charlie. Then Darius stepped inside the hangar. A dozen buildings in ruler-straight rows. like everyone else. How was he supposed to know what to bring if he didn’t even know what he was supposed to be fixing? The corporal had done a tour in Kabul. Darius had gotten used to it. The corporal peeled off and Darius stepped into a blast of air-conditioning. you’d know better than to expect everything to make sense. I do.” the corporal said. of any of the personnel assigned there. a corporal who knew the drive well. of the work there. The facility was ringed with chain link topped with extremely serious-looking razor wire. not pearly gray. A gigantic terrarium. nodding at the dome. “That would put you … up against the dome. which put it a full mile away from the dome wall. A tower that looked like it had been assembled from leftover bits and pieces of a suspension bridge or maybe the Eiffel Tower.” They pulled up at a facility that had obviously been recently built. an officers’ quarters. “Sergeant. Why… I mean. You’re not claustrophobic. hard job carving it out.” “What’s that mean?” “It means we’re going two miles down. A cheerful female driver. “Why?” “Because we are going deep. The tunnel was shored up at regular intervals with railroad ties. What he saw made him stare. are you?” The question surprised Darius. the air is getting a bit thick. the first thing you learn working here is don’t ask questions. But it’s something in person. Ten miles high.” Charlie said. Just a round shaft into which a bomb could be lowered to the lowest point beneath the dome. “You understand. IDs were checked against a manifest showing that yes. what…” Charlie shrugged and said. “Just transferred in last month. then back south. One of the MPs accompanied them to one of the trailers. The MP took him to a civilian in a construction worker’s helmet and handed him off. Men and women bustling back and forth with very busy expressions on their faces. usually we’d have a hundred guys down here. . A barracks. I would have thought by now. Not a tunnel for humans. “Been here long?” Darius asked. Here it was black.” Darius protested. Sorry to drag you out here.OUTSIDE SERGEANT DARIUS ASHTON was very good with a truck engine. young but not arrogant. Your driver will know where it is. One more ID check.” “You understand that any violation will result in criminal prosecution?” The word “will” had been emphasized. No one was lounging or grabbing a smoke or chatting on the phone. down below the dome. wide enough to accommodate two rail lines with space on either side. He saluted and turned on his heel. with your long experience in uniform.” the lieutenant said. You know. This path was bumpy and dusty but it was quicker. Darius hefted his tool bag and was met at the door by an MP. It had all the usual obsessive military neatness and order. It looked like someone had dropped a small. Sergeant. The Angels were going to sign him. From this spot they were drilling farther still. that you are governed by this security protocol?” “Yes. It was a vast. The paper required him to reveal nothing of the purpose of his visit. but our head HVAC mechanic is on maternity leave. Kilometer six turned out to be a cavern bigger than the hangar. smoothly polished moon down on the Southern California coastline. There was a great deal of official-ese and some decidedly threatening language. Sergeant.” The elevator ride down seemed endless. Building 014 was half a mile from the rest of the camp. of the existence of the facility. Darius loaded his tools in the back. “My friend. Leaning Tower of Pisa angle. twenty miles across. my friend. they were both expected. “I saw it on TV. then onto a series of gravel side roads. The unit we need you to look at is a blower at kilometer six. “That’s the air base. Much of the drive was within sight of the bowl. “Would have been a long. “I believe I’m getting the message. Kilometer six.” “That’s why I’m here. The base was a hive of activity. It hadn’t landed. And yet quicker than the narrow-gauge train that carried Darius along an impressive and oppressive tunnel. The drive went up the highway.” Darius couldn’t argue with that. Huge and imposing.” “Weird thinking there are kids in there. It was painted the color of the surrounding desert. He said. Lieutenant. so they talked about that on the long. but it would mean going all the way to I-5. and not subtly. And they talked about this supposedly great new Cuban pitcher who had reached the United States on a raft. it hadn’t exploded. a communications building bristling with dishes and antennae.” The driver did. something she and Darius had in common. Sarge. it had just suddenly existed. “They keep a very tight lid. no fracture lines. A sergeant asked him again for his ID. “It was good luck finding this cave.” The sergeant smiled. Just Charlie. This did not mean he was necessarily good with an air compressor. But there was no crater. right?” In the cave stood a tall scaffolding tilted at a strange. A half dozen trucks filled with dirt. The gate was guarded by unsmiling military police.

“Okay. You know what’s going on here. I mean.” . He gripped Darius’s arm and pulled him aside. but Charlie whispered anyway. you’re not a fool. They were alone. Word to the wise.Charlie must have seen the look in Darius’s eyes.” Darius nodded. and your room may be bugged. Thirty minutes later the FBI picked him up as he was getting into his car. “What really happened to your HVAC guy?” Charlie laughed mirthlessly. from now on your cell phone will be monitored. But you need to know that security watches everyone who comes in or out of this place. “Opened his mouth in a bar.

” Astrid repeated patiently.” “Yes.” Astrid choked out the words. Astrid did not feel reasonable. Which meant things were very bad in Perdido Beach. “Bradley. “They put you with Penny for a full day? All day long?” “Yes. with perfect lucidity that was stranger in its way than all his tics and sudden eruptions and weird gestures. Little boy is better than an angel. Cigar said. I’m going to ask you questions. “He wants you to tell me about the little boy. yes. It occurred to her then that he had clawed his own eyes out.” Astrid persisted. Cigar.” Astrid said. hidden by a huge. Tseeeew! Right through you. shiny. “He came for me. too paralyzed even to wipe away the tears. She reached and placed her hand over his.” “Half hour. tick-tock urging her toward Perdido Beach. And Lana had done what she could. “That was his body name. He reacted like he’d been shocked. and revealed a shy grin. But it touches her. Like he was trying to break his own teeth. “Little boy is gone. The image made her need to throw up. okay?” He nodded. “Petey? You can’t play that game.” “Mighty!” Astrid nodded.” “Little boy is free now.” “And his name is Petey?” Cigar was silent. he has the light so bright it shines through you.” Astrid said. But he’s big.” Astrid said.” he said solemnly. I want this to be easy for you.” Cigar said. “And they punished you by giving you to Penny for a half hour. All you have to say is yes or no. an almost ecstatic sound.” “Little boy? He’s next to you. What kind of creep would sentence this kid to a day with Penny? No wonder he was insane.” “They gave you to Penny. “Are they from Lana?” “Lana is an angel. Again it was as if he was listening. “These new eyes. you know. “He was Pete. it does. “Stay. But it was possible this was even more important. “You’re one of Quinn’s fishermen. and a long sword with flames and—” “Just listen.” He giggled and his jaw twisted so hard she thought he might dislocate it. “He’s a little boy. Stay. It tries to take her. “You did something bad. No one was beside her.” Cigar said in a singsong voice.” “Now.” he said. 2 MINUTES ASTRID HAD MANAGED to get Cigar to follow her off the path. suddenly calm and sounding quite reasonable.” “Yes. She sat a few feet away. Hah.” “Yes.” Astrid fought the urge to turn and look. No. Okay?” The tiny eyeballs swerved wildly. She found a place beside what had been the stream. She worried that someone might come along—if she could get lost en route from the lake to Perdido Beach. Cigar was one of Quinn’s fishermen.” At first Astrid thought he was talking about the eerie sky. too. You’re hurting people. Not with what she had heard from Cigar. And anyway. “I don’t see him. “Can he?” “Oh. So in a quiet voice Astrid said. he said nothing more. But she couldn’t do that. “He’s playing a game. aren’t you?” “Yay!” Cigar said. Even now its shadow bothered her in a way she could not define. or had been when last she’d heard. Then.” Astrid said. She asked Cigar to sit down. But maybe he was listening only to the terrible nightmare screams in his own head. so could others. He can touch the sky. she couldn’t leave.TWENTY-FOUR 14 HOURS. She helped to move him into position to do so on a dirt ledge that almost formed a bench. He hit Penny. “Can I … Can he hear me?” “He can hear … anything!” And again the mad cackle. And somehow he had ended up wandering lost out of town.” “I know. Quinn. But even though Astrid waited a long time. He yanked his hand back and she feared he might bolt. careful to keep her face toward the grim-faced hill. “I’m so sorry. But he said. “Petey. hah.” “Quinn. and sobbed and finally screamed. Why does he say your hair screams? You’re an angel with wings and shiny. “Not a half hour.” Once again Cigar lowered his head to listen.” “Yes. The barrier is turning dark. Astrid still felt the relentless tick-tock.” Cigar nodded as though he knew this. I couldn’t see it but I heard it—Quinn and bam and waaah and we’re going to Lana I’ll kill you witch.” “He’s a good guy.” . “I’m sorry. Quinn would tell you to stay and talk to me.” Cigar said. Can you stop it? Do you have the power to stop it?” Cigar laughed.” Astrid said. as though it was a given fact. and smiled his lunatic grin while his brow furrowed into deep crevices of anxiety. Only gradually did the suspicion grow and take shape. “Sunrise sunset. “Okay. “But she’s too strong. too. Petey. So he had been driven mad by Penny. “Fish. all alone.” Astrid sobbed. He lowered his head. the little boy…” “Fish! Fish!” “The little boy. dying rhododendron bush.

He had no choice.” Quinn opined. Hadn’t even noticed when it had happened. But Mason was a little kid hauling a backpack filled with his favorite things—some broken toys. He could run the whole way there.” Caine demanded. he had done it and now it smelled. For another. Coyotes.” “You know who’s really mean?” Tabitha asked.” “Sorry that—” “And then I went to see Lana and she told me to go wash off in the ocean and not bother her. he was helpless. “Are you and Lana. Something low and quick. “Don’t worry.” Paul said. but just a half mile out of town he was already stumbling on very tired legs. “Only she said it meaner. The girls pushed their things. “Maybe she was just busy at the time. Mase: that’s why we’re going to the lake. He pushed me once and I fell down and skinned both my knees. All of which left him in a vulnerable position. urged it on him. “She’s tough. The kids who gave them up had to be paid. People were fleeing Perdido Beach. Quinn was running around getting the morning’s sparse catch brought in and cooked up over a fire in the plaza. It rattled as they went. so they were strong and had the stamina for long hours on the road. And he had plastered on his jaunty smile and tossed off a jaunty wave and taken off. Well. he was in a gaggle of kids. What if he never saw her again? Mason finished his business. pushing it back. with a bunch of cusswords.” Keira offered. all right. Just a hurried kiss in the shadow of the church as Lana moved between injured kids.” Tabitha explained. “Take it or I’ll shoot you with it myself. I guess you could say that. The sun touched the far edge of the remaining sky. who didn’t like who. He had a small paring knife in a woman’s white belt. He’d deliver his message sooner and he’d get back sooner and… Sanjit saw something moving through the brush off at the limits of his excellent sight. “Turk. or maybe just noticing his worried expression.” Mason said. He had intended to.” Sanjit protested. having fallen in with them. Nothing sounded hollower than a reassurance in this place.” They had kissed after that. Quinn said. Would there be any light at all by then? How was he going to get back to Lana across ten miles of emptiness in the dark? One thing he was sure of: he would go back. Caine had waited. Sanjit did not travel alone. What were they going to do when the light went out? As if reading his thoughts. And the two girls seemed to have an endless stream: who liked who.” It was good to have some silly gossip to distract them all. Now Quinn was ready for Caine. and a little boy of maybe three with the very grown-up-sounding name of Mason. “I don’t know how to shoot. That’s all. and brought the hammer down on the chisel held by Lucas. The sun was already most of the way across the narrowed sky. as well as some food and water. slinking through brush. but by the time he got onto the highway heading in the direction of the turnoff to the lake. Less likelihood of any light for the homeward trip. Lana had impressed on Sanjit a need for speed when she’d handed him the grubby envelope with the note inside. Two twelve-year-old girls.” he’d said. “Tell me if this hurts. short-handled sledgehammer and a chisel. he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. Caine recognized that as a smart move. Lana had offered him a pistol. it was strictly barter. “Um… Yes. “Get me out of this. since circumstances had forced patience on him. They had a small. “I have to poop.” Then without prompting Keira patted Mason on his Iron Man helmet and said. Patiently. a picture book called Owl Babies. and Lana had said he should. Mason complicated matters further by insisting on wearing a plastic Iron Man helmet that covered his whole head. Instead he ended up hefting Mason onto his back. who might like who. You should know: you’re the scumbag who invented cementing. “We’ll have to chip it away a little at a time. arrayed in groups of two or three. like.” Tabitha lowered her voice and added. . The coyotes were no longer in view. “Try swinging a full-size sledgehammer and someone’s likely to miss and hit your head or wrists. But somehow. he had wet himself. but it was still better than looking up at the sky and watching the stain grow higher and the ragged circle of light grow smaller.” “I heard she’s mean. Lana helped the victims of Penny’s assault. “Like lamps. Once he delivered his message to Sam he would have to find his way back to Perdido Beach.” Sanjit resisted the grin that wanted to spread across his face. More delay. Keira and Tabitha. Sanjit couldn’t blame him. Sanjit could see at least twenty. And no one was taking ’Bertos anymore. to begin the job. And he knew he could outpace his three fellow travelers. “No. a framed picture of his family. And finally. some kids.” He detailed a couple of the fishermen. since both were in use as weapons. together?” Tabitha asked. Sanjit didn’t know half the people they were talking about. The smell of broiled fish and the soothing sound of a bonfire would help keep kids from rushing off.” At which point Mason began to cry. That had taken some doing. Sanjit knew it would never survive the dirt-and-gravel road that led to the lake. Sanjit knew he should break away. it was true.” Caine let that go. For one thing. That would be Lana. at least. The sense of something unseen looking at her was gone. Mason was trying to be a good little soldier. The girls were hardier— they’d both put in time working the fields.And Astrid could feel the truth of it. Yep. Paul and Lucas. “It’s not so easy. during one of Penny’s vicious nightmare attacks. run for it. Sanjit let him slide down. Keira said. in a Ralphs grocery cart with one bad wheel. “Sam Temple can make lights. A cluster of three had formed around him. but somewhere.” “With his hands.

” Lana said. He snapped out of it and dropped another awful blow. biting back a cry of pain as the hammer rose and fell again. “Nah. CLANG! “Don’t you feel it?” Lana demanded. “You’re damned right I’m scared of it. “Caine. Paul and Lucas readjusted their positions. as coldly as he could.” “If I ever get out of this. That’s the big worry. Too easy. “It’s going after Diana.” “What?” The hammer waited. He looked sharply at her. The sharp force of the blow translated into a dull pain that Caine felt in the bones of his hands. “I’ll fix your fingers. choking feeling. “In a couple of hours light will be all anyone cares about. CLANG! “Oh. That hunger had been so huge. No gravel. Dahra closed her eyes briefly and looked as if she was about to cry. Caine could still feel it as a stifling. He closed his eyes and the nightmare came on like a storm-driven wave.” The chisel was cutting closer now. helping tend the wounded. or a mental patient zoned on meds. I don’t. and Caine lifted the hands and carefully. “The sun is setting. That was something he shared with the Healer: too much up-close-and-personal time with the gaiaphage. won’t he? He can make light. Then she scrubbed her face with her hands and shook her head almost violently. where the punctures of the staples still oozed blood. And Dahra had better reason than most—she’d borne the brunt of the bug attack here in town.” Lana snorted. cross-legged. really. sat all the way down. . like someone sleepwalking. carefully used a piece of concrete to scratch his nose. Dahra looked a little weird to Caine’s eye. And yes. “I don’t let the Darkness touch me. that they’ll finish Zil’s work by burning down the rest of the town. and for a second hugged it against her shoulder.” Lucas said. Not quite as bad as being hit directly by the hammer.” Lana said.” She knelt down beside Caine and then. But what else was new? Crazy was getting to be the norm.” Lana said. “All I feel is my fingers being broken!” Caine yelled. feeling like it was a personal enemy. “Listen.” Caine’s heart missed a beat. CLANG! “AHHHH!” Through grinding teeth he said. As did the catch in his throat when he said. Lana. Ohhhh!” He was breathing in short gasps. Dahra Baidoo was with her. it left scars. He wondered if bones were breaking.” “That’s not why I sent Sanjit. “I hate it. I hate myself for not killing it when I had the chance. “I won’t… What makes you so sure it’s going after Diana?” “I’m not sure. This wasn’t exactly a private conversation. so frantic.” Caine scowled. “It wants the baby. “I know you still feel it sometimes. I sent him because I think Diana is in danger. “I hate it. It had been all hunger then.” Lana said.” He wasn’t going to argue about it. like smoldering coals. You’re saying I should open myself up to it again?” CLANG! “I’m not scared of it. “I can feel its mind sometimes. and yes. CLANG! No. “Uh-huh. probably. Penny hadn’t mixed a very good batch. “Keep at it. They’ll set fires. I got away from it. “Kids will lose it. But nothing helped when the next blow of the hammer and chisel made him feel as if fingers were being broken. not really meaning it.” Lana said impatiently. Lana stepped beside Dahra. Your baby. “Danger? You mean more than the rest of us?” CLANG! All the while Paul and Lucas were chipping away at the concrete. There was a wedge about the size of a double slice of pie hanging from his left hand. I was going to go myself before this latest fiasco. The gaiaphage needed the uranium at the power plant.CLANG! It hurt. with more than half the concrete chipped away. “You were with it. “It?” CLANG! “Don’t play dumb.” Lana remarked almost without emotion. Lucas struck a second blow and a three-inch chunk of concrete fell away. “Yeah. and Paul was shocked.” Lana came swaggering over. but that didn’t mean they liked him. suspended.” He glared up at the sky. Caine. It was gravel that gave it hardness.” She touched her hand to his head. a lit cigarette dangling from her lips. He gritted his teeth. Caine thought. That’s why I’m talking to you. put her hand on Dahra’s head. but it was close. I’ll stop them. They both knew the truth.” she repeated. Caine. I hate it. heart-throttling. Because I thought you might give a damn if that monster is after your kid. CLANG! “Ahhh!” he cried. I sent Sanjit to warn Sam about—” “About the wave of refugees on their way? He’ll figure that out soon enough. Almost instantly the pain in his head diminished. The reaction surprised him. The concrete block had split.” Caine’s hands felt lighter. He and Drake had learned that. There were still injured kids crying. “No. no gentle concern for Caine’s wellbeing. feeling weary. it was sometimes as if the creature could touch the edge of Caine’s consciousness. and Caine wondered if she really wasn’t.” Her eyes were dark but hot.” Lana said.” Caine snarled. “Sorry. Want to make some snide crack involving irony and karma?” Lana shrugged. With each hammer fall Caine winced. “I’m asking you: do you feel it? Can you? Will you let yourself?” “No!” “Scared?” His lips drew back in a snarl. In between the sudden sharp pain there was a constant dull pain and an infuriating itch. His hands were still locked together in a crumbly mass that looked like the stone from which a sculptor might chisel a pair of hands. He wondered how they would get off the last of the cement—the part attached to his flesh. but Caine wasn’t seeing many serious cases left. Caine. They needed him.

He had nothing more to say. It was the end at last. Smart enough to keep pace with him. made to feel weak and small and cowardly by Lana. Diana. Whatever. And because after he saved their stupid lives for them he deserved to be that king. They’d been happy. Or the … whatever. But he had come back. Blood poured out over the concrete. Ungrateful. He sat there now with piss-smelling pants.“Caine—” Paul said. A. He wouldn’t even be able to lower his own pants or wipe himself. Diana had warned him against that. Kid. And no sooner was he in charge than he’d realized it was Albert who was the real boss.” Caine nodded. on the island. The bleeding slowed. What did he. glowing monster. Lana took his wrist. “All of you. Worse by far: the humiliation. but only because they were all scared of the dark. He closed his eyes and he could see Diana. to have his mind messed up by that malevolent. Give. Caine. Pain in his hands. Minute. “You need to let them keep at it. Weakness. He’d been made to bear the torture he and Drake had invented. Diana had warned him not to. “We’ll try a smaller hammer now. CLANG! “Ahhh!” The chisel had missed. Lana could let it touch her mind. He had come back. Because kids needed a king. the steps where not two days earlier he’d ruled as king.” Caine said. Baby.” Paul said anxiously. What did it matter anymore? he wondered. He hadn’t been this low since he had walked off defeated into the desert with Pack Leader. Now they wanted him. She was that strong. Me. weeping and desperate. He wanted to cry.” He closed his eyes. “Give me a minute. Weakness. Caine gritted his teeth. “It’ll be a lot worse in the dark. matter? Let alone Diana. Beautiful girl. He needed to use the bathroom. The smart ones would just walk into the ocean and swim until they drowned. Since he had crawled. The pain was terrible. Not from the pain but from the sheer awfulness of his life.” Lana said. He’d been outwitted by Penny. Him and Diana. . a deep ache of something—or more than one thing—broken. Because he was not. too. Good days. Then Quinn had come with a message that he was needed to rescue Perdido Beach. And no one really respected Caine. mostly. They didn’t realize how much he did for them. Darkness would fall and the sun would never rise again and they would wander lost in inky blackness until they starved. The hardened steel chisel blade skipped and bit into his wrist. Smart enough to play her games with him. anticipating the blow. He could not. Smart. He sat here now on the steps of town hall. And he had proclaimed himself king. He bowed his head and cried.

from when he first met her and she was just coming down from Coates with Sam. Howard would have had a word for it. Idiots.” Orc grunted. This was the FAYZ.. He could walk over and touch it if he wanted. but that was okay. He raised a massive arm to wave at Brianna and seconds later she was beside him. Howard was your boy. Easier that way. that was who. In that dirt was half a footprint. But even better would be Drake’s footprints. That might discourage most people. Was that… Yeah. Rip him into little pieces and eat the pieces and crap them out and bury them in the dirt. Trade jobs with me. Edilio. Someone had to care that Howard was dead and gone now. Something not right. For Howard. and the only reason the print showed at all was that a gopher or whatever it was that dug holes up here had dug out a bit of fresh dirt. but he wasn’t like Astrid or Jack or one of those real smart kids. People didn’t know it. This was more like a little kid. They just cared that something bad was happening. He would just hide until he saw a way. Sam and the others hadn’t told him anything about it. They filled plastic trash bags with carrots and tomatoes. determined Orc had plenty of time and plenty of energy. No. He placed his own foot beside it. This was the final harvest. and another hundred yards out. Orc was walking in the gloomy shadow of a rock bluff. He wouldn’t have some big plan. And like all failed hopes it seemed stupid now. Then he was distracted by the sight of Sinder and Jezzie working away in their garden. Idiots. because Orc used him. You could watch them. She’d gotten pretty full of herself since those days. No. The shore of the lake looked strange.” “No. He didn’t want to. Orc had to care. over his head: blue sky. almost done now. Their little dream of helping to make things better for everyone was at an end. His rocky neck just didn’t like to bend that way. It seemed awful small to be from Drake. Orc snatched up a . Only friends. Or if not find him. He had searched through the night. no. They never saw anything but a monster made out of gravel. A bare foot. watching him actually. Maybe Howard used Orc. 40 MINUTES SINDER WEPT AS she and Jezzie ripped up their vegetables. then at least be here when he showed up. One by one. sure that Drake was out here. Orc followed the direction with his gaze. He didn’t have a word for it. not Drake. “Don’t act like you care. Best friends. Brianna tilted her head. Then he would rip Drake apart. He was only a few hundred feet away from it. Orc.. Weird. “Hey. Coyote prints if he could find them. Straight up. “You’re looking for Drake. It was hard for Orc to tilt his head back and look up at the sky.” It was so loud it echoed. A way to do what? Orc didn’t know. It made the print seem even smaller. The only one who saw past that was Howard. Orc kept his eyes down for the most part. They all figured he couldn’t.TWENTY-FIVE 12 HOURS. He could make out three toes: the little ones.” He shook his head. a little like a bird. No one cared Howard was gone. and back and forth. The ground was hard. He’d gone all the way to the far end of the lake and back. He hadn’t slept. It was Orc’s fault Drake had ever gotten away. pretending not to notice. Their hard work. Drake was a pretty big dude. And cried silently while Brianna stood watch over them. Under every rock. Plus he was looking for something: a footprint. but a regular human creep. It was too … too something. And there was Brianna. Orc froze. No one cared about Howard. He wouldn’t mind just taking Drake apart over and over again. People did that. and he had decided now to check in every one.” Orc roared. back and forth. not a shoe. The toes pointed down toward the water. black wall. The clear blue sky of a California early afternoon. Just that Drake had killed Howard and let the coyotes eat him. It was all over. Hope led to a kick in the face. Orc remembered her. Orc was walking a pattern. a sober. Orc stared down at it. And he didn’t feel tired. “A little payback for Howard? I get that. But while a drunken Orc wore out pretty easy. Just me. And would never come back. sure that he could find him. But below that sky was a blank. And that he was out loose. He’d spent a lot of hours listening to Drake rant and rave. Sam has me babysitting the weepy gardeners there. You could smash him or cut him up into little pieces and he’d still put himself back together.” “Don’t act like you care. Totally. or a girl. Drake could be tricky. And he’d known Drake in a way while he and Howard had been his jailers. Good friends. He’d heard all about how you couldn’t kill Drake.. They’d been idiots to hope. He couldn’t blame them. But something told him Drake wouldn’t go all the way around like that. then maybe a hundred yards farther out. that was a footprint. But he made the effort as the sun. Not about Howard. when she should have been watching over Sinder and Jezzie. Yeah. There were cracks all in those rocks. weird. Every crack. He felt more awake all the time. Back when Drake was just a creep. Well. too. but Orc could still cry. too. sure. Sam. right?” Brianna asked. Even people who really liked each other. “What? Couldn’t hear you. those guys: they didn’t care. No one cares he’s dead. the light was. that wasn’t true. Orc was buzzing with a weird kind of energy. maybe. Most of a footprint. with shocking speed. Charles Merriman had to care that his friend Howard was gone. Orc knew Drake a little from when Drake was running things for Caine back so long ago in Perdido Beach. they didn’t figure anything. was swallowed by the western edge of that toothed hole in the sky. He walked along from almost the dome to as far as the dock was.

be careful!” Diana’s voice! He’d recognize it anywhere. He’d attached—well.” Orc said. Problem or opportunity? That was the question. .” Drake was pretty sure Brittney had emerged at least once while he was down in this cramped. And a sudden rush of panicked coyotes. Unsettling. had paid a kid to attach—colorful bits of fabric so that even now. And the growing stain wasn’t night. oily engine room. Sky—normal-seeming sky—but covering only maybe a quarter of the space. On the other hand. Someone was seated right there. Which was why he’d brought a small sack of combination locks. He listened for Sam’s voice. He heard nothing. Albert would get them busy hauling a couple of the missiles up to the top floor of the mansion. Albert had laid the groundwork carefully. out in the emptiness at the edge of the desert. and drop the rope over the cliff. But it meant Drake could take a small risk. in the eerie brown shadow. Sitting terrified in the dark. There was nothing at all. There was a foot. Far away to the south and east was Perdido Beach. Taylor was hard to control. one on the cover of the generator’s switch. He ordered the girls to pull up the rope and coil it well back from the cliff’s edge. and. just the usual gentle surge. That didn’t prove Sam was gone. Only Albert would know the combinations. No sign of boats. Aimed in his direction. which meant Taylor wasn’t here. “I’ll bet those are the coyotes that did the eating. All he had accomplished. like a crinkly old photo from long ago. Taylor could pop in and out whenever she liked. It was right there in plain view. How very strange. which meant it was longer—and therefore more expensive—than necessary. It was a long climb and Albert regretted not having arrived earlier. He stood up and helped the others as one by one they reached the top. Another hour or two and he wouldn’t have been able to see the ladder. would have a light. It was dark. All he had built. He was first up over the lip of the cliff. Orc stared after them. threw it. Which meant most probably no one was coming anytime soon. toes in his direction. “Hey. The rope fell all the way into the water. Turning. hungry and desperate. and especially once the end of the rope had been made fast to the chest in the bottom of the boat. He pushed the hatch just a bit higher. Perfect. But he had given up everything. Like being inside a soft-boiled egg with the top of the shell chipped away. A very awkward ladder that had an unfortunate tendency to push away when you tried to stick your feet in the loops. She got close to Orc and in a hard whisper said. It flew twenty feet and smashed against the bluff. but he’d learned enough. could see it. Beyond the highway. There were no stars. Perfect. The coyotes were already atop the bluff and in seconds they would be on level ground and running free. Penny stepped on a broken bottle. With a final heave he pushed himself up into the tall grass. But he was back now and Brittney had not moved. With his tentacle arm he edged the hatch up a quarter of an inch. It set off two things: a small avalanche of pebbles and midsize stones. kids would see a distant point of light. lying on his back. She was Albert’s one concern. rolled out of the way. Albert sighed. But they would. Brianna’s eyes lit up. too. “Come on. of course. looked up at the sky. All of Alberco. One would go on the pantry. That would chill Taylor’s independence a bit. Anyone who went a little way around the western side of the island. And from the sound of it there were little kids on board. Just blackness. He would miss the challenge of the business. just enough that he could position the boat beside the rope. had a bite to eat and a look around. past the wrecked yacht. Maybe she was getting smarter. Brianna winked and zoomed away. slammed back into place by running feet. A second foot. He would never catch them. Because whenever that boat came. “Save one for me. The light was definitely different. Albert was not a great boat handler. Unnatural. She was right there. let alone climb it. so only Albert would control the food and the lights. He guided the boat in. The sea spread for miles before splashing against the black dome. So he’d arranged for Taylor to carry a looped rope out to the island. He had survived. lit in sepia. Albert gazed in quiet satisfaction at the mansion.small boulder and. “Come see our new home. Just there. “Justin. in violent frustration. Then he scanned the sea between Perdido Beach and the island. just a couple of feet away. This would be useful for him—Taylor could let him know what was going on in Perdido Beach and the lake. Strange. secure it around a very sturdy tree. You got a choice: you want me to get them or not?” Orc swallowed hard. The hatch came down suddenly. you’re going to break your neck!” Drake closed his eyes and let the pleasure of it wash over him. There were no waves. But that wasn’t really the point. No one was running the generator. A single point of light in the darkness. guys. The loops made it almost like a ladder. He shouldn’t have waited so long. So just as soon as they had rested a little. But once you got started you could climb okay. the rope was easy to find. Like it was shining through a bottle of Coke or something. It was very hard for those without Caine-like or Dekka-like powers even to get out of the sea and onto the island. The rope was where he had arranged for it to be. They would realize it was the island. He shifted. it. Not moving. and that light meant hope.” Albert said. Absolutely. you guys.

She’d had Caine right where she wanted him. Long-lost memories came now. He dumped Justin. So unfair. If she hesitated. “I’m in!” she cried. The shadows weren’t lengthening. She wondered how Caine liked having his hands in a block of cement. So wrong. Diana: you saved his life. an explosion of suicidal bubbles. Diana stared at him with horror. hadn’t she? She had survived and she had come out on top. There was a rush of feet coming from below. If they tried to take it off.” Drake said. Then he lifted Justin up out of the water. “I think he’s taking a nap. A hatch. Breathe. arms stretching out defensively. It was like she was down in a well with sun shining up high somewhere directly above. in the dinghy. “Owww! Owww!” Penny started crying aloud. She’d been on top for not even a few minutes. She breathed into his mouth. Was it a video they’d shown in some class? In some different world? It was hard for Diana with her belly to bend over low enough to put her mouth over the little boy’s lips. She was hurt and no one would help her. Pause. Band-Aids. He was dragging the boy through the water.” Drake sauntered down the length of the sailboat. No snarky remark. just look at you. “Let him go. and hit the deck hard. “You want to keep his life?” He waited as though he actually expected an answer. His lips were blue. She had to lift his head to her and she was barely strong enough to do it. He kept his whip arm in the water. they would break his hands like her legs had been broken. With a roar he ran at Drake. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure. It was the song from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World. “There’s a dinghy tied up. Green glass. He wrapped two feet of his tentacle arm around the right oar. Breathe. Drake twisted his tentacle just a bit so that the little boy’s face was visible. he would drown. Soon it would be dark. Drake had started singing. The tentacle was coming up from the floor! No. mouth open. Diana rushed to the bow. But not as bad as when her legs were broken. wouldn’t she? She should have taken care of Lana when she had the chance. and all they did was hate on her.” Diana said. Lana would have to— Bandages. then he stopped. Pause. pale as death. Drake swung Justin like a wet wrecking ball and smashed Roger so hard he went over the side. Pause. because she knew Drake wouldn’t listen. you won’t open your mean little mouth. “Well. Justin tripped and fell headlong. When she said nothing he went on. A sliver punched up through her calloused sole into the meat of her heel. Her heart was hammering with no rhythm. a sudden sharp exhalation. just thudding wildly in her chest. The pleading.” he said. Drake smiled at him. The little boy flew forward. Yeah. full of giddy high spirits and energy. Drake lifted the boy off the deck with effortless strength. She sat down hard and pulled her foot to her and saw the cut. and hopped down into the boat. “Let him go. but would she be immune to a gun? Penny should have had Turk kill the Healer. worried. Jagged. yanked back. and now her foot was hurt and bleeding. The Healer might be almost immune to Penny’s power. carried him over the side. So that she could see his wide. Diana?” Diana saw legs kicking below the surface of the water. Blood gushed from her foot. but no one liked her. But he didn’t hit. Atria had wound down. He coughed. Breathe. so the light had to bounce down to reach her. Once you’re in. “Ahhhh!” It hurt! Tears came into Penny’s eyes. Breathe again. the base of what must have been a wine bottle. Only Lana would help him. puddling in the sand. Standing on the deck. Grinning at her. but with no force. And what would happen to her when it was dark? It was all so unfair. His eyes were closed. keeping him submerged. I let the kid up. Coughed again and spit up water. How could he be here? How was this possible? “What. searching for a weapon. Pause. “If you want to keep him alive. she should check for a pulse. Drake untied the rope and settled in at the oars. And in a flash the hatch was thrown back and Drake pushed himself awkwardly up. A flutter in the little boy’s neck. Diana was moving toward him. It made no sense. Diana. Diana pulled him into a sitting position. but her breath was gone. Diana knelt over Justin.It was the bottom of a bottle. When he reached the bow he met Diana’s tearful gaze.” Diana sobbed just once. She climbed over the rail and dropped awkwardly into the boat. Pulse. Roger emerged on deck. that was what she should have done. panting. She froze.” Drake said. reading. eyes closed. a projectile aimed right at Diana’s giant belly. When she touched his face he felt as cold as death. and plunged him under the water. white eyes. Diana pressed two fingers against the boy’s neck. Atria saw now and screamed. Climb your fine butt down into it. Not as bad as that. Not before. And Drake would still be here. Something. Diana shot wild looks in every direction. The little boy was silent. Nothing. So that she could see that he was screaming away the last of his air. Breathe. like a sack of garbage. when she saw the tentacle wrapped around his ankle. So I’d hurry if I were you. She could see the fear in the boy’s eyes. She was in the bow now. She knew she should scream. And she had survived that. One sound from you and I’ll drown him like . Roger’s expression turned murderous. the light wasn’t really coming from one place. Drake was out of the engine space. Then what? Diana got heavily to her feet just as Justin went tearing past again.

Say you’re going back to Caine. No Sam. kinda sucks.” Already the dinghy was near shore. Dekka couldn’t do anything. “Yeah. Drake?” Diana demanded. Sinder. Who knew what Drake had been up to? Who could tell how much his psychopathic mind had deteriorated? He was singing again. huh?” Drake said cheerfully. Jezzie was behind her.” Could Drake be that stupid to believe that anyone would buy that story? To imagine that Sinder and Jezzie would stand calmly discussing things with Whip Hand? Maybe. Not from that distance. She saw Dekka on the top deck. She was looking up at the shrinking sky. No more than twenty more pulls of the oars. “Oh.” . trying to put on a brave front.” “I should have sawed through your neck. No one. Diana shot a glance back at the houseboat. “Yeah. But if you hadn’t done that for me. Diana? I was mad at the time.” he said. “Anyway. I wouldn’t be Whip Hand. more or less in time with the oars. “Did I ever thank you for sawing off my arm.a puppy. Wait. terrified gaze without flinching. but she wasn’t looking this way. He winked. We’ll tell them you’ve decided on a little vacation. don’t worry: we’ll stop and talk to them. You really should have. “You should have. Drake smiled. No Edilio.” Diana scanned the onrushing shore. She was dragging a massive sack of something down the shore.” Diana spit the words. “What do you want. Drake saw the hope in her eyes. meeting her furious.

Then he spotted the solution: the movie theaters.” He moved next to his footlocker. He went to the theater and bought a ticket using a credit card. The GPS would narrow his location to a few feet. But not too early for her to be shopping for the Friday-night cookout. and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me. If he left his cell phone here and went out they’d know he was up to something. They’d still be able to see what towers his signal reached. It was a twenty-minute drive to Vons. Her silver Kia was not in its usual spot. Face-to-face. It was a small room without a lot of options. “Pff. He looked at her. Three movies showing. He obeyed the chain of command from his lieutenant to his captain to the colonel to the general and on up to the president of the United States. And waited. There would be security cameras inside Vons. Two hours? That would be pushing it. Not to mention wrong.” . He lay back on his bunk and gave it some thought. That would be the hard part: to do the right thing and manage not to get caught doing it. This would have to be old-school. Darius Lee Ashton. really. At the same time. that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. Outside he almost instantly spotted the silver Kia. As soon as the previews started he ditched the junk food and let himself out through one of the side exits. Someone had drilled a very tiny hole in the base to allow better reception by a mike no thicker than a piece of angel hair pasta. he turned to searching for a bug. The spicy ones. He tried to recall everything he knew about Connie Temple. then. He had a good view of the parking lot. And this—setting off a nuclear weapon underneath a bunch of kids who were fighting for their lives—that was FUBAR. according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And the obeying orders part? It said according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But had they placed a bug in here as well? He turned off the tracking feature for his phone. where had they put the bug? They’d surely tap his cell phone—that was a given—and they’d use the phone’s GPS to keep track of his location. But no American soldier was required—or could ever be legally required—to kill American citizens on American soil. His buddy told him to pick up some Cheetos. The bug was in the base of the lamp. No. no bigger than a walk-in closet. all of them crap. “I’m putting my life in your hands. but he was by long habit a very organized man. After that all he could do was wait. An hour he could explain. that will not cut it. He drove through McDonald’s for a coffee. But if Connie Temple was cooking ribs then there were only two places she could buy them. He was no constitutional law scholar. “What are you talking about?” “Life in prison if I get caught and convicted. That was not what he promised to do when he raised his hand and was sworn in as a soldier. Darius was not interested in spending the rest of his life in a windowless cell at Fort Leavenworth. She did the same. So. Time was short.OUTSIDE saw the signs that in his absence his quarters had been entered. and they had lots of other people to watch. Perfect. the more likely it was to be FUBAR. They had no reason to suspect him. He was careful to keep his ticket stub. He had a small room in the NCO barracks. No.” he said.” he said dismissively. Well. foreign and domestic. Fortunately the Vons grocery and the Fat N’ Greezy rib stand were in the same strip center. said he was going to drive down to Vons for some munchies and beer. So he moved his own car until it was parked beside Connie’s. anyway. Tracking the tower signals would only put them within a mile of his location. What would she be doing right now? Where would she be? What was today? Thursday? No. but he was pretty sure it did not call for nuking a bunch of kids in California. He’d already decided to tell Connie. Darius stuck his phone in his pocket. which was where Connie went. Okay. There was way too much activity out there. Which quite definitely did not say that an American soldier should get into the business of killing American kids. Darius killed some time filling his tank at the Chevron. She came out with a cart half-full of plastic bags. The question was. Those boys were in a hurry. They’d been careful. So help me God. do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies. He was under orders. He stopped by a buddy’s room on the way out. The bunk was narrow and the armyissue blanket was so tight you could bounce a quarter off it. He passed Connie’s trailer on the way. but that was a far less accurate way to track him. Nothing most people would notice. If word got out. email. But Sergeant Darius Ashton had been in the army long enough to know that the bigger the secret. Unfortunately it was also not in the Vons parking lot. He went inside and bought fifteen dollars’ worth worth of popcorn and candy. Texts. And now there was just the slightest indentation where someone had sat on the edge of the bed and then tried to smooth it. They would have to see his cell phone move. the American people wouldn’t let it happen. “Not in this man’s army. but he’d seen one of them. all of that would be intercepted. Yep. Con. Too early for Connie to be cooking ribs. With that done. It was a long shot. The pillow squared just so. It was Friday. He had signed the secrecy document. he’d have to have left no evidence whatsoever. It didn’t take long to find it. but it had been searched. Then he rolled down the window. And if it all went to hell later. No way. He was an American soldier. he would have to be very careful. SERGEANT DARIUS ASHTON I. She didn’t notice him sitting there until she was behind the wheel of her car. And since it was a straight shot down the highway he was pretty sure he wasn’t being followed. He was morally certain of that. Thing one: defend the Constitution.

Which was fine with him. It made her look older. he liked a woman who looked like a woman.Her brow furrowed. “What is it.” . Darius?” “They’re going to nuke the dome.

The light was pretty bad. He’s out there. Then he swept his arm to point at the shore. 28 MINUTES THE ARTFUL ROGER shouted from the deck of the sailboat. Edilio raced downstairs. Sam emphasized Edilio’s order by stabbing his finger unmistakably in the direction of Jack. Edilio raised one hand in a fist for Roger to see. And there. too. Sam. either. In seconds they would be out of sight. With his hand Drake made a mocking come and get me move.” She swung her machete. So this isn’t going to be your battle. Fire a round!” Edilio didn’t hear or at least didn’t connect those words with any action. Could they do it? The coyotes trotted with the relentlessness of motion that marked them as successful predators.” Brianna said. Two of the coyotes decided to stand side by side and make a stand. If Brianna were anywhere close. And send Jack as well. Helpless. already worn out. Drake hurried up the bluff with Diana stumbling ahead and Justin trying pitifully to help her. then stopped. He swiveled to look at Roger. Not now. scraping along the gravel. Jack reluctantly trudged to the back of the boat and there came the coughing start-up of an outboard engine. But even Brianna’s low gear was twice that. Edilio heard and knew instantly that something had gone terribly wrong. Dekka was already running down the dock. Then he smashed the oar down. The message was clear. but Edilio knew he couldn’t just stand there. Why aren’t you going after Justin? Why are you and Sam standing there doing nothing? Edilio could see that the whole population was up on deck on the various scattered boats. okay? It’s going dark and you make light. My place is here. He looked at Edilio. “Sam. Staring at their suddenly powerless leaders. raised one of the oars. and waved at Edilio. Orc. too.” Edilio said. “Heh. I’d just be another victim. Orc. The body took two steps. The little boy was crying. He was in pain. coming toward her.” Sam looked like he’d been punched. Or a different pack? It didn’t matter. and tumbled into the dirt. “Yeah. And Edilio had no doubt Drake would do it. Edilio felt his heart drop into his stomach. Edilio raised the binoculars again to look at Roger. Brianna spotted them maybe half a mile away. Edilio jabbed the binoculars into his eye sockets. Figure it out. Now he had the jagged wooden stump of it in his tentacle. “He’s got Diana. So she couldn’t crank it up to anything like full speed. Orc. no!” Edilio snapped. It’s on the rest of us to step up. So that Roger would know that Edilio understood and had not lost hope. He pointed it at Justin’s throat. yes. Dekka. really: all coyotes were killon-sight. But that was okay: a coyote might break twenty-five. There was no mistaking the tentacle arm that jerked Diana rudely up and tossed her onto the ground. Sam cursed Brianna for a reckless. They pointed at her and then looked back. The result was a very gratifying panic. Jack. Coyotes go the other way.” Then beyond them. “Edilio. I can’t take Drake on. And Justin. it had gotten so they were pretty rare. a second group. thirty miles per hour. A rowboat moved quickly toward the land. Sam missed a step.” He glanced back at Roger. Then take a quick look-see for Drake before Sam even noticed she was gone. Take out this nearer pack. They all stared hard at their leaders now. “We’re scattered. irresponsible idiot. They’d all heard the shots. “Me. not at this distance. Sam pulled Edilio’s pistol out and fired three rounds into the air. as if magically hearing his name. He might not catch up. And the terrain was pretty rough. “All dogs go to heaven. to sweep along the bluff and find Dekka levitating herself over rises. Edilio spotted Jack on a motorboat. trying to reach the place where Drake had come ashore. and raced back up with Sam and Dekka breathless in his wake. yes. Roger was waving furiously. It glanced at her with death in its dumb eyes. frowning at Sam and Edilio. breaking it in half. Jack mimed a who me? gesture. but Edilio pointed straight at him. at the limits of her sight.” Edilio licked his lips and looked miserable. directing Edilio to look toward the shore. who held out his hands in a gesture of incomprehension that Edilio interpreted easily.” Drake. “Where is Breeze?” Sam raged.” “Are you out of your mind? You think I’m going to let Drake come in here and take Diana?” “Not you. tongues lolling. They were tearing away at top speed. Like someone had knocked the wind out of him. The rest of the pack. In fact. She made out four of them. turned toward him. “It’s Drake. puzzled. to follow Jack as he headed to shore. She ran up beside the nearest of the coyotes. “You aren’t replaceable. One of the coyotes spotted her. she would hear and know what it meant. One had a ruff matted .TWENTY-SIX 11 HOURS. He blinked and started to say something and stopped. Edilio could see the tears streaming down his face. The boat was inches from shore. You die and the light dies with you. Roger looked like he’d been gutted. grabbed Sam’s binoculars. at Sam and Edilio. Sam. Sam spun to race after her. Edilio felt a small breath of hope. tripped over the head. He forced himself to look away. They were panting. But there was zero chance of her catching Drake. Some noticed Dekka laboring along the shoreline. He was too far away to be able to hear. and Dekka. Anyone but you. And we can’t risk you.

Computer Jack bent his knees and leaped what had to be fifty feet. Now she was his living nightmare. maybe. “Why don’t you just kill me and get it over with. no. So far she wasn’t in sight. Drake? It’s the closest you’ll ever come to pleasure. doggies. Drake had not witnessed this before. That was good. So superior. The little boy yelled. He should have finished Brianna back at Coates. Maybe the gaiaphage’s power was waning. hot rage he felt for Diana. And that frosty prig. Drake. Well. The red mist was receding. “Let us go. Everything was brown on brown. It’s Brianna. Like he hated Diana. that was good. Brave little kid. cutting through her shirt and painting a red stripe on her back. He shrieked in sudden rage. The three of them: so arrogant. even the air itself. That would stop Sam’s complaining. He had to deliver Diana to his master. That was nice. He reached with his whip and snagged Diana’s ankle. The coyotes could have done it with smell and their own innate sense of navigation. That was good. “Scared. Where were the coyotes? Drake had expected them to close in with him as soon as he reached the bluff. See how tough Brianna was when it meant cutting her way past a little kid. He should have finished her. Maybe the stupid dogs were right to go rogue. it could probably get away when the final darkness came. One was that Brittney would emerge just when Drake needed to be able to fight. He hated her. Maybe he was serving a failing master. And Brianna. The jumping thing: that was a problem. Justin turned and clenched his fists and yelled. Fast! Once night came he would be safe. This time he had to come through. No.” He heard a noise and glanced over his shoulder. too. Diana flinched but did not run. No coyotes. judging him. “Justin! Run!” Diana screamed as the whip came down. The consequences of that he could not bear to think about. turned tail and ran and Brianna severed her spine. Then the gaiaphage’s gratitude would be even greater. The memory of her taunts was still a red wound in his psyche. A veil of red came down over his vision. In the dim light it was hard to see. by the way? Find out your mom was a whore or something?” The explosion shocked even him. “Leave her alone!” Drake smirked. “Hey. She decapitated one.” She had trouble finding the fourth animal. isn’t it? Of course. Where was she? Where was the so-called Breeze? Diana stopped moving. but it was never as deep and intense as it was with girls. But if the coyote waited her out. but until then… Drake feared two things. He had to move fast. a woman-hater like you? What was it with you and females.” Brianna said. He was vaguely aware that Diana was crawling away. It scared him. pursued by a sense of guilt and worry about what Sam would say if she came back with nothing but three dead coyotes to show for it. he could want to destroy them. His roar of fury was a pure animal sound. She had just been an annoying nobody then. No. His hatred for Sam was a cool breeze compared to the seething. “Hey!” Computer Jack yelled. Not good. she had a more important target.” Brianna said to the body. watching. He flew at her.” “Then move faster. “Scared of Sam?” She tilted her head to one side. No time to really enjoy it. the one marked by dried blood that had probably once given life to Howard Bassem. Drake had to hear it again before he could even focus his eyes on the source. and stood over her with his whip raised. Brianna took off at the cautious pace of a galloping thoroughbred. “We’re just slowing you down. Anyway. and snapped his whip.” he said. knocked her to the ground. She had cried out in pain. They should have been waiting there. But it was no contest. “Hey!” a voice cried. They had abandoned him. “I never liked Howard. bloodlust rage. Not for the first time Drake felt the sharp edge of fear. Which meant they were abandoning his master as well. His mate. She turned to face him. He loved the memory of humiliating Sam. Coyotes were mere accessories: Drake was the main goal. red-hot. He’d barely known she was alive. girls were special. “You’ll move or I’ll see if the little kid likes old Whip Hand. of course not.with dried blood. He could have hurt the baby.” Diana said. But that was the thing about Brianna: she could show up in a real hurry. “Oh. He could move faster than Drake. She danced forward and they snapped at her. especially a Drake driving Diana like a reluctant cow through a darkening desert. But he wouldn’t be able to stop worrying about her until true darkness came. but even now the memory of his triumph over Astrid gave him a warm glow all over. Astrid. . But that wasn’t his job. Drake?” She narrowed her eyes. She’d have to get Drake. defiant. She waited patiently. Justin was running toward him. but he was no coyote. if time was short. tripping her and causing her to land hard on her belly. Drake snapped his tentacle at the boy but missed by inches. he could enjoy making them suffer. you sick piece of—” “Move!” he roared. When Brianna came he’d find some way to use him as a shield. it seemed. Like rats deserting a sinking ship. “But I like you even less. And Astrid. Even this weak iced-tea light was dangerous to Swift Girl. It had probably decided to cower and hide. But yeah. He’d let himself be distracted by his own pleasures. not if Drake succeeded. He could hate guys. “No!” But then he broke and ran as hard as his short legs could go. Nasty little brat. he had to warn himself: he’d made that error before. Night would be the end of Brianna’s usefulness. He landed just a hundred yards away. smashed her with his fist. The second was Brianna. flinching in the expectation of a machete suddenly zooming at him at the speed of a motorcycle. And then there was the problem of finding his way back to the gaiaphage.

you have to carry him. but it could be cut. He started running. not meaner.” Dekka said.” Jack said. Nothing was going right. To his amazement Jack just tensed his muscles and resisted all of Drake’s strength. Just then Justin reached him and threw himself at Jack’s legs.” She cursed furiously. The pulsing stopped but the pressure seemed to make Jack’s breathing raspy and labored. “Let Diana and Justin go. He put his hand to his neck. “It’s an artery or something. Dust kicked up. At least someone there can sew him up. She kept her palm in place but pushed the shirt beneath it. Jack pushed Justin away. real. trying to get hold of it. And darkness. It was like trying to choke a tree trunk.” Dekka said. serious. and handed it to her.” “We can’t let him die. screaming. And a part of her—a part she wasn’t proud of—wished Jack would just die. a surprisingly brave thing to do. don’t die on me. For a moment Dekka wondered if he would go off after him. Drake saw his hesitation and grinned. Jack. Slanting tea-colored light cast lurid shadows of fleeing children and the yellow canines. The whip tore the air and slashed at Jack’s neck.” Orc easily ripped the T-shirt.” Orc stared in the direction Drake had gone. calling one another’s names. bypassed a few larger kids. What are you doing out here?” “Nothing. disorganized gaggle had turned off the highway and onto the gravel road that led to the lake. He moved instantly back on the attack.” “Believe me. almost casual. his footprints—and two other sets—still barely visible in the fading light. Only don’t fight him until I catch up. hesitant kids. His voice was shaky. dude. The coyotes came bounding straight down the road as if sent from the lake. Drake said to Diana. and then again. and suddenly converged on a two-year-old girl. To Orc she said. pressing it into the cut. that was fun for all of us. five of them. a sudden vicious cut to Jack’s neck. The arm. ready to take her down for good. Neither was Sanjit. Jack. holding on in terror. took two clumsy backward steps.Drake walked straight toward Jack. She didn’t need to feel for it.” “It’ll be dark soon. Jack had been able to bound ahead. He fumed at the delay. screaming. Maybe even reckless. frantic. What am I supposed to do? It won’t stop! You’re stronger than I am. Blood sprayed from Jack’s throat. Justin lay whimpering beside him as Jack sank to his knees in the dirt. “Come on. Something. Jack cried out in pain.” Orc said. The second coyote pack struck without warning after the noisy. That throat. The coyotes. like he was tearing tissue paper. right at that moment. Maybe even a little stupid. to Dekka’s eyes. It had been. Then we go after Drake. A second coyote grabbed the child by her dress and began hauling her away. Orc. “Get out of the way!” Sanjit yelled. Straight down the road. .” “What about Drake?” Orc demanded. Had Jack attacked right then. And then. “All right. push against it!” Orc did as he was told. But Dekka valued one virtue above all others. She began trotting after Drake. “We have to get him back to the lake. “Huh. this is it darkness was coming down fast. He should have reached the lake by now. “Get out of the way!” Screams were general now. There were hills to the right. huh?” Drake kept shortening the gap between them. like she was expecting to suddenly spot a first-aid kit. Right now. And silently realized that by herself she could not possibly beat Drake. he would have had a chance. He drew the pistol Lana had given him but there was no way to get a clear shot. “Drake. She didn’t want to like Jack. and barely kept his feet. The coyote dragged her off her feet and started hauling her off the road. She cried. Sanjit was now part of a growing crowd of frightened. Drake wrapped his whip around the little boy and simply flung him in the direction of Diana. He whipped Jack across the chest. were not the immediate targets. He lost his grip and the child was up and running. Kids in panic were rushing back toward him. Mason. I’ll be happy to wait for reinforcements. Now get moving before I lose my happy mood. but just barely. The first Sanjit knew of it were the screams as the coyotes began their rushing attack. whirling his whip arm over his head. “I’ll take him. The two twelve-year-old girls. “He has a pulse. “You go after Drake.” She had her palm pressed against the pumping wound in Jack’s neck. It missed and hit his shoulder instead. Drake never hesitated but swiftly wrapped his tentacle around Jack’s neck and squeezed tight. Others scattered left and right. We get him back there. Dekka looked around. He mashed the bloody rag against Jack’s throat. because he was probably going to anyway and Drake was going to get away. Drake was too quick. “Orc. We have to go fast. and stared in utter disbelief at a hand not just touched with but drenched in blood. The blood did not stop flowing. and in the distance to the west a dark line of trees that someone told Sanjit was probably the edge of the Stefano Rey National Park. Straight at Jack. He danced back but tripped. “Nothing? Just going for a walk.” Jack answered defensively. “We need needle and thread. But brave.” Orc and Dekka were similar in that neither of them was very fast. long time. It couldn’t be choked. backed up. Drake ran straight at him. Then. leaving Jack on his side bleeding into the dirt. “Tear his shirt off for me. He’d grown stronger. But Jack was no fighter. slashing and slashing as Jack backed up.” she said. Keira and Tabitha. formed a semicircle. The lead coyote bit the child’s arm. Drake broke into a run. pulled it away. “Hey.” “Yeah.” Orc said. Now they found him lying on his side in mud made from his own blood. I can’t stop it. Then Jack snatched at the whip. and Jack had shown it. I can’t keep him from bleeding out. She could see it. and the boy.

Sanjit fired in the air. The sky was so weird. nothing but a few dead coyotes … and a failure when her powers might be almost useless… She was nothing if she was not the Breeze. She dashed to the top of the nearest hill. registered them belatedly. The girl was bloody but alive. And found nothing. She had to get some altitude. Sanjit reached the girl just as her sister did. Surely he hadn’t come along the road. Brianna had been down the road as far as the hills. Not far at all. And screaming. She had disobeyed orders before. “If we’re still out here. Get the larger view while there was still a view to get. But not far. And worried about Sam yelling at her. and she’d found that rabbits were proliferating near Coates. could see the coyote’s yellow teeth and intelligent eyes. When she saw kids coming toward Perdido Beach she knew Drake hadn’t passed that way. But she thought she saw a single person moving. then raced back to find them again.” The group of maybe two dozen kids. To the north. A pair of boots. at least in her own mind. The most dangerous person in the FAYZ after Sam and Caine. Sam wouldn’t even need her. It would be great. A plan that would make Sam proud. Hah! See if Drake could put himself back together then. He aimed the gun from just a few feet and fired. She was the Breeze: she was the anti-Drake. The one with the little girl in his teeth did not. If. she was the one to find him and take him down. She raced toward the Santa Katrina Hills. But no Drake. And a pair of sneakers. Surely she would have seen him if he were close to the lake. too late. The mighty Brianna. Both leading from the hills in the general direction of Perdido Beach. He wouldn’t ask her to meetings. Kids had their cudgels and blades out. So she ran there and looked around. it was all wrong. It was hard to be sure because of the light and the narrowness of the gap between two hills. Turning the other way she could see the ocean. She blew right past two sets of footprints. a scraped-bald thing maybe two thousand feet tall. all huddling close together. She had found kids leaving Perdido Beach all babbling about the sky dying. She wouldn’t be his go-to person. Brianna said a prayer that it might be Drake. but now to be such a failure. The light so wrong. a pistol shot away. Neither was big enough to be Drake. And she couldn’t go back to Sam with empty hands. And if he was out and about. Which left her baffled. running free. rising from the horizon to make a new. And he wasn’t at the base or anywhere between those three points. What to do? Then she saw what looked like a person walking. The coyotes danced eagerly. everyone screaming and crying. The coyotes flinched. She had a plan for dealing with him. The road was hidden from view. bristling with fearful threat. and she’d found a dropped jar of Nutella on the line between the lake and the air base and had promptly eaten it. Sanjit was just a few feet away now. She was going to slice and dice him and use her speed to spread the parts all around the FAYZ. It would be the end of her. when night comes we’re all dead. jagged horizon. Brianna glanced anxiously at the sky. Which meant he might have retreated toward the air national guard base. She was tired and frustrated. But she hadn’t found him. . moved down the road as hungry coyote eyes watched and tongues lolled. A couple trotted away to a safe distance. because she couldn’t come back empty-handed. BAM! The coyote let go of the girl and ran off. But Sanjit knew he had no chance of hitting one. “Get moving!” Sanjit yelled harshly. that was it. She would go from being important to being just another girl. They were quite clear. Swift Girl. That blank blackness all around. waiting for fresh meat. And if it really did turn dark and stay dark? Then what? Then what for the Breeze? She would be stumbling around in the dark like everyone else. She couldn’t stay out here. She could make out the lake. could see blood. Which just sent her off toward Coates. shimmering strangely in the unnatural light. And he wouldn’t be heading that way.

” Diana felt like choking the girl. “No. Diana tried to understand. aren’t you?” Brittney asked almost shyly. Surely a big rock would at least stun her. Try that. Justin’s. So whenever he’s gone you can—” “I’m not doing this for Drake. eager. “You were a church girl. The dark creature wanted her baby. Her bare feet were bloody.” Brittney said earnestly.” Brittney’s eyes were bright. hard punch. And Diana didn’t have a machete. “That was the old God. “Justin. But each one came at the cost of another slice in her flesh. The same would be true of Brittney. What did it want with her baby? Why was this happening? She missed her step. She couldn’t imagine that she would make it to the gaiaphage alive.” Diana said. not for the first time. “Bring it. Or worse yet. very serious. No.” Brittney said.” “Yes.” Brittney recited. Start running. “You should be excited. but at least he’s not an idiot. His fear was palpable. And then how would he keep control of Diana and Justin? No comfort. The circle of blue sky was the color of new denim.” Diana laughed in her face. Diana climbed quickly to her feet. I don’t have to follow an invisible god anymore. when she could suspend for a brief few seconds the crushing fear that bore down on her.” Brittney said. The dying of the light scared him.” “Exactly. She’d had plenty of opportunity to think of snide remarks. We’re never together. “Gotta get there before dark. So she stumbled along in silence. “God is everywhere. It was not a slap. He wants you. I don’t eat people.TWENTY-SEVEN 10 HOURS. if not scorn. You were on Sam’s side. you know.” he muttered more than once. You’re not the only one who can find a rock. The baby. And if it would do any good she would. The baby kicked. “And you think Jesus wants you to do this? This? Threaten a pregnant girl with a rock? That’s your religious theory? Jesus wants you to help a sadistic mental case to turn me over to a monster? I must have missed that part of the Bible.” Drake was spiraling down almost as fast as Diana herself. Diana realized that once absolute night fell Drake would be as lost as anyone. and the pain of that was so much worse. Brittney? You were the one fighting us at the power plant. Is that part of the Sermon on the Mount?” Brittney looked at her.” She made a chiding face. and waited until Diana had run out of breath. Whip Hand was not here. stumbled. of course. Hah. Make some of your witty remarks to the gaiaphage. When she came to she found Justin next to her.” . he had survived. So did Brittney. That’s all I know.” He was still looking over his shoulder constantly. Diana. If she told Justin to run back toward the lake. I’m not a zombie. He doesn’t live in the FAYZ. that’s true. Brittney was seated a few feet away. The sky was a black.” “Your… Your what? Your what? You think God wants you to be doing this? Did you go stupid on top of being undead?” “We each must serve. 54 MINUTES DIANA’S LEGS ACHED. too. See if she can do that. She held up a good-size rock in each hand. “I’m doing this for my lord. as an afterthought she added. That God was before. She wondered if she could stun Brittney long enough to get away. “but whatever he leaves is mine. I can see him! I can touch him! I know where he lives.” “I found some rocks.” “You know what? I’m ready for Drake to come back. Maybe. “But it won’t hurt me when you hit me.” Diana said. The baby was what he wanted. Justin was trying to help her but there was no way to ease the pain of bare soles on sharp stone. how far would he get before the darkness closed in? Which was worse? To wander alone in the dark until he fell off a cliff or was scented by a coyote or wandered into a zeke field or … or … or… “Then what happened to you? Why are you helping Drake? You should be fighting him every time you get the chance. Diana knew that was the objective. Diana had no doubt about that. we’re out of here. “I can hit you with them. No more little children’s stories. The three-bar baby. Justin. and gladly. as she leaned forward. “Come on. That’s why we came for you. and landed hard on her knees. It took Diana a few moments to make sense of things. He punched her in the face. and then screamed as the lash landed across her back. Her fists punched and her fingernails tore but he was far too quick. “Anyway. Anytime she slowed or stumbled Drake would snap his whip. Diana’s mind was turning at top speed. like a lesson she’d learned a long time ago. He’s evil. She had sliced him up like a butcher with a hog.” Then. zombie freak. And yet. Drake had taken to gloating about it. “Yes?” “See the place where the hills end? The lake is just past that. Drake couldn’t be here so long as Brittney was. And you can’t kill me.” Drake said. “I can’t ever fight Drake. you must know that. But unfortunately everyone knew the story of what had happened when Brianna fought Drake. she thought.” Diana stood up. Drake was not here. Diana had come to think of it as Breezanoia—a terrible fear of Brianna. featureless bowl. and what he looks like. They could get away from Drake. And not just fear of Brianna. “You’re pregnant.” She smiled and Diana saw the broken wire sticking out of her braces. In a rage she flew at him. and smaller. “She can come zooming up all she wants. Then she fell straight back. When she could take her mind off the agony in her feet and legs and back. “Don’t know what he wants with you. It was a full. She cried out in pain. noticeably smaller than it had been.” Drake said. Just like a cartoon. Or don’t you remember that?” “I remember. “See if she can cut me without cutting the brat. Her head swam and she saw stars. holding on to her and crying.” she said. And then what? Diana’s hand went to her stomach.” “Why are you doing this.

with sprays of it across her face. the Darkness. toughest chick in the FAYZ. Shadows were deeper.” Brianna stared at her. “Do you ever think about anything besides yourself?” Dekka yelled. whatever. “Put me down or I’ll shoot you!” Dekka had gotten to her feet.” Brittney said. For a long time she just looked at nothing. In her free hand she held a sharp rock very close to Justin’s chattering. fearful mouth. but like rocking-the-tough-chick-thing sisters. “Are you nuts? Jack went after Drake? Jack doesn’t do things like that.” It was not Drake. She looked smaller. who had made this Brittney. besides me you’re the bravest. . The pain…” That stopped her again. “Drake has Diana and Justin. They and. “That’s not my fault! That’s not on me! I was out looking for Drake. maybe dying. Brianna was too astonished to hit back. along with Caine and Drake. “You don’t love Jack. Brianna kept doing the same. “It was bad. I don’t scare easy.” Brianna shrugged.” Dekka grated. “I mean. went blank.” Brianna said hotly. “Keep walking. But I didn’t want to die without telling you. if it wasn’t Dekka. that’s all. The brave. This unbalanced her completely and she fell heavily on her side. “I’ve talked to you. “Look. Brittney ran after Justin. She took a few seconds to master it. Sam shot off some rounds and no Brianna. “Where have you been?” Dekka demanded without so much as a hello. toward the gaiaphage. shifting from side to side and just about unable to resist the desire to go tearing off at a hundred miles an hour.” Suddenly Dekka’s bloody fist was flying straight for Brianna’s nose. her voice strained. You don’t even care about him. suddenly even more uncomfortable. “I thought I was done for.” Brianna said. and Drake. Now. and they were being awkward. Then. okay. and the gaiaphage. Dekka wasn’t finished. “Right behind you. you know? Like badass sisters. feeling like she was missing something.” Dekka said. she said. decent girl who refused to disappoint Sam and Edilio.” Brianna said defensively.” Brianna shook her head violently. You don’t like girls. And Caine’s role would be played by his son or daughter. Diana remembered again who Brittney had once been. she and Caine and Drake.” She swallowed hard. too. Brianna easily sidestepped and Dekka stumbled forward. Now here they were on their way to a reunion.” Brianna actually took a step back. It was Diana. Brianna yanked out her sawed-off shotgun and leveled it at Dekka. Dekka kept looking past her. Need was something different.” Brianna frowned. Finally Dekka sighed.” Brianna shook her head. although Diana swung on her again. “Look. She had wanted so badly to escape it all. “Who is Justin?” “Where were you? You were supposed to be within earshot. For that briefest moment she believed she had changed Caine. She could deal with anger.” “And you said nothing. “Hey.” “He does when there’s no other choice. “What do you want me to say? I hope Jack’s okay. do you? You haven’t even asked how he is. It was Dekka. “Like sisters. “Four months and you haven’t even said anything to me. And that was when they had created the baby inside her. “What’s with the blood?” “It’s your boyfriend’s.” “I was looking for Drake.” “Yeah. “I told you I loved you. Nothing. like red paint. He went after Drake by himself. unreadable to Brianna.” “Yeah. but a pregnant girl running in the sand… Brittney hugged Justin to her with one arm. Drake cut his throat. “Please. What a fatal little group they had proved to be. I’m sorry or whatever. of course.” Dekka said. She left a smear of blood. Dekka glared pure fury at her. I always thought we were like sisters.” Dekka’s eyes. I mean.” “But … you don’t…” This was a Dekka Brianna wasn’t prepared for. “You would do it. She skidded to a halt. Aside from it being obvious that Dekka was mad about something. maybe dead already. like she was pushing through it. She caught him easily. Diana tried to grab Brittney. The world was ending. “Are you that clueless? How do you not understand how irresponsible you are? Right now Orc is running back to the lake with his hands barely holding Jack’s blood in. Brianna sheathed her machete and decided against answering. Gravity was suspended. Diana. Dekka was covered in blood from hand to elbow. It was a heartbreaking parody of maternal protectiveness. At the space beside Brianna. He’s heading toward the mine shaft. Suddenly Brianna found herself in a column of floating sand. But she looked away as she said it. The distant figure Brianna had seen was not Drake. It would have been almost funny.“Are you coming?” Justin cried. “Why are you hating on me?” Dekka’s jaw actually dropped. Jack was hurt.” Brianna said. What do you want from me?” Dekka’s face was an ugly mask of emotion. That did it. And Brianna had raced up within shouting distance with her machete out before she realized. “I don’t think so. She tried to run but there was no solid ground beneath her. She actually kicked at Brianna. run!” Brittney didn’t come after Diana.” “Do you like boys?” Dekka asked. and the shadows were just shadows of other shadows. And I was dying. And I’ll kill Drake if I get the chance. “My what?” “Jack.” Brianna said. actually stroking Justin’s face with the stone. To Brianna’s amazement there were tears in Dekka’s eyes. “I told you—” Dekka began before her voice choked off. She looked like a big rag doll with half the stuffing gone. so hot and furious. Finally: “You’re not gay. Dekka squared her shoulders. I should have died. Look at the damage they had done. And the gaiaphage. unable to meet Brianna’s eyes. Darkness was coming on fast now. Seemed to be arguing with herself. And Drake is probably whipping Diana across the desert. For four months. then she shook her head angrily.” “Uh-huh. She wiped them away so violently it was like she was slapping herself. wouldn’t you?” She waved her hand angrily and Brianna dropped two feet back to earth. look.

” “What do we do now? I can’t run very fast in the dark. “Why didn’t you just tell me?” “What?” Dekka balled her fists up. “No. like every other girl—well. isn’t it? The real you. “I forget. but this time she wiped the tears away with a laugh. then gone for now. knowing now that it was a hopeless effort. What kind of question was that? “All this time…” Dekka didn’t finish the thought. But we still go after Drake. .” “You’re not in love with Jack?” Brianna barked out a surprised laugh. “I just like being The Breeze. I wasn’t seeing you.” Brianna squinted. everything I ever wanted in a girlfriend. the frustration. how could we not be cool? We are definitely the badass sisters. it would figure. Dekka sighed a deep.. Or if not gone forever. and we can’t leave her to him. Jack probably dying. I mean.” Astrid walked holding Cigar’s hand.’” All the anger was gone from Dekka.” Brianna felt energy flowing through her again. And I see you run into a fight with Drake and. “Jack? Computer Jack? I mean. indifferent child. Nope. I look at you and you’re. I’m just thirteen! Jeez! I know it’s the FAYZ and all. And the coming darkness? Well.” “I mean. like. She was the Breeze. I mean. A crush on Sam? Making out with Jack? Nope.” “Yeah. Gone until he somehow got help. heedless. And if I’m reading a book I don’t understand he can always explain stuff.Brianna shrugged. “The boy hates chicks. Maybe he was the one shutting down the light. I did notice that about him. But he’s not—” And there she stopped herself. he’s sweet. Brianna. He’s smart.” Brianna said. He’s nice. And it didn’t help that much. I was letting my own… I was seeing what I wanted to see. She was the most dangerous person … okay. it’s like.’ capital ‘B. He hates women. Then added. they were gone. Something or someone with staggering power and no idea how to use it. heedless games with the helpless creatures in the FAYZ.” “Yeah. And I see how Sam depends on you. long sigh. Every part of this made her uncomfortable. “I forget. “I forget. “I don’t know. They were all mere humans. Well. definitely feeling like she was coming out on the worse end of this conversation. That’s what I was doing. third most dangerous person … not a kid. He could see her brother. The tiredness.” She repeated it sadly. I guess.” “Yep. I mean. He’s got Diana. I guess—but it’s not like that. Dekka laughed.” “But you and me. after all. The light going out. she could still swing a very. “I mean. A sharp intake of breath from Dekka. Well. “This is you. very fast machete. you know. Little Pete was an unseen. Not like a little kid. To Brianna’s surprise that drew an incredulous laugh from Dekka. And I forget you’re still just a kid. I mean. “Breeze. Maybe the stain was his. I see you do stuff that’s so crazy brave.. though. “I swear to God I’m going to kill you if you keep playing dumb!” “I like boys.” Brianna blushed. wouldn’t it? Sooner or later the game had to end. Brianna. right? Let’s go give him a good reason to. We’re cool?” Dekka was crying again. wow. I like him okay. And the closest thing they had to a god was a reckless. “You are. Not stupid. Maybe it was just okay to say stuff. Why had she said that? She wasn’t a kid. but I’m really just … a kid. How everyone does. but she couldn’t snatch words back.” “Bored. Capital ‘T. jeez.. you know. except you.” Brianna said. now really wishing she could take some of it back. Sometimes it would freak him out and he’d be convinced she was going to eat him. I made out with Jack a couple of times. okay? I think. she was fast. Probably. But he could see what she could not. But that’s because I was bored. too. I have a crush on Sam or whatever. but ignorant. almighty god who played ignorant. aren’t you?” Dekka said softly. His mind was gone. maybe in a couple of years. She walked on tired feet toward Perdido Beach. It’s like … you know…” She tapered off lamely. No.” “I’m not that young. She had sensed it from the start when she had seen the coyote with the human face.

Kids had huddled closer together as the darkness deepened. There was an element of opacity to the light that remained. and blue. then.” Roger said. and also stopped after an abashed glance at Sam. “Like a piece of chalk. Roger had made an identical move. “And Justin. lost.” Edilio said. Like it was foggy. And Breeze missing. whining. white. One of those efforts that was doomed from the start. but they have something. It just couldn’t. And Astrid. The way their ears stood up and swiveled to each new sound. That was what he had used to sew up the artery or vein or whatever it was that lay slit and exposed by the angry slash in Jack’s neck. Demanding of whom. I didn’t mean it like that. So front and back had joined middle and now they were a mob of thirty kids. Howard dead. “We’ve got Astrid. since the crowd of refugees would have gotten the same point across. The lower half of his face and the front of his shirt were covered with blood. He didn’t blame Lana for sending him. Edilio had been trying to dig under the barrier. As soon as it was dark they would come. Sam would kill her. Where was that little bimbo Taylor? They needed her. Poor Jack. That was Sanjit’s conclusion as he watched them begin closing in.” Sam said. he knew. It’s not much. Kids who had started out later ran till they were falling down. That’s what’s most important. you’re the only thing between us and total darkness?” “Then we’re all dead anyway. Sam.” It was a job that suddenly got a lot harder as a gaggle of a dozen kids came pelting madly down the slope past the Pit. Don’t just write Justin off like that.” Sam pressed.” “And Justin. At first that was all anyone could find. But she would agree—if he ever saw her again—that it had not worked out very well. Edilio wiped his face with his hand. A piece of pasta that pulsed and sprayed blood. “Thanks.” “He’s so pale. Hug her first. hyperalert yellow eyes. Mostly because he seemed nice and was good with kids. “No. Finally Sam said. though formerly white was more like it. but of course it wasn’t. wasted effort. anyway. moving as a cluster. even then. “People here have lights. Their lolling tongues. stopped himself. Roger. He was head over heels. “Help us! Help! Help us!” The coyotes knew their prey were getting close to safety. to hand him Lana’s request for lights in Perdido Beach. Practical. though the bandage was soaking through with seeping blood as well. demanding. and soon there would be almost no way to even contact her. What chance do those kids out there in the desert have?” “Drake’s probably reached the mine shaft by now. And unnecessary. Sam stood very still. 35 MINUTES “THAT’S THE BEST I can do. If she was out there running around after Drake. all a waste of time. Diana—and I hope Brianna—all out there in the desert with Drake. And Diana. The crowd on the road had grown. Jack’s neck was red. This couldn’t be. Roger was the unofficial nurse. “You absolutely stepped up.” Roger said.” “Look. and for a few very awkward seconds no one spoke. Edilio. He had stopped being mad at Brianna. Dekka. It was red now. desperate to catch up. Orc … somewhere. “We barely stay alive in this place as it is. babe.. This was officially a fiasco. The air itself seemed a dark blue. A hundred feet was enough to see the coyote pack. I have to go after them. covered with a blanket. who had maybe not always been the most stand-up guy in the world but who had never had a mean bone in his geeky body. Sam looked down at Jack.. “No. It never occurred to him to blame her. The deck was smeared with it. The outer part of the wound was sewn up with white thread. Suddenly Sam remembered the first time he’d run into Edilio after the coming of the FAYZ. “Orc’s on his way back out. Their intelligent. His little mission to tell Sam what was happening in Perdido Beach. Unless the kids reached the lake before that happened. complaining loudly. .” Sam said. Sanjit couldn’t guess.” Sam spread his hands in a helpless gesture. making a point of it.TWENTY-EIGHT 10 HOURS. Then kill her. Lana could save Jack. He had taken on the job of sewing up Jack’s neck. crying. because now he was just too worried about her. He’d said it was like trying to sew a piece of pasta. “Edilio. we have to keep people calm. with a darting sideways glance at Sam.” “We can’t risk you. But she was far away. A stupid. “I’m sorry. dude. Sanjit could read anxiety in their avid expressions and the way they paced back and forth. lost in love with her. They had smeared a little of their precious stock of Neosporin on the wound and covered it with a bandage torn from an old flag. and you’re it. The gloom that had been weirdly tea colored had now deepened and shifted in the spectrum. They couldn’t really do much for him unless they found a way to bring Lana to him.” Sam agreed. What if you’re killed? What if there’s no more light. Roger had started with green thread. spilling off the road. It had been up at Clifftop. In total darkness? A few Sammy suns won’t save us. Too late.” Sam saw shame on Edilio’s face.. He could barely see a hundred feet to either side of the road. walking as fast as they could. you know I love that little guy. lost. Those who had begun with a lead began to doubt the wisdom of being out front.” Sam had nothing to say about that. And in an hour they’ll all be in absolute darkness.” Edilio reached for Roger. they can at least see. It was all coming apart in his hands.” Roger said. He was watching his whole world bleed out like Jack. a sign of nervousness in the usually impassive Edilio. “Look.” Roger said sharply. They couldn’t move him. Don’t do that.

“Hey. being knocked down in turn to cries and screams and pleas and the awful growls of the coyotes as they went after slow. BLAM! One of the coyotes ran off with a child’s leg in its mouth. The animal rolled away and was on its feet again while Sanjit was still absorbing the landing. Choo was the pessimistic one. and it was from this building. Sanjit ran. Diana? Has he told you what he wants?” She was stalling. “They just know we’re close to the lake. “Weren’t you expecting me?” she asked. It was a habit now. More curious than afraid. kids knocking one another down. stared. Drake Worm Hand.” “I will absolutely shoot you!” Sanjit said. “And then what?” Brianna asked in a silky whisper. Suggestions of places where a saloon and a hotel and a stable might once have been. too.” Then. they could drag the bodies away at their leisure and eat for weeks. defenseless children. A fitting commentary on the FAYZ. “It’s better than all of us getting eaten!” “Don’t be stupid. I don’t think you brought her all this way to kill her. and aimed the pistol. “Give us three. He. but especially Choo. “Give us the small ones. or a not-so-long-ago overseer whipping a black slave. A kid or a coyote. and ran away. One of the coyotes had had enough and started trotting purposefully toward the crowd of kids. to Diana: “What do you think. Dead by now. But the coyote stopped and looked at him. In the math of a coyote the smart move was to kill as many as the pack could. A fearful habit. Kids from the front. But someone else yelled. but badly. she was for the opposite. Diana thought. Too late. the herd—because that’s what they were now. Somehow he was in charge.” “Yeah. like dogs fighting over a toy. Diana knew it. Screams that made Sanjit feel as if his own flesh were being torn.” Sanjit snapped.” Brianna said. There wasn’t much to it anymore. Like some long-ago Egyptian beating a Hebrew. “Wasn’t I invited?” Drake snapped his whip and wrapped it around Justin. unobserved as the people all fixated on Pack Leader. He aimed. Sanjit fired.” Drake said. Trying to distract us so—” The horrible reality of his own words came to him. Diana glanced up at the sky. Someone obviously slower than herself. they gave no sign. Sanjit sighed. dead. Sanjit knew the animal was sizing the situation up. He jerked the terrified boy through the air and held him over his head. A giant sphincter. But then Drake reemerged and any slight delay meant pain. To reach the mine shaft before darkness falls? Or not? She had dragged her feet and stalled every step of the way on the theory that whatever the gaiaphage wanted. He spun and shouted. knocked him down and a coyote was on him in a heartbeat. She made an embarrassed face. stepping on one another.” Drake hissed. Pack Leader stood with his legs braced wide. “Out for a walk?” “You. glanced up at the sky. Some sticks and boards. fangs snapping in his face. Others had the usual assortment of weapons. Like some ancient slave master. There was nothing Sanjit could do. Meat didn’t have to be fresh for them.” he urged. but did Drake? And if someone as headlong and impetuous as Brianna was stalling for time it meant she had an ally. There were screams of pain and terror. I don’t think so.” the coyote said without the slightest evidence of fear. He stared at Sanjit and growled. Which is worse? she wondered. and she to him. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! If the coyotes even noticed. but his was the only gun. They had reached the ghost town. hands shaking. Justin held on to her as they walked. too. Diana almost fainted with relief. “Then Diana. guttural. Or the fact that he was among the three oldest kids. in this light. “Don’t do it!” Sanjit yelled. “It’s my baby he wants. It was a sphincter at the top of a black bowl. Keira turned. He missed Choo. attacked the rearmost kids. The voice was a shock. Sanjit jumped in the air and landed with both feet on one of the coyotes. her mouth wide in horror. But she saw that he. He missed all his brothers and sisters. slurred like a shovel dragged through wet gravel. The older girls were already far up the road.” Diana said. “Look out!” Three of the coyotes. through a creaky door. “Move and I smash his brains out. a terrified herd no different from antelope panicked by a lion attack—ran as fast as they could. . self-consciously emulating a hundred TV cop shows. Maybe it was that he was the only one with a gun. And the crowd. BLAM! The coyote’s right eye exploded outward and the beast collapsed atop Sanjit. but this was the signal for Pack Leader and two others to attack the front. that Brianna stepped. Sanjit ran toward the back. Dead. chest heaving. other kids from the back were being torn at by the coyotes. holding the gun with both hands. with his total lack of skill. Something awful was in his jaws. Zero chance of hitting the animal from here. guys. There was a better-maintained building set apart from the others. Everyone bolted. which allowed Sanjit to be the perky optimist. He drove them forward with his whip. and walked forward. was afraid of the coming darkness. Or maybe it was his association with the revered Lana. Two coyotes were fighting over Mason.“Everyone just stay together and keep moving. he didn’t see which. Sanjit said something rude and defiant. Then the coyote spoke. He saw Mason going down beneath two growling beasts.

it’ll be all over for you. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “If you trip in the dark. he would rid the universe of Whip Hand. She must have chosen not to take Drake on alone and instead moved to block his path while reinforcement was on its way. “Please let me down. Diana saw her eyes dart to her right. Coming from the gloom on the ghost town’s long-forgotten main street. And from the darkness walked—limped—a small. barefoot girl in a sundress. Or maybe Dekka. Who was coming? Who was she waiting for? Brianna must have passed them on her way here. Brianna? He’s scared. they were the only two who could help Brianna in a fight with Drake and be smart enough and carry enough influence to convince her to wait like this. Sam. “Is that true. If it doesn’t. hit a rock? It’ll kill you. He’s scared I might let him down too fast. she could stop Justin from falling. Drake? Is it because you love babies?” Drake shot a look to the path that led from town up the hill and to the mine shaft. Diana dared to hope. Brianna could probably outrun him and cut him up.” He still held Justin aloft. Brianna drew her machete. Brianna. But he couldn’t be sure that Brianna would care about Justin. Trip at a hundred miles an hour. If it was Sam maybe. There came a sound.” Brianna nodded like she was considering this.” the boy cried pitifully. . at long last. Stalling. Stalling. He was only a few hundred yards away from the opening. Ouchie. “Let me down. Diana saw the wicked smile of triumph on Brianna’s face. Even slowed down by darkness. If it was Dekka. I will. He would be confident about finding his way that far in the dark. That indicated someone a bit wiser than her.” “Hear that. I’m scared up here. Not Orc. Sam or Dekka.Brianna made a fake astonished face.

And security is very. destroy an area around the dome. and then there would be explanations demanded. a sponge. You’re one of the reasons people are so scared of this thing. A truck carrying nerve agent. “You said two possibilities. Annoyed. you understand. in a voice that was at once compassionate . “A nuclear device would release a great deal of energy.” “The two things.” Another sigh.” Stanevich sighed heavily into the phone. Had she pushed too far? “I was discussing various theoretical possibilities. She couldn’t outrun them.” “Professor Stanevich.” Connie held her breath. “Alters it in ways we cannot yet predict.” the corporal said. “I am with my children at the Dave and the Buster. please. She just had to figure out how to do it. certainly. It may be that it can convert the energy. listen to me. But—” “Of course it will not release the children. The patrolman looked at her. Please listen to me. So imagine a starving man who at last gets a good. “Mrs. She pulled up to the roadblock. might blow it up. Two miles from Perdido Beach she saw the flashing lights of police cars. She walked quickly to her car. Combust.” He sounded as detached as if he was lecturing a room full of undergraduates. Talk to the media. Stretched.” “Ah. Flatbeds loaded with trailers. let us say. and sending it back south. And suddenly it is plugged into ten thousand volts. Heavily accented. Neither of them involves peacefully releasing the children inside. “The internet can be very useful. The car slid into a parking place. No. not if it is buried deep. depending on various factors. A roadblock.” Stanevich said.” Stanevich said. It may be that the barrier is not overloaded. More than one PhD dissertation will result. yes? Weakening.” “The person who gave me this information is in very serious trouble if it gets back to him. Temple. Of a nuclear weapon… Please.” Connie laughed. “That’s your story?” “Ma’am?” “This road’s been closed for almost a year. Then. And my source says there is a rail descending. too. “Please.” Connie Temple begged. What does that do to the barrier? Maybe it makes it easier to get through. Which might overload the dome. It is very noisy. Pleased with his hair dryer analogy. Or. Her head was buzzing. Think of it as a hair dryer. I’m one of the family members. the CHP would pull her over and wonder why she had run. She couldn’t use her own cell phone for fear of betraying Darius.” Connie hung up the phone. graffiti-tagged pay phone outside a gas station minimart in Arroyo Grande. I have information. but how to best bring pressure on the army and the government to stop this reckless madness? She drove up the 101 and practically ran into a column of army vehicles coming toward her.” Connie said tersely. breathing hard.” Connie stared into the young face of the corporal. Locked his car and went into the minimart. It’s very deep. let us say. She knew the MPs. I won’t bore you with the details—you wouldn’t understand anyway.” “Yes. Stanevich was as much an ass as when he’d been on CNN with her. She was at an ancient. You’re one of the people who warned that breaching the dome might be dangerous. onto a side road. Of course they saw her.” “Professor. Then. “Just take the side road here.” The voice was clipped.” He snorted a laugh into her ear. This was their cover story? Was she supposed to believe them? It would be a strain to even pretend to believe them.” Connie’s stomach was in her throat. and sure enough. healthy meal. I want you to discuss the theoretical possibilities of this. what’s up?” “Mrs. even if the details were horrifying. There was time to stop this.” Stanevich said. “Hey. It will be fascinating. “How did you get this number?” Stanevich asked again. If it will release the children. We appeared on CNN together once.” A pause on the other end.” Nothing but the sounds of Dave & Buster’s. Temple.” “Or it strengthens it. surely. You probably don’t remember. “I am not responsible for the nonsense from the media. “there’s been a bad chemical spill up the road. Professor. But now his willingness to speculate was welcome. Connie pulled onto the shoulder and stopped.” Still no response. She hadn’t used Stanevich’s office phone number for fear that it. Connie could hear the sounds of video games and clattering dishes. and you know it. here it is: the barrier’s energy signature is changing. “It will do one of two things. and pointed with a sort of karate-chop hand. They were diverting traffic off the highway. Highway patrol and army MPs were running the roadblock together. “They don’t need a shaft that size to send down a probe or a camera. far from it. then that’s one thing. Soak it up like an incredibly efficient battery. “Wouldn’t that also blow up everything nearby?” “Oh. “The other is more interesting.” “If this happens. But a twenty-mile-wide sphere that suddenly overloads? It would likely obliterate everything inside. “Who are you? This is a private number.” the lieutenant said. There are nuclear response teams here.OUTSIDE “PROFESSOR STANEVICH?” “Yes. What are they?” A highway patrol car pulled in and she gripped the phone hard. “It’s not a perfect analogy. It may take the sudden release of energy and essentially store it. “Not the device itself. very tight. And the tunnel they’ve drilled is thirty-two inches in diameter. The army has dug a secret tunnel. She leaned out of the window. the absorbing thing. Trucks. it’s for your own safety. “Tell me your information. a hair dryer that runs on one-hundred-and-ten-volt electricity. Connie pressed on.” “They are presumably drilling to see the extent of this recent change in the energy signature—” “No. I need you to explain something to me. We’re pulling everything back until we figure out how to contain the spill. yes. And your story is that some trucker carrying deadly chemicals did what? Took a wrong turn and crashed?” The MP’s lieutenant stepped up. She would make a public stink.” Stanevich equivocated.” He made a dissatisfied sound.” The patrolman got out. it’s on the eastern edge of the dome. Ah. might be tapped. “It would be blown apart. with all due respect.” Stanevich huffed. And perhaps. “There are two theories of the so-called J waves. though. when she was sure he’d decided to hang up: “What you are suggesting is impossible.” “It’s not impossible. Recognizing her from TV? “It depends.

and hard, he added, “It’s not optional, ma’am. You know the Oceano County Airport? That’s the rendezvous. I’m sure the soldiers there will fill you in on all the details.”

SAM LEAPED FROM the top deck straight down onto the dock and raced toward the onrushing refugees.

None too gently he pushed them aside and ran on through, up past the Pit, up to the gravel road, up to where he could hear snarling and a gun being fired. Sanjit plowed into him and for a second Sam didn’t know who he was. He held him out at arm’s length, said, “Stay out of the way,” and took off for the scene of slaughter. That he was too late was apparent. The coyotes weren’t killing at this point; they were feeding and dismembering. He raised his palms and a beam of searingly intense green-white light shot forth. The beam caught part of a body and the head of a coyote. The coyote’s head ballooned like a time-lapse video of a burning marshmallow. Sam swept the beam up the road to where coyotes were already racing away, dragging bodies or pieces of bodies along through the dirt. He caught a second coyote in the hindquarters, which erupted in flame. The coyote howled in pain, fell, tried to keep running with just its two front legs, and lay down on its side to die. The rest were out of range by then, some even abandoning their meat. Sanjit came running up to stop beside a heaving, panting Sam. A boy, maybe twelve, unrecognizable but alive and crying pitiably, lay in two pieces in a bush off the road. Sam took a deep breath, marched to him, took careful aim, and burned a neat hole in the side of his head. Then he widened his beam and played it over the corpse until there was nothing but ashes. He shot an angry look at Sanjit. “Anything you have to say about that?” Sanjit shook his head. He couldn’t form a complete thought. Sam wondered if he’d be sick. He wondered if he himself would be. “If it was me,” Sanjit began, and ran out of words. That blunted Sam’s anger. But only a little. This was his fault. It was his job to protect.... Why hadn’t he sent Brianna off months ago to exterminate the last coyotes? Why hadn’t he thought to send a patrol up the road to meet the inevitable refugees? He now faced the task of cremating the rest of the dead. There was no way he could let brothers and sisters and friends see what the coyotes had left behind. These mangled, barely recognizable slabs of meat could not be what loved ones carried with them in memory for the rest of their lives. “Why are you here?” Sam demanded as he began his grisly work. “Did you bring these kids here?” “Lana sent me.” “Explain.” He didn’t know Sanjit well. Just knew that he had pulled off something close to a miracle in flying a helicopter from the island to Perdido Beach. “Bad stuff in Perdido Beach,” Sanjit began. “Penny somehow managed to cement Caine. They’re going to try to free him, but last I saw Caine he was crying and having his cemented hands beaten on with a hammer.” Sam’s reaction surprised him: his first feeling was worry, and even outrage, on Caine’s behalf. Caine had been an enemy from the start. Caine was responsible for battle after bloody battle. He had come close to killing Sam on more than one occasion. Maybe, Sam reflected, he was reacting to the fact that Caine was, after all, his brother. But no. No, it was that Caine was strong. And however much of a power-mad jerk he was, Caine would have tried to keep some kind of order. He would have—probably—worked to avoid panic. Always for his own reasons, but still… “So, Albert’s in charge,” Sam said thoughtfully, and burned a foot resting almost comically upright. “Albert bailed,” Sanjit said. “Quinn talked to him as he was heading to the island with three girls.” This was worse news than the incapacitation of Caine. A lot worse. There were three major powers in the FAYZ: Albert, Caine, and Sam. Three people whose combination of power and authority and skills might have kept things together for a few days or a week until … until some kind of miracle happened. Albert, Caine, and Sam. That was the foundation of the stability and peace of the last four months. “Did you see Astrid?” Sam asked. “Astrid? No. I don’t even know if I would recognize her; I’ve only seen her once, months ago.” “She went to warn you guys about the stain. And offer my … my light-hanging services.” “Well, I guess I’m relieved that I’m not the only one off on a wild-goose chase.” Sam looked sharply at him. There was some steel in this kid. He had been the last one to run from the coyotes. And judging by the fat pistol in his hand and the discarded weapons lying along the road, he’d been the only one to really give them a fight. And he hadn’t quibbled when Sam did the hard but merciful thing. “Sanjit, right?” Sam said. He held out his hand. Sanjit took it. “I know who you are, Sam. Everyone does.” “Well, you’re with us for now.” He jerked his head up at the sky. “I have a family,” Sanjit said. “I have to get back.” “Brave is good,” Sam said. “Stupid is another thing. Those coyotes don’t need light to find you. You’re a friend of Lana’s, right?” Sanjit nodded. “Yeah. We live at Clifftop with her.” “The Healer has you living with her?” he asked incredulously. “I’m learning all kinds of things today.” “I guess she’s my girlfriend,” Sanjit said. Sam fired at what looked like a chunk of hamburger wearing a part of a T-shirt. “If you’re with Lana, then your family is as safe as anyone. You getting killed won’t help them. You’re with us now. Just one thing: talk freely to Edilio, but no one else. Clear? If kids hear that Albert has bailed…” He shook his head. “I thought better of Albert than that.” It left a bad taste in his mouth, Albert running away. No doubt it made good business sense. But the word “treason” was on the tip of his tongue. Backstabber.

Coward. Astrid was on her way to offer an alliance with a beaten and humiliated “king” and a cowardly “businessman.” He shoved away the image of the coyotes finding her before she could reach town. There were thoughts too painful to allow. He had to think, and think clearly, not let his mind be seized and paralyzed by lurid images of Astrid brought down in some lonely place by coyotes, or zekes, or Drake. He squeezed his eyes shut. “Are you okay?” Sanjit asked. “Okay?” Sam shook his head. “Nope. I’m not. The guys I was counting on to be with me aren’t. It was already hopeless. Now?” “Lana’s still there,” Sanjit said. “And Quinn.” “Quinn?” Sam frowned. “What’s he got to do with anything?” “Lana put him in charge. He’s got his people with him.” Sam nodded, distracted. He was seeing a chessboard in his mind. Most of the pieces he might have played, the powers that might have helped, his bishop sand knights and rooks, were all down or missing. Dekka, Brianna, Jack, Albert, possibly Caine, all down or missing. His steady knight, Edilio, would have to watch over the lake. Which left Sam with pawns. On the other side Drake. Maybe Penny. The coyotes. And the opposing king, the gaiaphage, who was so well protected he might be impossible to reach, let alone destroy. “What was that TV show?” Sam asked, rubbing his face to clear away the smoke of burning bodies. “The one where they vote you off the island?”

“Yeah. ‘Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.’ Right?” “I guess,” Sanjit said doubtfully. “Outwitted and outplayed. That’s me, Sanjit. You just joined the losing team. I’ve got nothing left. And pretty soon? I’ll be blind.” “No. Not you, Sam. You’re the only one who won’t be.” “Sammy suns?” Sam laughed derisively. “They might as well be candles.” “In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king,” Sanjit said. “In the dark the one guy with a candle is an easy target,” Sam countered. One thing was crystal clear to Sam: his job was not to sit here and protect his charges at the lake. That was a losing move. That was him waiting for the enemy to gather its forces to come for him. Maybe he’d been outwitted and outplayed. He had not yet been outlasted. Without another word to Sanjit he headed back to the lake. Diana saw Penny and her knees gave way. She sat down hard in the dirt. She couldn’t breathe. No, she mouthed soundlessly. Penny looked at Drake first. At his terrible tentacle. At the little boy suspended in the air. She glanced curiously at Brianna, like she wasn’t quite sure who she was. Then she looked at Diana, and her eyes widened with pleasure. Her smile started small and grew and grew and became a laugh of pure delight. She clapped her hands together. “Too good,” Penny said. “Too, too good.” Diana’s mind had stopped working. Thoughts would not form. Reactions would not take shape. Fear took her. A low keening sound came from deep in her throat. This was no longer about pain: terror was here. Drake shot a look at Penny. “Who are you?” “I’m Penny,” she said. “You used to push me out of your way back at Coates. I was nobody to you.” “You have a beef with me?” Drake asked, just a little worried. Penny smiled. “Oh, you were just a jerk, Drake. Nothing special. Whereas Diana…” She laughed her demented, delighted laugh. “I absolutely love Diana. She took such good care of me on the island.” “Leave me alone,” Diana heard herself beg, like hearing someone else, not like the words were coming from her, because she had no words in her brain; she could see what was coming; she knew what was coming. God save me, Diana begged, God save me, save me, save me. “How’s the baby, Diana?” Penny asked, her voice slithering, her eyes bright. “Do you want a boy or a girl?” And suddenly the baby woke up, and its claws came out like the claws of a tiger, and its insect face with saber mandibles ripped at her insides, tearing through the flesh of her belly, tearing out of her, a wild animal, nothing human there, but no, that wasn’t true; it had Caine’s face, his face but smeared across a soulless ant face and the claws and the pain, and she screamed and screamed. Diana was facedown in the dirt. Penny’s bare feet—one of them crusted with bloody mud—were in front of her. There was no monster baby. Her belly had not been torn open. Diana cried into the dirt. “Cool, huh?” Penny said. “What did you do to her?” It was Drake, fascinated. “Oh, she just saw something. She saw her baby as a monster. And she saw it rip her apart from the inside. Felt it, too,” Penny said. “You’re a freak?” Drake asked. Penny laughed. “The freakiest of the freaks.” “Don’t hurt the baby,” Drake warned. He tossed Justin aside, ready to take this interloper on if necessary. The boy landed hard but without breaking anything. Penny was not intimidated by Whip Hand. “What’s in there?” She indicated the narrow path leading up to the mine shaft. Drake didn’t answer. His whip was ready to slash at her. But he hesitated, unsure if she was friend or foe. “I’ve felt it since I got close,” Penny said, looking past Drake up at the path. “I was just wandering. Going nowhere. And then, little by little, I realized I was going somewhere.” She said this in a singsong voice. “I was going here.” Then, like a person waking out of a dream, she said, “It’s that thing Caine went to, isn’t it? The Darkness. The thing that gave you that Whip Hand.” Drake said, “Would you like me to introduce you?” “Yes. I would,” Penny said very seriously.

you didn’t see her draw her deadly machete. Breathed. He looked less furious than peevish. “What is she doing?” Drake asked. Did you like it?” And Dekka.” She jerked her head back toward the night-dark desert. arms windmilling for balance. She screamed but no sound came out. “Don’t come after me. so long as it ate up more time. and her brain screamed in a way that her body no longer could. “Trying not to fall into the lava. cautious. Drake froze. up into her sinuses. But she could not breathe. crawl ahead of her into the darkness. He raised the whip high and snapped it in front of Diana’s face. leaping from place to place. then down her throat.” Diana saw wary concern on Drake’s face. “Let’s go. who had filled her mind with this vision. Justin. Now Brianna spoke. The bugs. It wasn’t putty anymore but fast-drying clay. And Dekka had not. So there was no way they could be inside her again. It had pushed its way into her ears. In some panic-free corner of her mind. Suddenly. Her heart still beat. distracted. the stuff filled her mouth and throat and she could feel it cold and dense and heavy in her lungs. some small remnant of Dekka knew this wasn’t real. The injury was at worst a temporary inconvenience. then rolling the whole thing like a Play-Doh snake. Paralyzed. Dekka? The one she was expecting to show up? She’s out there somewhere. So that she could hear the gristle in her neck as she squirmed helplessly. who seemed content to let this go on. And it had coated every single inch of her body. She had to breathe through her mouth. but as soon as she opened her mouth the white stuff filled her mouth and pushed its way into the space between her teeth and her cheeks. Just breathed. The gaiaphage is waiting.. completely immobile. and suddenly she cried out. Just that in an instant she had been frozen. Penny laughed. Diana watched Brianna. Already her teeth bit on something as hard as porcelain. They’d been made nonexistent.” His tentacle had grown back. She was buried alive in it. still leaping desperately. Brianna spun. .. Five feet of flesh-colored tentacle lay in the dirt like a dead python. Air was in her nose. She gagged but it didn’t matter. that she wasn’t dying. The white putty was pushed into her nose. came back around fast. She could barely see her hands in front of her face. But Diana had been there at times when Brianna moved at top speed. But did it really? Was she so sure it wasn’t real in this nightmare world? She couldn’t breathe. filling her right up to the eardrums. Brianna was jumping around like a crazy person. Had to be an illusion. “Trying to get her little brain back to reality. but with her eyes carefully down on the ground. Then she felt the white stuff harden. She was covered and filled with the white stuff.. focused like mad on every move. said nothing. “Yeah. Could. Not real—she knew that in some tiny. When she moved at top speed you didn’t see her arms or legs. “Now move. It couldn’t be real.” “Do you think I’m cute?” Penny asked him. And her friend. smoothing as if he was made out of clay and an invisible hand was pinching the edges together. Had to be a trick. buried alive. trapped in some illusion of danger. She knew it was Penny who had done this. But she was still fast. and now the look on his face was more than just wary. and she should be dying but she wasn’t. So deep. Then the bugs were inside of her. The machete swung and Drake’s whip was cut in half.” he said. too. but she realized. Diana saw those things now and knew that the Breeze had slowed. She screamed and screamed and screamed. And she saw the little boy. Penny had struck! Drake picked up his severed tentacle and pushed the two stump ends together. Not. It was beginning to occur to him that perhaps Penny might be more than he could handle. Dekka lay sobbing in the darkness. So that she could hear nothing but the beating of her own heart. she was trapped inside this porcelain tomb and they were inside her again. Her eyes opened. You’re cute. She was on dirt. “Yeah. She’d been covered in a translucent white goo. the bugs had been eliminated. no way they could be swarming through her guts and no Sam to cut them out and let them out. under her tongue. “That’s a new one for me. all of it was gone. A girl had stood there and said.” Penny had said.” Drake said. like clay or Silly Putty. Like invisible fingers were poking it in there. stood stock-still.” She flew at Drake. trembling like a leaf ready to fall. She didn’t know what had happened to her. leaped across something Diana could not see. cowering corner of her mind—couldn’t be real. “I don’t think you two are going anywhere. skidded.Diana had stolen tear-distorted glances at Brianna. the stumps melding quickly together.

It revealed him. Well. “He believes it!” “So you’re all coming back ashore. at least.” Sam shouted to be heard across the water.” Toto said.” Edilio said. Like he was ready for it to be said.” but in a whisper. Next thing that happens is people will start setting fires.” Toto said. to go to an expression that was half-wary.” “Does everyone except me know?” Sam asked. Edilio looked like he’d been punched. My true brother. having to go out there after Drake. Cry if you want to cry. Edilio. “Listen. Anyway. this was hardly the time to worry about seeming out of touch. When it was finished he said. I don’t even see the starting point for a way out of this. as he spoke. feeling amazed that it was true. “Get up here. “I have a reputation as the guy who comes up with a way out of trouble. because I feel like crying with you. shouted questions came out of the dark. mere shadows on the water. And so are Brianna and Dekka and Orc. “You can be sad and you can be scared. “Toto’s here so you know I’m telling you what I believe is true. “Why didn’t you tell me you were gay?” Sam demanded. short-term I’m important. Then. we don’t know if he’ll make it. Bodies could be seen only when they passed before one of those lights. Then.” Toto just nodded and no one seemed to care. this is just part of something bigger. I just don’t.” Edilio reassured him. He realized this was a stupid concern. But if I want to be important long-term. side to side.” Sam carefully avoided looking at Edilio. We have kids who’ve come here from Perdido Beach.” “Seriously? We’re about to be plunged into eternal darkness and you think those kids out there are going to worry about who you like?” Edilio didn’t answer. “Because good people help people who need to be helped. louder. half-embarrassed. Things are bad in Perdido Beach.” Edilio nodded. “He believes it. ashamed or whatever. Jack. I don’t have that now. Me finding out you’ve got someone to care about like that? How is that something I have to deal with?” “I don’t know. And Sam had the feeling maybe Edilio knew more than he did on the subject. that’s stuff I have to deal with. Perdido Beach will burn all the way down next time. “You got enough stuff to deal with.” “You going to talk to everyone?” Edilio asked. That’s why. I just… I mean. Like a gloomy spotlight.” Sam said.THIRTY 10 HOURS. The forest will burn.” Sam yelled back. But once I turn on some lights we’re still done for if we don’t find a way to turn this around. It hurt his feelings. He had nothing to hide. “Speak up. Kids won’t live in the dark. and Toto. Sam looked up. you know. It had finished its work. Like he knew this. who ran off to ring the bell atop the marina office.” He was interrupted by the loud ringing of the bell. But he recovered quickly. It wasn’t like anyone didn’t know he was worried about her. “I gotta tell you the truth. My girlfriend lost. But no one had been closer to him than Edilio. “True!” “Drake has Diana and Justin. I don’t have some big plan.” Someone was crying. “I don’t see a way out of this. he realized.” Edilio said gruffly. “Yeah. “No. I need to go out there and find a way. man. “First: I don’t think we have to worry about Drake here at the lake. “Then make sure you tell them the truth.” Toto said. well. It’s that … look.” “Yes.” “He believes it!” “So that’s bad. the world ending. in case I go out there and don’t come back.” “True. “So you’re going?” “Everything you said before is right.” “Toto!” Sam yelled down. Right?” No one answered. Whatever it is. So. We can’t grow crops or fish or survive living in the dark. loudly enough to be heard. 4 MINUTES Sam said. “She’s out there in the dark somewhere. well.” When Toto was on deck Sam lit a Sammy sun just over his head. Everything. “I’m not the only one scared of the dark. I don’t know what. You’ve been a brother to me. “Yeah. shaking his head slowly. Edilio nodded at Roger. I have to have people trust me. The small circle of darkening blue had turned flat black.��� . It seems Caine is out of business. Edilio. It bothered him to think everyone knew something he didn’t. I have a lot of responsibility. Someone else shushed him. the boats rocked and drifted lazily. who is just a little kid.” Some grumbling and a couple of defiant. And so is Albert. “So in case this is it.” Barely visible in the darkness. and we’re going to take them in and care for them. it took me a while to kind of figure it out. He’s gone—for now. I want to say thank you. He let it go.’ Edilio. “RING THE BELL. You know. more pointedly. But we built this place and kept ourselves going by hanging in there together. And some kids are still going to call me a faggot or whatever. Something is happening. “No. “So. yeah. The Sammy suns shining through portholes were the only light. “That’s okay. I don’t expect us to survive this. but something big and … and final.” He repeated it. And it’s not about me being. “What are you going to do?” Edilio asked. “We can’t afford me getting killed. man. The stain was no longer blotting out the light. and we don’t know for sure what Drake is up to.” Sam said. They’ve lost people on the way here. almost from the first day. we’re not done for yet. Edilio. Astrid is…” Emotion clenched his throat but he pushed forward.” “That’s not something I have to ‘deal with. Not in the short run. I believe it’s connected to this stain that is blotting out the light.

But it’s Albert who kept people fed and alive. Our soldier. He had a softer voice.” She listened hard. He’s our warrior. At the same time. not pleased. “Is he talking?” “No. shushing her. never there when you need one. repeat that to her. “I wanted him to make me be like I used to be. “We have to try to remember the direction. Or something that was supposed to be Petey. Even Quinn. I’m a lousy leader. “Too bad. word for word.” There was a pause before Toto said. “I’ll take care of these people here. but maybe a little gratified. “Yeah. except for being the guy who can make light shoot out of his hands. She reached for Cigar. Try to keep us safe. Sam. The irony made her laugh out loud. That brought silence. and then I pout when you don’t. And up here it’s Edilio who really runs things. Edilio spoke up. barely an impression. “We should hold hands. amazed that he really did believe it.” he repeated. like it wasn’t an absence of light. But she also knew that the land between where she was and the ocean was largely fertile fields seething with zekes. “Yeah. Slowing. To the sound of her own heart. “We need you! Sam!” Sam looked down. though. Then.” “Are you saying he took you over?” “I let him. the part about how it takes you a while. She had an impression.” he said louder.” “Yes.” Astrid said. Something she could burn. doesn’t it?” Edilio grinned. Nothing had changed except that light had been subtracted. He went inside me. And I have powers. Could she hear his heartbeat? Could she feel his body warmth? “I see him. She could hear Cigar breathing. “And darkness. out of the direct glow of the Sammy sun.” “No. Someone who probably wasn’t there. Astrid sighed.” Astrid said. he was beginning to realize something.” “The little boy is here. Edilio’s a leader.” She should have brought something to use as a torch. “Look. Go find our friends. Me? I get pissed off when you need me. “So we hang together still.” “You have claws. But he left.” Astrid said. And still had a trace of his Honduran accent.” Cigar whispered. if he existed at all. she told herself. I’ll be damned. It soothed him. Astrid felt a chill. She thought she was quite close to him. that’s not real. And if you run into Drake. baffled by the unexpected turn his speech had taken. “So we don’t get separated. But that wasn’t how it felt. But he couldn’t. that she could tell in which direction the ocean lay. what he’s going to do is go out there into the dark and fight our enemies. like he said. How strange what absolute black did to the sound of words. like pressure. showing light out here in the open would make her visible to people and things she didn’t want seeing her. I will not let the fear paralyze me. It felt ridiculous. Her hand touched nothing. still to himself: “Well.” “He believes it. Edilio said. “He was in my head. Now here she was doing it again. “I felt him.” Sam laughed.” Astrid said. Zekes that had probably not . “No.” He laughed and looked at Edilio.” He stepped back. Stopping. “The little boy is looking at you.” The sky closed. “Yeah.” a voice called back. Sam.” “But you’re the leader!” a different voice cried. he’s not a great leader.” “Where is he now?” “He’s gone now. total darkness. so she knew he was still there. kill that son of a bitch. “We aren’t far from Perdido Beach. Someone who.” Sam whispered.” Cigar said. I mean well. Finally he said. She didn’t know whether he was still looking at Petey. Absolute. He likes quiet. not anything physical or tangible.” Toto said unnecessarily.” Cigar said. You listen to Edilio. “He believes it. palms up.” Cigar said. “Damn right. he’s a better leader than me. I’m the soldier.” Had Petey made all of this happen? Just to get his blessed silence and peace? “Petey?” she said. “I know what Sam is. no. because at first it seemed wrong. She was talking to someone she couldn’t see. that’s what he is. But he’s a great fighter. I … I don’t know what I am. So what he’s going to do. It took a few moments to form coherently in his mind. He had meant to tell everyone to stick together and be disciplined. When you find Astrid. was not human. He liked the dark. “He doesn’t like when you laugh. That’s a trick your mind is playing on you.” Cigar said.” Cigar said. Otherwise we’ll start walking in circles. and others seconded it.” Cigar said sadly.” I will not panic.” Then. Of course. Like it was a physical obstruction. Every object was exactly where it had been before. And smelled the air. It was just that the pressure of the dark—and that was how it felt. I’m a lousy leader. his face nothing but shadows in the light of the Sammy sun. He had to check it against what he knew. She heard Cigar’s hesitant footsteps. “It takes me a while to figure things out. I’m not the leader. but like it was black felt or something hung in drapes all around her—was hemming her in. He always did. Darkness. She tried to call on other senses. No. He looked down at his hands. “No. Can’t you see him?” “I can’t see anything. “Do me a favor. She’d just given up talking to one perhaps unreal spiritual entity. really. taking a momentous occasion to just make an idiot of himself. No. Just like a god. He had ended up feeling like a fool. serious again. “How do you know?” Astrid moved closer to the source of his voice.“Right?” Sam demanded more insistently. Maybe. Then remember her exact reaction and tell me. “They have poison needles in them. Astrid heard her own breathing. Edilio is here.

on the long-abandoned McDonald’s. Down Alameda Avenue until Quinn could see nothing. Fear was about possibilities. “The palms first. no. too. Quinn had brought everyone into the plaza with grilled fish. “It’s just the same as it was. Some of Quinn’s crew were using the light of a single flashlight and a number of crowbars to tear apart the pews in the church and bring them out to keep the fire going. The light of day showed you the limits of possibility. But he had to admit one thing: Caine might be a thug. so not getting the point of fear. guns. It was light that revealed stones. he could see it. All of the FAYZ was just this bonfire now. The same bed. But the streets leading away simply disappeared. To hear her voice. It was almost better not to bother. Murderers. the absolute. Standing just a few inches from him. Even in the dark she could stay on a concrete highway. despite everything. And she wasn’t a soldier. Walking into pure. Step. Despite none of the refugees having seen her on their way from Perdido Beach to the lake.” Nothing changes when the light goes out. he’d be able to see whether he was veering left or right. a killer. even if he found her. His legs already ached from tension. Not even the hand in front of his face. It’s not the same if the threat knows it doesn’t have to hide. how he wanted her now. . He couldn’t look back for long because the possibilities were all around him now. Light on. absolute darkness. So very far away. a sad collection of stars like a dim. Quinn had quickly confiscated them. No one was leaving. that younger Sam had thought. but he was no coward. They could hold their knives. But finding Astrid was not the right move. Because fear wasn’t about what made sense.” he told himself. But in the darkness the one man holding a candle is a target.” Caine ordered. Not yet. Here. Sam wanted to follow the road from the lake down to the highway. They were worth far more than gold. they could laugh silently at him. The fire still burned. Not yet. They used needle-nose pliers to pry pieces off. Sam? They always wanted to know. Useless to pretend the darkness isn’t any different. And he still cried out in pain as a new pair of kids—the third pair— chipped away at his hands by firelight. He glanced back at the lake. claws right in his face and he wouldn’t be able to see. the same dresser. Every now and then Lana would come by to heal a cut or two so that the blood didn’t render the concrete too slippery for the chisel. but can make its move. He would be able to find his way home. Sam walked on into the dark. But the lights were also a sort of bread-crumb trail. distant galaxy. able to see him. Turning back as he walked on. Each time they asked him if it was okay. But oh. The threats. His teeth would fragment if he bit down any harder. But the lights had one other effect: they would be seen by whatever else was out here. He walked until he was out of the faint circle of light cast by the numerous Sammy suns of the lake. Right. Monsters. might as well be a myth. Not things that happened. a light whose photons seemed to tire easily. small strokes that often drew blood. Then he hung a new light. Lord. Lana pulled Quinn aside a little way. but once she got to the highway she would be able to follow it toward town. An event. That above all. Like fear was part of an algebra equation. He smelled. an egomaniac. He had been climbing and it was below him now. Quinn could barely stand to watch it. There were fields between her and the highway. and he was entering the valley of shadow. Something was squeezing his heart. Kids had broken into Albert’s place and come back with some of his hoard of flashlights and batteries. For now there was quiet. It’s not the same if the threat can see and I can’t. “I wanted you to see just how dark it is. His mother had said that a thousand times. Light off. The orange-red glow cast a faint. He hung a Sammy sun. and each time he gritted his teeth and said. A dried-out bush. The very painful. total darkness. like Hansel and Gretel. But walk through the dark. occasionally faintly audible over the sound of snapping wood and muted conversation. The ocean. A stick. Piece by piece. but lower and lower. The threat knows I’m helpless in the dark. The rest of the town was invisible. Cause and effect. the same laundry you’ve strewn all over the floor… Not the point. into the dark beyond the reach of firelight. On grim young faces. because that was where Astrid would be. No. Things that might… Threats that might be there. The threat could be. Skin came away. Lana had healed all who needed it. “Same but darker. and the possibilities were limitless. Astrid could not. Most likely. Step. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. They could help him win a fight. See? Click. She would slow him down. Madmen. The sound of her voice was the sound of sanity. Quinn was there at the moment when a firm blow separated Caine’s hands so that they were no longer attached to each other. They were down to the small stuff now. taking solace from the sphere as it grew in his hands. no. Close to the fire sat Caine. far more even than food. So that’s not the same. Sam. “Do it!” His hands were being skinned. Did something bad happen to you in the dark. but his eyes useless. The sky was black. But the light reached only a few feet.” she said. Hopefully as well. Not to make love but just to have her there in the darkness beside him. Seeing anything just made the darkness seem darker. flickering wash of color on the limestone of town hall. She wasn’t Dekka or Brianna or even Orc. on the broken fountain. He didn’t want to leave it behind. Into the darkness. It’s different. Because they assumed all fear must come from a thing or a place.been fed in some time. Click. Featureless. People left plenty of room for him. still somehow commanding. Things that might. But it cast only a faint light.

I won’t be able to find them and help them. The gaiaphage. Which means it’s not over yet. and what you can do. I hope you didn’t think I had some magic answer. From storage at the Ralphs. She said nothing for so long. that’s what I’m not going to let him do. And it’s scared. Good boy. I can’t kill him. I mean. so I see it. Quinn. We’ll feed the whole town in. “Those kids back there. What I can do. because as long as we live. I can’t keep him from getting the baby. we’re a threat.” “Do you have a plan?” Quinn sighed. By not dying. No plan.’ It’s about the weakest links. Then. “They’ll start going crazy. Add it all up and we’ve got maybe two days’ short rations. All its hopes are on the baby. with all of us so scared.” Quinn said. we’ll deal with him. It’s not over. The kids who are already about as messed up as they can be. and by not letting any of those kids back there die. Little Pete’s cloud is still producing. “Yeah. in a voice so low it didn’t even sound like her: “In the dark like this I can feel it. People didn’t have much in their homes. “For total darkness? No. She had asked him to take over. “Do you have a plan?” “It won’t take two days. Believe that. It’s so scared.She was inches from him. It doesn’t have time to reach for me anymore. piece by piece if we have to. Most will be okay for a while. Whoa. okay? Believe that it’s not over. It’s not really reaching for me anymore. There’s nothing else to see.” . Quinn began to wonder if she had left silently. fear of being closed in. “Absolutely crazy.” They both had too many memories of hunger. He wants us all dead and gone.” He had an instinct to grab her arm. from Albert’s compound. “Are you telling me to turn Caine loose on anyone who gets out of line?” “Can you stop some bunch of kids if they decide to steal the food for themselves? Or go nuts and start burning things?” “Lana. Well.” Lana said. Like it’s dying. You feel what this darkness does to you? The way it closes in around you? All of a sudden kids realize they’re in this big fishbowl. Even here in the dark. It’s the food.” “You’re not telling me why I should hurt anyone.” “Diana’s baby?” “It doesn’t have the baby yet. I see it in my head. Silence. Patrick. Lana. Why does it matter?” he asked. “And Caine?” Quinn said.” “It’s alive. “We’re bringing all the food in. Quinn.” “It’s not over. “Also because I’m not letting him win. But he didn’t know where her arm was. Lana? Can you tell me that? Why should I hurt some kid for losing his mind when anyone could lose their mind?” Lana said nothing. Fear of the dark. so they’ll die. It’s the baby it wants.” “We can keep the bonfire going for a while. He could see nothing. “You’re the one who put me in charge. For what? “What does anything matter.” She let go of his hand. When that happens … ask Caine for help. It’s more real to me than you are because I can see it. No. fumble from there to find his shoulder. is keep as many of us alive as possible. And see.” “What’s he going to do?” Quinn asked. “It’s the only way I have left to fight him. looking for his ruff.” “Wait a minute. So much closer.” “They’ll burn buildings if the fire goes out. Maybe because it’s the right thing to do.” Quinn heard her fumbling around in the dark. too. But also … also…” He felt her touch his chest. Like that kind of scared. He felt the energy draining from him. “Whatever it takes to keep people under control. Quinn. Now she was telling him to use Caine like a weapon. “Hi.” He didn’t know what the point of this conversation was.” Quinn said. Then it starts. We’re not going to give up. Lana. then down to take his hand and hold it with a surprisingly strong grip. It’s dark. then scratching it vigorously.” “Starvation. Quinn.” A third breathing sound could be heard. no. for as long as possible. And we have water. finding it.” “Anyone goes nuts.” “Yeah. feeling and probably sounding puzzled. if they start to panic they’ll hurt themselves. I see… I see images that don’t really mean anything. but it’s not about ‘most. Lana.

” Brittney warned. But that was the problem: fear was the very air they were breathing now. now that she thought about it. not even a finger held right up to her eye. “I don’t take orders from anyone. There were sounds. When she held the machete up in front of her face there was the tangy smell of steel. already absolute. she’d been wrong about Caine. Brianna could feel the dark presence of the gaiaphage. Maybe Drake was better-looking after all. But the defiance died in midsentence. Her speed was useless now. not happy with the silence from Brittney. a gesture no one could see.” Brittney said. Now there was a thought. she said.” Brittney’s voice was silky. not doing it again. like a terrible deep voice saying. in that weird singsong voice she got from time to time. She was nothing now. (A thought that made her smile at memories of Cigar.” “When you get closer you’ll hear his voice inside you. Done that. When she stubbed her toe on a rock it didn’t matter. “No one…” “Careful. She couldn’t see. it’s real. Not Drake. because she could feel … feel something so great. stay away!” But Brianna didn’t scare . It would be loud.” Penny snapped. “And it’s not some dream or something. he sure didn’t love Diana.” “We mustn’t?” Penny mocked her. “There are some hard places. She felt the gaiaphage. She’d never experienced a sense of awe. Drake she could respect. Just nothing nothing nothingness. She laughed out loud. “There’s a big. Not that she had a big problem with weird. “Crawl on our knees. Couldn’t use super-speed when you couldn’t see where you were going. “We mustn’t fight amongst ourselves. not total nothing. Which meant Brianna was free to come after them.” Brittney said in a singsong voice. Let Brianna come back in range again. as she remembered from former days.THIRTY-ONE 8 HOURS. none of it. But Brittney was not Drake. Not you. Penny grinned in the dark. good luck to Diana trying to steal him away like she had Caine. Brittney was bringing up the rear.” Brittney said. just to feel for the timbers along the side. then you can actually touch him. So dark. He looked like a shark. That she had to feel her way along the narrow path with her hands out like a blind person.” “You think I …” Penny had to struggle to take the next breath. She had what? Twelve rounds? Yeah. It was like a warning. She could hear them all up the path. the will to use it—made Drake powerful. A low moan escaped from Diana. Penny had a fleeting impulse to give her something to be scared of. so magnificent. not cruelly. “You can feel it.” Then. Probably at the mine shaft entrance by now. “I feel it.” Brittney said smugly. “Stay away. Drake had been a very different boy: like a shark. He hated her as much as Penny did. run until her legs broke. 58 MINUTES PENNY HAD NEVER felt like this before. though. but with a knowing condescension. big drop.” Penny thought that sounded weird. run real fast. it was her kryptonite. can’t you?” Penny was startled by the voice. he’ll speak to you. Caine had the dark good looks and the brain—so smart. Well. “This next section is all jumbled-up rock. It was as black as if her eyes had been gouged out. And attractive. She drew her shotgun and there was the feel of the short stock and the smell of gunpowder residue. too. but it didn’t frighten her. It will break your legs all up if you fall. Anyway.” “No one tells me—” Penny snarled. “You could always leave. “He’ll tell us what to do. Good luck catching them. Penny would make her run. In fact. he hated her. It was actually worse than the images Penny had put in her head. when you get all the way down to the bottom. “No. Unfortunately Penny could not sustain the illusion that had paralyzed Brianna from this distance. And then. It was coming from where Drake had been but it was a girl’s voice. “The gaiaphage. but she could feel the power of it. You’ll have to crawl over it. She tried again.” Brianna was breathing hard without moving. Penny said. though. Then Penny. silence that sounded like disapproval.” Not that she could see anything. Never even known what people were talking about when they went on and on about some sunset or the sweep of stars in a clear night sky. She’d never been here before.” Brittney chided in a voice dripping with sincerity. “You’ll see. Not even the whatever you call it. It was easier to find their way. The darkness. Her cut foot no longer mattered. The Breeze? Hah. They had reached the entrance to the mine shaft. with dead eyes and a hungry mouth. it didn’t matter. Interesting. But she wasn’t paralyzed by it. feeling their clumsy way along. The darkness.” Brittney said. Well. Diana and Justin stumbled and wept and fell down in front.” Penny confirmed. No way. too. Caine was totally under the thumb of that witch Diana. so. “No way. Hah! “He’ll speak to me. “You’re going to the place you always wanted to be. “I feel it.” Penny was already “seeing. Of course: Brittney. She wasn’t immune to that dark weight on her soul. If she came within range.” Penny shook her head. But harder to breathe. too.” “Shut up. was now tight around them. This. on our knees we crawl to our lord.” But she licked her lips nervously as she said it. Bright. Drake. but it was a homecoming anyway. It would have faded by now.) And yet she knew where she was going. She laughed. Those had been cool in a way. She could imagine the muzzle flash.” Then. “Shut up until Drake comes back. But now she was feeling something. She hadn’t ever paid that much attention to him back then because Caine was the one for her. “You think I won’t?” “You won’t. The Whip Hand—and even more. this was just nothing.

beaten. it made the dark seem vast.or ten. rushing from the burned-out kitchen into the smoke-stinking dining room where the three kids were and the Olafsons—that was their name. To clutching at sand and jibbering like a crazy person. He wondered about all the others out in this terrible darkness. Maybe he would see something from higher up. God? Tell you what. It fell for perhaps a full second before it hit something. Boo!” She hadn’t been scared. For loneliness. Eaten from the inside out.” She felt her way step by step now. immobilized her so that she couldn’t even lash out. trapped inside seamless white stone. But he wasn’t absolutely sure. Just some girl. “Oh. let alone the Breeze. isn’t it? Quiet. But not now. It was strange. Or risk taking a long fall.or hundred-foot drop. She was just a girl. and something to hurt. She’d known that about herself—and about other people—for some time. alabaster. no end. Sam breathed and the sound of his own breath seemed dramatic in the darkness. Needing to feel her body move and not be in that terrible blank white stone prison. no. A single point of light appeared. It sounded big. She cried and gasped in air mixed with dirt and cried again. much dimmer. no wonder she didn’t remember it—those two had screamed and run for it. Never. But not stopping. Endless. A single distant point of barely visible light. Some maybe had flashlights going slowly dim. kid. It might have killed him if he’d gone off. Rather die a thousand times. And death is better because death is the end of fear. It didn’t make the dark less dark. Dekka. But Brianna had not run. but much more now since she had become the Breeze. She remembered one of the rats had stopped and cocked its rat face to look at her. She heard someone crying and then screaming and then babbling. He picked up the rusted beer can and dropped it over the edge. There must have been two dozen of them. Actually she’d been disappointed when she realized there was no ghost. To this nothing. Jane and Todd Olafson. I feel you. that’s where some guy burned up.” It was a big old Italian restaurant. blind. feeling a hill but not seeing it. When the angle increased he was caught by surprise and stumbled. It was as small as a star. he could no longer see the lake or its firefly lights. “Aaaahhh. “We’re going to sneak into the old restaurant that burned up. It’s okay to just lie here in the dark and let your eyelids close. For one thing. Trapped and eaten alive. there was an old rusted beer can. she knew it represented a force of great power and deep evil. His feet were going up a hill. He stood at the edge and listened hard. The line they made wobbled a bit but it was basically straight. “Because you’re just a stupid rat. He felt it in his forward lean. Dekka. Walking into darkness. Like it wanted to say. all three mixed up together. He could almost hear the emptiness of that space. It took him a while to make sense of his immediate surroundings. They came scurrying out like they were being chased. He wished Astrid was here to talk to about how strange it was to move like this. Penny had taken her most terrible fear—that the bugs could return—and she had doubled it. Jane. hoped. at least. But let yourself go? Where was the sin in that? “You want me to explain how I could wish for that. She’d stood her ground with her talking Woody doll in one hand. He was going to have to backtrack down this hill. She had fought enough. Or where he thought. do you hear me? Do you. Since even before the FAYZ.worth a damn. not knowing was he near the top or not even close? Everything was about feel now. The tiny point of light served only to emphasize the totality of the darkness. The sight of it wrung a sigh from Sam. He turned carefully. It’s okay if you do. It looked half-normal from the outside except there was yellow police tape across the charred front door. It felt huge. tried to get little Brianna to be spooked. maybe it was only a two-foot drop. “Hey. a tomb that went inside her. A despairing sound. But many were just walking into darkness. Stopped. Then again. But Brianna wasn’t wired the way most people were. Or out in the desert. She heard the warning. couldn’t move as they ate her insides… Never let it happen again. and orange. He allowed it. the last. And maybe he could develop those senses someday. Like it couldn’t believe she wasn’t running. I’m a huge rat: why aren’t you running?” And she had wanted to say. slowly. aaaahhhh.” Sam could look back and see a string of ten lights behind him. because there’s nothing for you but fear. had tripped and cut her knee pretty badly. needing something to hold on to. It took all his willpower to turn left when he reached the lowest light on the hill and move toward the ghost town. look. Sam started back down the hill. squeezed it like she was holding on to reality. Scared. would catch him by surprise. Or maybe it was just his imagination. Just this girl with the stupid name of Dekka. Or six. How old was she then? Maybe three? Her and some older kids. she felt the malice behind it. Or even out on the island. too. Some might have built fires. Would kill herself first. that boy and his stupid sister who used to live three houses down. she knew it wasn’t a fake or a joke. not right now at the edge of a one. Probably a bonfire in Perdido Beach. Way too slow for a normal person. hit the back button and play the last hour … no. His ghost is probably haunting this place.” she muttered. all of it coming from her own mouth. The dirt ran through her fingers and she gathered more and again it got away and she grabbed at more and more. And they said. right? Never kill yourself. The girl. Peace. she had no idea what their names were. She remembered once when she was young. “Oh. pretended the ghost town might be. For another he was less than six feet from what might be a sheer drop. He felt the slope with his ankles rather than seeing it with his eyes. Then came the rats. Dekka. He hung a Sammy sun. “But you’re just a stupid rat. But then it would lessen and that. That was the thing you could never do. old dark and scary. It wouldn’t be suicide. almost a year? . a one-eighty. forever. Die here.” Dekka cried into the dirt. All of it came to here. And what for? For emptiness. Dekka would rather die than endure it. Of course. She would beg for death before she would live through it again. She clutched dirt in her hands. not white. He was pretty sure that the lake was blocked from view by the bulk of the hill. what’s it been. The two kids. And then it fell some more. because there’s nothing more to see. aaaaahhh.

you want to see. A coyote missed its attack as a result and rather than closing its jaws around her leg just plowed into her with enough force to knock her on her back. and it might squeeze me like it did. and you look down at me. big-bearded guy in the sky. not even sure she was looking in his direction. it could be worse. probably filling the barrel with sand. She stuck out her hand and eventually encountered a gravelly leg.” Orc said. I beg you to kill me. did you know? Well. A rush of wind. Talking nonsense was better than remembering.” “Aaaahhh. Make me strong and leave me weeping in the dirt. So he wouldn’t do that. They could hunt in the dark. weak. probably not. “I’m afraid I won’t ever be me again. searching for—yes! She had the grip. Cigar was screaming now in that despairing. It’s all still there. “Make me love and then … and then… “Just kill me. She couldn’t think of anything else to say. strap them on. She waited.” His massive hands found her and propped her up. “Just.” Dekka said. like he’d walked a million miles and was just so weary. pulling the shotgun . don’t I? “Can you smell me? Because when the fear had me I made a mess all over myself. “Are you okay?” “No. She was drained. And suddenly she wanted to hear the answer. I heard you crying and yelling and praying and all. Come on. It was not the first time he’d suddenly cried out. “Like you was wanting to die. She fumbled in the dark for her shotgun. You can see in the dark. so we could always say. But not dead. Her body was damp with sweat. It was just a story he made up. “Is that you.” Dekka snorted. Dekka? It sounds like you. But in this case there were other sounds. Her nose was blocked by it. “I was out here.’ And then we’d keep going. too. “Especially in the dark. Okay? Just kill me. One finger touched metal. Something close. He had completely baffled her. you know. And she was almost angry at him.” Dekka said. “A story?” “Yeah.” Dekka said nothing. okay? You take a good long look at what you did. right. okay? I give up. Her legs almost gave way. not sure which way it was pointing. “If you kill yourself. Here I am. I get that. a stink like rotting meat. fumbled. unable to pinpoint their prey. “So. Like the coyotes eating on me. probably jamming the trigger. And the snarling was intensifying. She tried to tell where Cigar was. Astrid rolled toward the gun and now she was on top of it. right? Have a good laugh.” “Yeah. most high Lord: kill me.” Dekka had no answer to that. the ones that make everything green and glowing? Well. you know. silent. as she spit dirt. His hand in Astrid’s squeezed with incredible strength.“Not even enough.” “Which way should we go?” Orc asked. rolled once more. fur over muscles.” Orc said. And then. It was hard not to. God? Don’t you have night-vision goggles? You know. One favor. she might cover me like that. oh.” He couldn’t see that she was facedown in the dirt. “You can’t kill yourself. “Give me a hand up. all right? Oh. Orc?” “I’m going to kill Drake. The voice of God. It could be hell. it’s a real place?” Dekka waited while he thought it out. but the close-in killing work was harder without sight. Cigar was torn away from Astrid. you strap on your goggles like some divine commando.” “I don’t want to kill you. “Start moving. I’ll follow the sound of your footsteps. “What are you doing out here. snapping blindly where their ears and nose told them the prey would be. like. a derisive sound. Some of it is stuff that just happened. but then she couldn’t form any more words without spitting the dirt out of her mouth. God.” Orc said at last.” Dekka said. “Yeah. beaten voice of his. flat.” Despite herself Dekka was listening. “I’m…” Dekka stared into the darkness. I’m a little shaky. too. The voice was familiar. Beaten. He couldn’t see that she was finished. all that nonsense? I sound like a madwoman pushing a shopping cart down the street.” Orc said.” she said. It was a fairly regular thing for him. Her lips were coated with dirt. felt something metallic. Lord. If I find him.” “Even in the dark. Fear does that. oh. because baffled was a different thing from despairing. Make me brave and then break me. Baffled meant she was still … involved. it seemed. not even when you’re really drunk or whatever. Astrid rolled over. “Some of it is stuff I did. “No. you know. He sighed a huge sigh. But none of it goes away. I beg of thee. She instinctively dropped into a crouch. So he made up this story about hell. and then I might feel those… I might know what they were doing. See what you did to me. feeling with trembling fingers. what happened after that. She could sense it.” Dekka laughed. because he knew our lives would be really bad sometimes. “I can’t…” Dekka began. “Me neither. “You believe in hell?” “You mean.” Dekka sighed. and then a snarl. The coyotes were frustrated. I never wanted to remember that. you go to hell. “I doubt it matters much. God. oh. It probably did not belong to God. “See? See me here facedown in the dirt? “Can you hear me? Can you hear the sounds my brain is pushing out of my mouth. because it’s not like I didn’t see them pouring out of my guts as Sam cut me open. She paused until a sob subsided. “Because we’re all children of God. being God and all and not afraid of anything. Like maybe we’d be turned into a monster and then our best friend would get killed. She pushed it forward. ‘Well.” Cigar screeched. Something was there. stretching her arm. and was brushed aside by a rushing coyote. empty. trying to find the shotgun. Do I have to beg? Is that it? You get off on that? Okay. Because as long as I live she might do it to me again. In her fevered mind she thought for a second there she’d heard an actual voice. Like it mattered.” Orc said.

a derisive voice in her head taunted. she was here.” Cigar moaned. Fix it!” Silence. There’s nothing innocent about Petey. She had loved touching his muscles. The explosion was shocking. Maybe it would make you crazy. “Get up. “What did he do?” “He touched them. some guy with hard abs and yet. Petey!” she yelled. and fired again. all of it freeze-framed for the duration of the flash. She felt around in the dark until she found Cigar. “Just fix it! You’re the one who did this. Innocent? Astrid Ellison. What an embarrassing. prosecutor and jury and executioner. Nothing! She’d forgotten to jack another round in.” She shouldered the shotgun. There was something smothering about the darkness. Panic. With a ghost and a lunatic. It tickled her. No. He made this universe. All of it. The noise was awesome. It was a while before Astrid could master her voice. “Does he mean it will make me…” She searched for a word that wouldn’t hurt Cigar. “Fix it! Fix it!” she screamed at the dark. and pulled the trigger again. with her hands sliding to his chest to balance and… And now. They had exploded. Her words seemed to barely penetrate the blackness. and then fumbled some more before she had his hand. not ever again. “Petey. if Petey scrambled her mind? Scrambled brain. and yet.” Astrid’s fingers ached. The smell of coyote guts and gunpowder. “Is the little boy here?” Astrid asked. “Yes. A dark.on top of her. white marble eyes stared. . No. and Cigar mobbed by them. but it wasn’t a joyful sound. teased her. She could walk in circles and never know it. terrible urge to turn the shotgun around and end Cigar’s misery had Astrid breathing hard and clenching her jaw. She was shaking all over. Silence. Is it… Is it real?” Cigar asked tentatively. the voice teased. She could walk into a zeke field and not know it until the worms were inside her. Anything else. Astrid. she was clutching the gun so hard. “I think it’s real. He built this. The flash wasn’t enough to show more. “Crazy?” He said. hadn’t that been her all along? She recalled with intimate detail having her hand on his biceps when he flexed to pick her up and the way the muscle had just doubled in size and become hard as if it were carved out of oak. She could get all the answers she needed by way of Cigar. she’d already played Abraham to Petey’s Isaac. “Yes. “He says it will hurt you. “Just turn the damned lights on. He’d lifted her up like she weighed nothing.” Astrid took a breath and licked her lips. always mooning over some rock star. Let’s get going. Maybe just be destroyed.” She stood with her smoking shotgun in her hands and looked at nothing. Like it was thick and hard to breathe. There was nothing else to hold on to.” Cigar said. He doesn’t know how to do it. He’s the creator and it is all his fault. juvenile thing.” He got up. Before she could reassemble her shattered thoughts into something like coherence. so gently. and a fourth just a few feet away. Just that their insides were where their outsides had been. “Not taking the risk. In the dark. “Let’s go. a stick with nails poking through. A jet of light so much bigger than it had ever seemed before. Except that Cigar was coherent for only snatches of time before he spiraled down into lunatic rantings and shrieks. but wouldn’t really know if her brain was twisted in the learning. The darkness was so absolute. full of things she needed to know. talking about Red Vines and how good candy tasted. “My leg. Cigar himself was beyond worrying about euphemisms. No. it’s not my leg. Talk to me.” Like she knew which way to go.” Astrid said. And what would she know then.” Cigar said. She shivered. Why? Risk your sanity and maybe know something. Cigar panting. some movie star. not that ever again. Cigar was no longer mobbed by the beasts. “Hurt me? Why doesn’t it hurt you?” Cigar laughed. who had been following—or so he said—Little Pete. She had a vision of herself back at the lake. moaning and giggling. “Give me your hand.” Astrid said. “I’m already hurt. “Which way?” Cigar asked. aimed at the place where the fourth coyote had been standing. She would not allow herself to take an innocent life. Not madness. She’d been following Cigar.” Astrid said. Innocent. In the split-second flash Astrid saw at least three coyotes. too.” Cigar said.” “He can’t. Silence. Something had happened to the coyotes. it’s a stick. Not that. and fired. In my head. lying in the bunk with Sam. She pushed herself to one knee. Her heart beat so loud she was sure Cigar must hear it. Like the girls she despised. “No. Cigar started in again. His terrible. Cigar. Like it was cold. But maybe not. Like the darkness was made of wet wool wrapped all around her. aimed shakily at blank space. BOOM! This time she was expecting the flash and saw that the coyote she’d aimed at was no longer there. “My brain is already crazy. And set her down again. Darkness. lips back in a snarl. She did it.

Reason and madness go for a walk in a dark room.” Cigar laughed like it had been funny. looking for an exit. “Me neither. “You even know what the punch line is. you poor crazy boy?” “No. How about we just walk until we can’t walk anymore?” .” Cigar admitted.Astrid laughed. “I have a joke for you. Cigar.

A cold distance opened between them for the first time since the anomaly had begun.” “We all want to make something happen. and without revealing Darius’s name. They think the barrier is weakening. wrapping both hands around the ceramic coffee mug and refusing to look at either woman. They want to do something. All this time. Quickly. and if they want to blow up my child. “Okay.” Han spread her hands wide. He listened for a while. I knew what was happening.” Abana snapped. “It’s human nature: they don’t want to just wait.” “We have to stop it from happening. So why suddenly. even underground. “I’m stopping this. “We still don’t have any idea what caused this. “A nuclear explosion.” She shook her head thoughtfully. With two FBI agents watching he was going to commit what might as well be suicide.” Connie nodded. They don’t want our kids coming out. They wanted this as an option.” Connie hung her head. They don’t want our kids coming out. “Yes. But if you leak his name he’ll end up in prison. “I know.” Connie said. It’s whatever made this happen. but hating herself. They must have deliberately left it for the last minute so it would seem like a real emergency. “Abana. She reported for the Huffington Post and had been on the Perdido Beach Anomaly story from the start. Then. “Sergeant Darius Ashton. “If that’s the way it is. But the tone. taking notes. I saw them both.” Connie watched her go. Connie Temple had been holding something back.” “If I don’t get this out. The. the mutations. Which means something caused them besides the barrier. Abana was wondering if somehow her friend could have kept this from happening.” Abana said. Darius held up a finger to signal just a minute. then maybe they caused the barrier. Connie had called her but told her nothing. “Are they out of their minds?” Abana demanded. “They can’t do this without approval from very high up. if the mutations came before the barrier. as they had suffered together. They just want everyone away from the dome. they’ll have to blow me up. aware that Abana and Elizabeth were exchanging worried glances. neither smiling. Then she put a reassuring hand on Connie’s arm. But if it’s the other way around. she repeated. They didn’t just decide this overnight. “What she told you is one hundred percent true. there must have been a plan in place for a long time. the repetition of his name. she backed the story up to the start. all those theories. This means there’s something or someone inside that dome with unbelievable power.” Connie said.” She looked at her friend. was unfamiliar. She had interviewed Connie several times before. and slid into the booth beside Connie. I’m going to get around that roadblock. will show up on seismographs all over the world. “Sam and Caine. Across from her sat a reporter named Elizabeth Han. now. they came before the barrier. His cell phone rang. I have his number. “They’re setting off a nuclear device?” “The so-called chemical spill is a trick. “They briefed us. walked past the hostess. and I’m so sorry.” He held the phone to his ear. She banged the table hard and rattled the cups. “Why would this scare the government any more than—” She frowned and looked up. feeling powerless.” Elizabeth Han looked grim as she went back to taking notes. he knew. That’s why.” The FBI agents took his phone then. Connie had lied to her. We’re all sick of not knowing. use that option?” “The dome is changing. more calmly.” Elizabeth Han was thumbing frantically into her iPhone. She looked up sharply. “Are they insane?” “Just scared. aware that she was bringing conversation to a halt. “You have to give me the name of the person who told you about the nuke. Or at least they suspect something. the kids who have developed powers… I never shared this. I’m calling the parents. both holding badges so he could read them. “Then I can’t run the story. all the way up. “They know something. “Excuse me. The voice. The FBI agents seemed momentarily uncertain as to whether they should or could stop him taking the call. He forced a pleasant smile and turned to see a man and a woman. it sounds like all those kids inside may die. I need to source this.” Connie said. “You won’t tell me who gave you this information. “I can’t believe they’re targeting our kids. “I can’t give you his name. There’s some change in the energy signature or whatever.” Elizabeth Han barked out a laugh. What’s your choice?” CONNIE TEMPLE SAT “Sergeant Ashton? Sergeant Darius Ashton?” He froze. They want to make something happen. what am I supposed to do?” “I promised. Then.” he said. quieter. it rewrote the laws of nature to create that sphere. that told him all he needed to know. This president doesn’t go off half-cocked.” Connie nodded. the families. . Han was young and pretty but also smart.” he said into the phone. her jaw set. too. then when the dome comes down the mutations will stop.” Out of the corner of her eye Connie saw Abana pull back. coming from behind him.” Connie said. Connie knew.OUTSIDE sipping coffee at a booth in Denny’s. and right now. I mean. But with Sam…” She bit her lip. Their powers developed before the anomaly.” Connie insisted. whatever they are. “I’m Ashton. destroying himself. or even an intrusion from a parallel universe. some quantum flux or whatever. “What’s happened inside… I mean.” Abana stood up abruptly.” “They don’t want whatever made this coming out. angry and frustrated. even as she said. “What do you want me to do?” the reporter asked Connie. But—” At that moment Abana Baidoo came into the restaurant. “They think the dome is the cause of the mutations.” the reporter said. Which means this isn’t all just some freak of nature.” “Your son—” “Darius Ashton!” Connie said through gritted teeth. “We’re all worn-out with worry. He was. “But whatever it is. And now.

like stepping on a million ants all packed tight together. beneath her bare feet. Although at least out there that oppression of the soul that came with proximity to the gaiaphage might be lessened. her ankles.” They were deep inside the mine shaft. her hair sticking to her neck. But Penny had already lost interest in Justin. But he was cried out. the cells of the monster seethed and vibrated.” She wept. gaiaphage. jealous eyes at Drake in all his joy. She was cut and bruised in so many places she couldn’t even begin to keep track. Her belly was impossibly big. now realized they’d lost the little boy somewhere along the bloody miles leading them here. amazed to have eyes to see with. would still be the mother of a monster. She was bathed in sweat. this Diana. meet Penny. forcing her to climb for safety up onto pieces of the gaiaphage itself. She had accepted that light was gone forever. She could feel the gaiaphage move under her. or was it Penny playing some game with her reality? She felt the gaiaphage’s dark mind. but not her. But she felt little of the pain now. not this person. Gaiaphage. And the cuts from Drake’s whip were on her back. that was how he sounded. Drake cavorted across the chamber.THIRTY-TWO 7 HOURS. the back of her thighs. And then. a glow. Contraction. It would be his. She was almost as battered. didn’t know that it would burst if you just kept making it— A spasm went through her. Repentance had not saved her. Like a little kid impatient for the ice cream. More like shell-shocked. Then. she felt that evil mind’s eagerness. Always blind. It was warm and ran down her inner thighs. A darkness so total it reached into her memory and blotted the sun from the pictures there. an infant with powers not yet defined. give me! But worse by far was the echo that came from the baby. But she knew in her heart. She had a more than healthy appetite. I know you two will get along. bruised. her bottom. Go!” She stumbled forward. had wanted to … had tried to … but somehow had failed. The child of an evil father and a mother who had tried. She. felt something so much more awful. all ripped and torn. She’d almost laid into Justin with her machete before realizing he was sniffling. It’ll make you feel a little better. Was her stomach really growing? Was the impatience of the baby inside her real. though? She could walk him out to the mine shaft entrance. seizing her insides. too. It revealed the contours of rock. her knees. and bloodied as Diana. Contraction. felt through the meat with dirty fingers for any fragment of bone or cartilage. Penny. A history of starvation did that to people: made them nervous about food. the tumbled piles of broken stone like waterfalls rendered with a child’s blocks. Drake was ignoring her. “I did it! I did it! I brought you Diana! I. She felt her belly grow each time she reached to hold it. and now here was a faint. “Eat that. The image would have made Diana laugh if not for a contraction that forced her to her knees. It was in that position that Diana felt a sudden wetness. and she liked to always keep food handy. DIANA CRAWLED AND Brianna had a little roasted pigeon in her backpack. Diana Ladris. Brianna felt an unaccustomed stab of . Now she tore a piece of the pigeon breast away from the bone. shoulders. Her palms. Burning tears had not been enough to wash away the stain. The word came to her from the depths of memory. a vise inside her that tightened so hard it seemed it must break her very bones. Drake Merwin. Something that happened to a real person who was not her. At some point she must have hit her head very hard. 1 MINUTE fell. maybe. the soles of her feet. Her vision blurred green. the stalagmites rising from the floor. Where was he? Diana realized she hadn’t seen him in a long time. It strained to hurry her on. “What can you tell me. Bigger and bigger. Penny. drawing on every ounce of her strength and concentrating it in that one spasm. No Justin. the electric zap of the barrier. Now what. because a gash in her scalp bled down into one eye. The baby felt the force of the gaiaphage’s will. It was inside her and pushing and kicking. She knew it. The water that had gushed from inside her had not washed away the stain. She felt the fear that squeezed the air from her lungs. The trip down a jet-black tunnel had not been good to her. had not fared well. sickly glow. Give me. I did it! Whip Hand! Whip! Hand!” Justin. Her face was grim. beaten and scourged and crying out to heaven for forgiveness. that this baby was no normal child. Some shell she’d once inhabited. Then she found the little boy’s hand and put the meat into it. Where was he? She looked around. The baby. but what difference did it make? It was dark in here. frantic. How long had she crawled like this? How many times had Drake grabbed her roughly with his whip hand and lowered her down some sheer drop to cling with torn fingernails to the rock wall? And blind. It was hot and airless. kid? Did you see the thing?” “I can’t see anything. It was inside her. Already it was a three bar.” He sniffed. He hadn’t introduced her. snapping the air with his whip. Now she looked with narrow. And it was growing. And the next contraction now racked her. The glow brightened. shouting. like someone was filling a water balloon from a hose and didn’t have the sense to stop. It stuck to the floor and walls of the cave. not snarling. And more horrible still. her shins. Penny caught the frantic look. “Go!” Drake urged her. at long last. That pain was something far away. “Impossible. because this person. the flesh stretched like a drum. “It’s straight and level now. and it was dark out there. At first it seemed like it must be a hallucination. It reached for her from the depths. and had known for some time. too.

” Sam said to no one.” She tore off another piece of her precious pigeon meat and gave it to him. As a kid he’d lain in his bed at night. and started running again. if that was her.” “Are you going to save Diana?” “Kind of more thinking about killing Drake. The sound said a long way. picking thorns out of his palms and arms as he went. She positioned herself in a way to see straight downward. and there really were genuine. He was on a mission to— “Too bad. She had worked out a way to move a little faster than a normal person might. sure enough. but maybe just run right off a cliff. “I doubt it. And the Breeze doesn’t stop. “Eyes open. Or to run.” she told herself. that helps me to know that. She crept to the edge of it on hands and knees.” “Ma’am. and nothing was foreseen.” She was very much against really long drops. pushed her hair back. And the only solution was to refuse to be afraid. Or just any number of armed kids who might be lost in the darkness. I think her baby is going to come out. she could sense a gap in the floor. you tell people that. Running with his eyes closed. as Justin had called it. She wouldn’t need much to eat. No night-light now. that would make everything just about perfect. Not a fear of what might be “out there. Sam did not run away. An endless series of scenarios in which Sam did not panic. If you get out of this somehow. Later. But that’s me. It was to the right.” Two explosions. Easier said than done when the darkness was absolute. He had spent hundreds. Brianna. . The Breeze never gave up.” “Well. He did not believe it had come from the same direction as the mine shaft. twirling it ahead of her in a variety of different patterns to avoid getting too bored—figure eight. Wow. terrible monsters lying in wait. Then. “a really long drop. and as the wry smile formed he plowed into a bush that tripped him. When the machete struck something. and started running again. but never get anywhere. She tossed a pebble finally and did not hear it clatter on stone. try to avoid falling. “There’s a really long drop. then having whoever she was fighting—maybe even Drake—see a line of Sammy suns approaching would give everything away.” Brianna said with a sigh. Two stabs of light. Right there an inch from his nose. All his life Sam had feared the darkness. and said. a six-way star. That was his choice: to inch his way cautiously. Justin said. “That’s one. was what Sam had feared: that he was weak and cowardly. actual. Sam fixed in his mind’s eye the direction the flashes had come from. he thought.sympathy.” he snapped.” Brianna echoed in an ironic tone. Running with absolutely no idea where his foot would land. and if she was in a fight. You understand? You can keep heading back to the entrance. The echo of the blast went on for some time. most likely. She used her machete. It was like a blind person using a cane. three times as fast as a regular person. “Definitely a gun. I’m the Breeze. How was it right that this kind of stuff happened to a little kid? How was he ever going to forget it? He’d forget when he was dead. unless this shaft went down even farther than she imagined. I believe we have the long drop. Nowhere near her usual speed. “Kid. I have to keep going. Sam did not cry.” but a fear of how he would react to what was out there. Diana. Stood up. where had that come from? She shook her head angrily.” “Up ahead. okay?” She began to make her way down the tunnel. Impossible to tell.” “Yeah? Right on. Drakey boy: I’m still coming. painting an indelible image of stone walls. that incessant hero fantasy. kid. The muzzle flash stabbed thirty feet down. Running blind. She aimed the shotgun down into the hole and pulled the trigger. It used to shame him. He made it surprisingly far before something hard caught his foot and he slammed facedown into the dirt. you mean?” “That’s where they forgot about me. of course. But now in this ultimate darkness. more than any monster. No Sammy sun. She wasn’t coming back. Brianna thought harshly. tangled him. “The lady. The light seemed nearer. again talking defiantly to no one. What did it matter? This was a suicide mission. and that wouldn’t be too long from now. Astrid. tensed against the assault of the unseen but well-imagined threat. Will you do that?” “Yes.” he said. It was insanity. a five-pointed star. But in the confines of the mine shaft it was like a bomb going off. He wasn’t on a mission to find and rescue Astrid. and you get out of the whole FAYZ and get back home to your mom and dad and everyone out in the world. “I’m just saying: you tell people the Breeze never wimped out. Poor kid. “Ah. If it was Astrid. She could feel tears in her eyes. but so much more badass. It could be anyone. Most likely Drake would hear. Brianna smiled. “Anyway. Because that. lighting his path back to home with a row of lights. and threatened not to let him escape. He wouldn’t just have to walk tentatively into the dark. He began to trot. How weird that gunfire was almost reassuring.” “Are you coming back?” Brianna gave a short laugh. Finally he rolled free. that endless mental war-gaming for threats that never materialized. ma’am. stood up. No way to know how far away they were. okay? Maybe find my family some—” Her voice choked. don’t flinch. she slowed down until she found an open way. Yeah. Shotguns were never exactly quiet. “That’s right. If it was Astrid—and he’d already convinced himself it was—he needed to move fast. listening for something that might be. She could swing the machete maybe two. surprisingly. running when maybe there was a wall or a branch or a wild animal just right there. and maybe get somewhere. Not a happy thought. Or you can just sit tight right here and wait for me. Just darkness so total it negated the very idea of sight. He had a terrible fear of being afraid. maybe thousands of hours in his life imagining how he would cope with whatever terrible thing his imagination had conjured up. From time to time she would feel for a rock and throw it ahead. It sounded a bit like when a jet broke the sound barrier. it seemed to him that fear of the dark was fear of himself.” She edged forward until. Which was not his objective. but one had to adapt. But if that means I save Diana. little dude. More like in a line to where he thought Perdido Beach might be. I can live with that. He would have to run straight into darkness. a ledge perhaps twenty feet straight down. that’s life. lifting each step high to avoid tripping.

Quinn stopped a kid who had taken a burning stick from the fire and was heading toward his home. But she didn’t sound that mad. “Sam. but it wasn’t like there was anything to see.” Orc said.” he admitted. Or anything else to do. Later Quinn realized he’d walked down to the ocean and washed himself up. But his palms were mostly clean. but we don’t want another Zil thing with the whole town going up in flames. “That’s not what I was talking about. How about you and Sinder? She likes you okay. Probably because Dekka had this way of looking at Howard. “Careful. “Sorry. But continuing to run straight ahead did. It was an annoyed sound. He looked like a much older person.” “Then give me a flashlight. like he had gone straight from handsome teenager to weary.” “No fire outside the plaza. “Yeah. “You have lots of friends.” “We work together.” The idea surprised Orc.” Quinn said. Then a thought occurred to him.” He’d escorted the kid back to the plaza just in time to see two torches heading away on the far side of the plaza. And now he had to think about it. that’s not for me. “That kind of stuff. “So just don’t cry. but he. “Sorry about Howard. Grab my waist and I’ll go around it.” Sam said.” Dekka interrupted. Something smacked Orc’s head and poked at his eyes. was that it was pretty hard for anything to trip him. Caine turned toward the steps. I knew that.” Orc said. No. Orc reflected. so you probably don’t understand why Howard—” “I don’t have a lot of friends. but her eyes would be on him. “Caine. “Hey.” Dekka said. He had a hard time articulating his fingers. Orc was walking in front with Dekka just behind him. “Yeah. And I’m not one of those anything in this place. so you’re like me. Lesbo was just a name to call some ugly girl back when he’d been at school. too late. Because as far as Orc was concerned Dekka was a hard. But not with fire.” He forced a laugh. not a happy laugh.” Dekka corrected. His hands—the backs. but knowing he was coming to the same conclusion. he was so shocked. “She’s pretty. “He liked me anyway. And if it was a bush or a bumpy place or whatever he could warn Dekka. Most things he just plowed right through.” Dekka said. it looks like I’m the only one of those.” Orc said. But when he stood he held himself with some dignity. They’d been chopping wood and dragging it and sawing it and distributing food and organizing a slit trench.” “No. like her face would be down. Normally Orc didn’t talk all that much. No. “I know you were friends. You’re just a stupid fisherman. She was looking at him now.” Orc crushed a tin can under one foot and with his next step flattened the earth over what felt like a gopher hole. But he was different sometimes. had not spent months with his hands gripping an oar.” Lana was right.” Orc went on. The kid tried to rip it away. “She’s nice to me. “Yeah. man. Sometimes he would call Dekka names.” Dekka’s voice softened. “You’re one of those lesbos?” “I’m a lesbian.” Orc said. In some ways it was a pleasant stroll. But the fishing crews were exhausted. and the scars of the staples Penny had driven into his head had been healed by Lana. she’d barely said a word.” “No one liked Howard. Like me. either.” “Lesbian. “I just want to get my stuff.” “We don’t have any to—” “Then mind your own business. hah. The only person made out of rocks and the only lesbo. Her voice was still shaky. Lana had been right.” This was making Orc feel very uncomfortable. not saying it. “You can go where you want. I mean girls.” Quinn said. The nice thing about being the way he was. He hadn’t really thought much about it. He heard a derisive snort from Dekka. “You and me. it must have been pretty bad.” Dekka didn’t choose to disagree. either. The last of the roof had come down with a sequence of . unlike Quinn. And from that direction all you saw were these cornrows and her broad forehead and those hard eyes.” Quinn had grabbed the torch.” Orc missed a step. We’re not really friends. It wasn’t long before trouble started. He looked gray. His hair was slicked back. But it wasn’t too hot or too cold. hard girl.” “Oh. Not a lot of girls are interested in someone like me. “Do you have it back?” Caine had disappeared for a while. I’m the only one like me. The only real problem was that they didn’t know where they were going.Having thought about his fear did not lessen it. But it was the best she’d come up with so far.” He didn’t want it to sound like he was feeling sorry for himself. He thought it over a little more. “Everyone just saw him as this guy who sold drugs and booze and all.” Orc said. Quinn cursed and sent some of his people after them. Whatever had happened to her back there. His clothing was wet but more or less clean. There’s a tree. but it probably did.” “I wasn’t saying she liked you that way.” “Edilio. In fact. The church had been emptied of anything that would burn. at least—were still covered in anywhere from an eighth of an inch to half an inch of cement. well. Dekka wasn’t exactly talkative. beaten old man. like they were watching him through her own eyebrows. we’re onlies is what we are. following the sounds of his steps. kind of.” “What?” “An only. Nothing from Dekka. “I miss Howard. “You mean boys. Quinn wrested the torch away easily. hah. Howard always said that about her. too. “Sam. it turns out there aren’t a lot of girls interested in me. feeling as if he’d be blushing if he had more than a few inches of skin left. Nothing to see. even by firelight.

Quinn noticed a slight smile on Caine’s lips. and suddenly he’s Mr. “Yeah. “Yeah.” Lana said. sometimes. The panic started then. There are other boats. Caine set it gently atop the burning pile. We actually need him to be the bad guy. to Caine. to calm down.” “Albert had his escape plans ready. Diana told me not to. She was rolled across the ground. “Let me know what else I can do. just shook her head and pulled away. Lana sauntered over. Then at last. not whether.” Quinn was too tired to think of some clever retort. I hate people.” “You should do that. But the panic came to meet them. Some listened. Now the tired crews were tearing handrails and old wooden office chairs. “Mommy! Mommy!” He leaped to cut her off. But Caine did not look at him. Some idiot yelled something and off they went. kids suddenly screaming without knowing why. back-to-back like ancient warriors surrounded by foes. Quinn turned. Quinn heard Lana shouting at kids. Lana came storming back. is it?” “I haven’t tortured anyone. She was screaming. There was no cause that Quinn could see. as if grabbed by a divine hand.” Quinn said. The heat drove him back as he cried.” Quinn rested his fists on his sides.” Caine sagged a little at that. It’s not easy. And then to Quinn’s utter horror a girl ran straight into the fire. “Have to admit: the guy has a genius for doing the wrong thing. circling back to the fire. the flames streamed behind him as he fled screaming. getting spooked and running again. Sanjit’s sister.” “Do we go after the ones that got away?” Quinn wondered aloud.” he said. Just kind of sad. “What is it?” She had no answer. “Question for you. “We’ll see. That he was still king. well… You pretty much had me beat. seemed to me like you were ready to have all these people go hungry over Cigar. But Lana wasn’t ready for a calm discussion. But Caine seemed already to have lost interest in Quinn’s anger. “I really. practically spitting with rage. Caine focused on the largest fragment. Others did not. telling them to stop acting like idiots. Lana cursed and started running. No baby now. Meek and Mild.” Quinn agreed. Then he sat down. And the sad reality was that Quinn would have welcomed it: being in charge of all this was more than he wanted to handle. Like cattle. He grabbed her shoulders and yelled. He was remembering the sight of those tiny eyes like beans in the blackened sockets of Cigar’s head. palm out. “No one even knows what it was. That he was in charge. Let Caine go after the island. I liked that island. grateful. More than one lit torch went off into the darkness. Quinn. Maybe nothing more than a rat passing through.crashes that sent dust billowing out to spark the bonfire. Caine favored him with a curious look. most of a desk. knocked into Quinn. “No! No! No!” Then. The desk rose from the ground. Just maybe I’ll pay old Albert a visit one of these days. yelling. His shoulders sagged.” “Until we can’t.” She threw herself down on the steps.” . Quinn was right behind her.” Caine’s eyes glinted in the firelight. His clothing was on fire. Dahra Baidoo tackled him like a football player and rolled him over to kill the flames. “I wish I knew how long we had to keep it together. But those beside them didn’t know what it was and the panic spread lightning-quick. Caine. “How long would you have defended Penny?” Caine made a small laugh. Quinn wondered how long it would be before he started seeing fires throughout this poor. running. A kid ran into the darkness. It might be good to see whether those missiles Albert claimed to have would work. beaten town. He looked away. Albert was already thinking about how he’d get rid of me. cross-legged. Other kids grabbed torches and formed into knots and paranoid clusters. furious. really just hate them all. Never should have left. framed pictures and broken-up desks out of the town hall building. but he was too late. It was rough but effective. knocking one another over. He extended his hand. I haven’t turned anyone over to some psycho girl who’ll drive them insane.” Caine said quietly. “No. Caine thought it over for so long it seemed he’d forgotten the question. and stared into the fire. “I would have liked to see Diana again. the girl came flying back out of the fire. Quinn braced himself for an announcement by Caine that he was back. Suddenly kids on the far side of the fire were shouting and some were squealing. He let his head drop down.” “Are you relieved?” Lana asked harshly. “More likely we’re all dead soon. Peace. It sailed through the air over upturned faces. Quinn: how long would you have stayed on strike?” “What?” “Well. “Being in charge. The fire that had just caught onto her shorts went out.

very still. Could he fix it? Could he undo the great and terrible thing he had done? He felt the answer as a sort of regret. he said. He couldn’t break this one. just barely. Astrid registered the fact that the ground beneath her boots was no longer flat and hard and occasionally interrupted by some unnamed weed. A suggestion of a shape. but had become bumpier. She saw the edge of the field. And then. Completely and absolutely alone in a darkness that seemed almost like a living thing. Petey? The FAYZ. Cigar cried pitiably. Not him. huh. She felt something pushing at the leather of her boot. A fire! “Cigar. An orange glow. This was what it was to be the girl with the yellow hair and the stabbing blue eyes. A sound like hungry dogs eating. “Oh. Stared. like the darkness had warped around itself. Like devils dancing!” They walked forward eagerly. He was in the field. . laughed and laughed in the dark. words of light floating to him. He wondered. She sat there listening. the thing that had made him able to create this place. Just a terrible cold. I think I see town.” in a small. back until the ground was hard and flat again. Yes. and sank its nasty.THIRTY-THREE 5 HOURS. “Can you fix it. What she noticed was the light. She sat with her knees together. disappointed voice. “No choice.” “I see it. He stayed very. I’m sorry. And the only sound in the darkness was the relentless feeding of the worms. She saw Cigar frozen in a twisting fall. It’s me. “All right. and she got her hands around it even though it fought. he said. Something cold. as if she had been swallowed whole and was now in the belly of some indifferent beast. but only just. Peter Ellison did not move. Petey. But Cigar screamed a lot. “No! No!” and then it was away from her. quick as a cobra. no choice but to hear. feeling for him like tiny light-snakes. The power. Can you make it stop?” He could hear her voice. crawled. “You can’t end it?” No. not like there was light. but she had the tail and yelled. its head already through the leather and touching her flesh. fell down. brother? The crazy behind door number one or the crazy behind door number two. but something. jumped up like the ground was electrified. Then it all came together and Astrid knew. Somewhere. No pain. Show me what you have to show me. Astrid with shaking hands grabbed the shotgun and fired it once. stood. signs inside of mazes inside of maps that were part of planets and… He pulled himself back. ran back.” She saw him. It was in my body. A little boy. “Petey! Petey! Help him!” Cigar said. 12 MINUTES WAS THAT LIGHT? Astrid opened her eyes wide. like someone had slid an icicle through her scalp and through her skull and pushed it deep inside her brain. tooth-ringed mouth into her arm.” Astrid said at last. No. “Petey?” she whispered. sister Astrid. He mustn’t play with those complex swirls and patterns. so Astrid kept walking and ignored his mad shrieks that something was in his feet. How much time passed until the worm sounds were finished she couldn’t know. He reached for the power. Inside her was a game of such beautiful complexity. His hand touched her on the head. and she pulled at it with all her strength and it came free and whipped around. I think I see a fire. too. A fire. She fumbled in the dark. “Are you there?” she asked. It came straight up through the avatar. and stumbled back. She was alone now. It took his breath away. fingers searching for and then finding the whipping worm. dry clods of dirt that tripped her as they rose and formed rows and from those rows rose neatly ordered plants. She heard the greedy mouths burrowing into him. head in twisting hands. Each time he had tried he’d broken the avatar and it had come apart. But there was nothing there. and he stayed very still. I can’t. She had thrown it. Petey. Or would have if he had breath and body. The avatar that was his sister had within it an amazing complexity of lines and designs. The stink … that remained. so much more terrible. Peter. The avatar shuddered. crying. And then Cigar’s screams. Tears flowed. “Zekes!” she cried. Patterns twisted around his touch.

because it was clear. He could see him. Don’t think. It landed on Diana’s belly and then rolled heavily to one side. Her avatar twirled away like a snowflake in a storm. he had tried to make her better. the barrier that had pushed all the rules and laws away. and it’s not Diana’s. screaming distortion when anything passed through from one universe to the other. A sudden motion. Then. The top of its head. he’ll let you know. incredulous and offended. leaving a divot in her shoulder. He stopped moving away. aaaaahhhhhh!” “You’re doing this right now?” Brianna asked. not now! Contraction. She was sweating. kneeling between Diana’s legs.” “I have to—have to—have to—” Diana gasped. Just wait for— Another contraction. If the gaiaphage wants something. He knew that now. She had been so hungry. But she’d barely glanced at the sections having to do with birth. Dying. BLAM! Penny’s left arm took a partial hit. a divot that sprayed blood. Forget about me. with a brain all wired crazily so that things were always too loud. When he had a body. and it sure isn’t you. that the only other thing in the room that cared about the baby was the pulsing green monster. spread all through the barrier. “Push!” she yelled. He was hurting her. just a chance to gasp some super-heated fetid air. She had no more energy for crying. Her questions made him feel bad inside.” she said. looking down at Diana. the barrier made of the gaiaphage. oh. He opened his mind to her. funny screaming. And while it was bad. the gaiaphage. Breathe. Breathe. it was not as bad as the stroke of Drake’s whip. “Should I give her a god to pray to? I can make her see whatever—” Through a veil of bloody tears Diana saw Penny reel back. Don’t go away. Otherwise it’s best not to spend a lot of time down here thinking about how powerful you are. It was doing what it was supposed to do five months from now. The Darkness was weak. it’s coming!” Diana screamed. Save my baby!” .” Diana tried to remember what she had read in the pregnancy books. knees up. The girl named Taylor. The taste of human flesh. He’d done it. but the despair. He was the thing Pete had used to create the barrier. Soon it would break and crack. and the twisting. He resisted an urge to reach inside that mesmerizing avatar and take its sadness away. The baby was not ready. Drake stared in horrified fascination. Penny laughed. still an exile from the human race. He showed sister Astrid images of the great sphere he had built. Bright metal wire crossed his exposed teeth. that had become the egg for its rebirth. His power. tendrils like a writhing octopus reaching out through the placeless place where Pete now lived. “It has to be right now?” Diana grabbed Brianna’s shirt in an iron grip. Another. But no. what do you want from me? Why won’t you help this baby? Penny moved closer. A chunk the size of a small steak was vaporized. hold on. There’s only one god down here. Something very fast. She leaned down to look at Diana’s straining face. he had hurt her. And then Brittney was there. I repented. and now sister Astrid was screaming and holding her head. that she still bore the mark of her evil deeds. careful of her damaged. God. Penny curled her lip with contempt.” Penny said. Diana felt its hungry will. “Petey. The deadening reality that she was unforgiven. Now! Who was there to help her in this? No one. Doom for her baby. “No. it’s dying?” It wants to be reborn. Her body had taken control. Birth was months away. She had known there would be pain. Drake laughed. his fingers were too clumsy. On and on. Brittney’s head rolled off her neck. a hard one.“Can you bring the light back?” He pulled away. Penny. “I see its head. He was out of words. What happens if it is reborn?” He didn’t know. urging herself on. oh. “Save my baby. face-first into a wall. clear to anyone with a heart or brain. when Pete had screamed inside his own head and reached out with his power he’d stretched the Darkness into that barrier. bloody feet. earning a jeer from Drake. Neither of them interfered or spoke. the numbers all twisted together. Like a marionette she slammed hard. Petey turned and ran. “The Darkness. But the enormous swell of her belly said different. “Petey. and he had torn the avatar to shreds. The contractions were just minutes apart now. I begged for forgiveness. Hold on. he could see it in the avatar. stupid stupidness. He hadn’t looked at that thing lately. Now it was weakening. even colors. “Stupid chick. It said the time was now. That she would fail even at this. on her back with her legs spread wide. Diana told herself. like words that popped and exploded around him and— He pulled away. What is the Darkness doing?” Pete considered. a green glow. was weakening. In that panic moment with the terrible loud sounds and the fear on all the faces. I’ve said I’m sorry. fourteen. She was not ready. Oh. “Oh. but they lasted so long it was as if she had no rest in between. It was not the pain that made her cry out. straining. “We’re out of here!” “I can’t … can’t … oh. So close to death. the certain knowledge that she would never be the baby’s mother. He had memories of how much her voice had hurt when he was the old Pete. “Ahhhh!” she cried out. With his clumsy fingers and his stupid. like her guts were being squeezed hard by a gigantic fist. But even as he laughed he was changing. Brianna’s face appeared. “She’s praying.

Expected nothing. Green? Hadn’t they been white? Green was a nice color. The tenor of her sounds changed. determined to ignore any further interference. so Brianna shot it in the leg at close range. Little blue eyes. The warrior who had gone out from the lake to save his people by slaying the evil one was now just a boy sitting in the dirt with his fingers in a mane of blond hair. man. He saw Astrid. staring at the terrible wound that was draining her life away. no doubt crawling off to look for its head. and the green sheets. but Diana gave a huge cry of pain. Then the gun blew apart in her hands. snapped off a quick. and suddenly there was a head sticking almost all the way out of a place on Diana that Brianna had never wanted to see. could it? Brianna stared into those eyes. Penny was a human being.” Brianna moaned. squirt. “Oh. man. this is wrong.Sam found her. “The what?” “The cord. an insistent screech that Brianna just ignored. swayed a little. of course. it wasn’t human. “It’s got a snake around its neck!” Brianna cried. it’s all slimy. She wanted Brianna to take her over and lay her down in that crib. Brianna jacked a round into the chamber and aimed at Penny. and tied it around the six-inch stump of the umbilical cord. raised it up. because it was really ready to come out. Just sat. No. She shot a look to see if Penny was dead or alive and couldn’t see her at all. Brianna lifted the little girl up and oh! Her eyes opened. The wild flights of giggling stopped. Brittney’s body got up. She seemed perfectly calm. well. Sam sat there perfectly still. Ruuuun! the siren said. But she hesitated. The baby wasn’t crying. still seething with zekes. and— Ruuuun! Ruuun! Nooooo! . Brianna picked up Brittney’s head. “Take her away from here!” Diana yelled. “Take her. too. oh. He put his arm around her shoulder. “Oh. At first it was as if he wasn’t there. the baby was going to land on the floor. more than one. Her voice was coming from far away. It spilled out with liquid sounds and a hideous translucent sac attached and a pulsating snakelike thing leading to its belly button. but an actual human being.” Brianna worked her hands beneath the baby. Sam sat down wordlessly beside Astrid. poorly aimed. and yelled.” Brianna said fervently. “Yaa-aahh-ah!” Brianna said. But now Brianna’s breath was short. “She’s breathing. He hung lights. on a rock. not the squinty little eyes of a newborn baby but the eyes of a wise child. Brianna snatched up her shotgun. It was surprisingly heavy. crumpled and unaware. she was choking because the baby wanted to be put down in that nice crib with the green sheets.” Brianna said.” “Ah. Brianna bent down to get the shotgun. So tired. twisted it to make it easier to handle. which wasn’t easy. “Ewww!” a couple of times as she stretched and wrestled the umbilical cord over the baby’s head. “You have to cut the cord.” Diana said. The loss of one bloodless leg caused the whole body to topple over.” Diana gasped.” Brianna took her machete in hand. As she laid the baby down and… But wait. Because it almost sounded like the baby was saying something. “Isn’t she supposed to cry? In a movie it cries.” She frowned at the baby. she buried her face in his neck. squirt. Just stared. and if Brianna didn’t get down there and do the right thing. The girl was spraying blood like a Super Soaker and still able to mess with Brianna’s head. Whereas the Drake/Brittney thing. illuminating a patch the size of a suburban lawn. Then. saying nothing. whatever it was. Got to finish her off. Run. But that couldn’t be. And now in a rush the baby came out. Brianna told herself. She must have weighed a million pounds. “The snake thing. because humans pretty much never stood up and tried to walk away after their heads were chopped off. Well. being born. The snake thing. who wouldn’t want to lie down in that nice. eyes focused so clearly. one-handed shot in the general direction of Penny—BLAM!—and cupped her hands beneath the emerging head.” Diana cried. It’s a girl. heartbroken wail. and seemed as if it was ready to go after its head. white crib? There was a siren going off here at the hospital. It was slimy on its back. Brianna was so incredibly weary holding the baby. “It’s the umbilical cord. Planned nothing. That wasn’t a siren. So did the keening. Diana shuddered.” But it just kept coming out as Diana grunted like an animal. Something strange about it. The Brittney body was gone as well. It was a voice. It’s around the neck. Run. Like she didn’t notice him. not by sight but by sound. Then she looked down and saw something that made her smile. Penny was obviously in shock. and chopped through the umbilical cord. with a sudden. She pushed the baby’s head back a little. By her weeping and her giggling. He saw a skeleton just a dozen feet away. Not much of one. “It’s bleeding!” “Tie it off!” Brianna tore a strip from the waist of her T-shirt. loud sob. squirt. too. and let her tears run down his neck. It’ll choke!” “Oh. Diana sat up—amazing that she could even think about sitting up—and yelled. He stared at nothing. Exploded! Brianna dropped it. I hate slimy stuff. “I am so never doing this. “What?” Brianna asked. “Hey. She threw it as hard as she could down the tunnel.” Brianna said. An illusion of Penny’s making. but even as she let go she realized it was a trick. freeing it. As if this was all no big thing. Its eyes were closed. And the tiny little girl stared back. Now she just cried.

She spun. The green swarmed up onto the baby’s chubby little legs and arms. She snatched up her shotgun—BLAM!—fired into Drake’s belly. watched as the seething green mass flowed onto the baby’s arms and legs and belly and then poured like water into her nostrils and mouth.Brianna blinked. ducked. and suddenly collapsed to the ground. She gulped air. Too much! Brianna ran. “No. She looked down and saw the baby lying on rock covered with a sickly green that looked up close like a billion tiny ants. Brianna! Noooo!” Diana cried. holding a rag to the bloody hole in her shoulder. staggered back. and barely avoided the whip. paralyzed with horror at what she had just done. . “What did I do?” Brianna cried. laughed. Too much. A noise. Brianna. Penny. He smiled his shark grin.

laying rubber across the parking lot. hopped in. And if you are close to the area come! The chemical spill story is a lie! Don’t let them stop you!!!!! Then text. “Hate me later. Abana. No. . Do it now . There. She could barely take a breath. tires squealing beside Abana. email. The same message. and drove with one hand as the tweets and messages started pinging her phone.” Abana said. Nuclear explosion planned. Too late for anyone to cover up now. Help now. Everyone! Emergency! They are blowing up the dome. “Follow me now. Abana rolled down her window. and pulled up. despite her fumbling. But if she was going to stop it she had to focus. No way she was letting this happen. Come if u can! Facebook app.” Connie said.OUTSIDE ABANA BAIDOO WAS shaking as she reached her car outside Denny’s. “Hell. All families immediately call your senators and congressmen and the media. yeah. Call everyone! This is not a joke or a mistake!!! Then. Liar! She pulled out her iPhone and. Nuclear explosive is being used to blow up the anomaly. I think I know a dirt road. without delay. she opened her Twitter app. Connie was coming from the restaurant at a run. First. but shorter. same message. She raced to her own car. found the mailing list of families. Not joke or mistake. shaking fingers. And not focus on how angry she was at Connie Temple. #PerdidoFamilies. started it. I have solid proof that they are blowing up the dome. but a little longer.” Connie didn’t wait but took off.

then maybe breaking open.” Sam said. But if we’re going after that thing in the mine shaft. then. And I’m not crazy. but I forget. at least as much. not just me alone.” He had let her ramble on. but didn’t really know why. Now that she mentioned feeling crazy he wondered if she had. So the barrier is failing—going dark. Who knows what it will be when it’s born. As a fetus. I know what happened. but I can guess. not if Drake had shown up and challenged him to one-on-one combat to the death. But he was also this. That’s good news. Yes.” He made a shivering move. He’d become aware after a while that she had stopped crying. Sam.” “It’s Pete. “Here’s the thing I remember clearly: the gaiaphage. I know I’m babbling. that’s all I can say. and kiss her. but. that’s great news. Petey’s dead. He knew Edilio and all the rest were expecting him to solve something.” “Diana can read power levels. Carefully. It began in a rambling way. he tried to entice Pete.” “You don’t cry much. we’ll need help. messed me up. “The gaiaphage wants the baby.” “Yeah. Orc.” Astrid said dryly.” “I don’t cry ever. Dekka.” At that Sam had no choice but to go to her. He couldn’t think of anything better to say.” “So we go to Perdido Beach?” “Slowly.” For the next half an hour she explained. Unless somehow the gaiaphage escapes the barrier. The gaiaphage is part of the barrier. Astrid laughed softly and said.” Astrid said. Listen. like. 21 MINUTES “HE CAN’T CONTROL it. Words are coming hard to me right now. the explanations more crisp. “She said the baby is a three bar. We guessed that much. they won’t kill her until they have the baby. He’s… I don’t know what he is. Right now he was powerless to put that part of himself aside. It messed me up. I don’t know. um. And for a long time afterward he wondered if she was asleep. he can interfere with what he sees as data patterns—people and animals—but he can’t just perform miracles like he could. How do we survive that long?” Sam shrugged. Sorry. carrying everything on his shoulders. “I let him in. and that won’t happen for months. huh? I’m embarrassed at how lame it is. ever. But she had not pulled away then. It’s not something I understand.” Sam said. And now the gaiaphage is running out of energy. Like a data pattern or something. Now that Pete has lost most of his power. well.” Astrid said. He stretched his arm and got pins and needles in payment.” “Yes.” “Okay. And he was that. Nothing was more reassuring to him than an impatient.” “Astrid.” “But how is he or it or whatever going to do that?” “I don’t know. When she would talk about it I would kind of. stomach. Sam. He remembered the liberation of believing that his role was as warrior.” Astrid said. “Okay. Sam. and then you came. I cried it out. I need to get my troops back together. Pete. I know crying freaks boys out. when the gaiaphage gave Drake that disgusting whip arm he needed Lana’s powers to do it. you know. Ever since then he’s tried to lure her back. He recalled the high of realizing he wasn’t the leader. the exalted sound of Astrid discovering something new. How weak. too. Especially Caine. if she’s still alive. “Drake’s had plenty of time to get Diana to the mine shaft. like he’s digital. “It would be the best possible news. “Well. I feel like I’m bruised in my brain. “No. and he knew he had the strength and courage and violence to use that power. “That. Going in there after them is a job for an army. “Did she ever…” Sam nodded. become … stressed. In fact. and Pete can’t explain it. His body is gone. If he’ll help. He was a warrior. the thoughts grew clearer.” He pointed at his chest and whispered.” She sighed and pulled away. Twisted my thoughts into… Well. I understand it now. His arm was asleep. Astrid being Astrid. Again: sorry that’s not more coherent. That’s the part of all this that makes you squirm: pregnancy. And Caine. The great and powerful warrior and that was all. Starving for energy.” “She made me touch her. however bad it is for Diana. Because now she was one hundred percent Astrid again. But I was on the edge. “There’s some kind of space.” There was a marveling quality to her words. “Nipples. but he wasn’t making any sense of it. “In any case.THIRTY-FOUR 4 HOURS. I’m fine. And all the while. It’s like a slippery thought. everything. He’s changed. I should know exactly. He’d determined that if she was asleep he’d let her go right on doing so.” Astrid said with some of her usual snap. Or as it grows. some kind of reality that exists here in the FAYZ. It doesn’t feel right to call him Petey now. He couldn’t have left her side when she was like this.” “That must mean the gaiaphage has months before the barrier cracks. The first words she’d spoken in what felt to Sam like an eternity. And I turned it all to you. “So now what?” Astrid asked a few minutes later. “And the barrier is part of the gaiaphage. rarely. He had the power in his hands. In my head. four or five months along. “Who?” he asked.” Astrid said. He’s outside. Not in his old brain. “His memory?” “No. condescending Astrid. and by the end she was getting annoyed with him for failing to immediately grasp some details. Then we worry about going after the gaiaphage.” Sam summarized. Yeah. Sam. Brianna. And we’ll leave a trail of lights for anyone else needing a safe path. Taylor. though. Astrid shook her head in disbelief. Almost as if she could read his thoughts. “Really. But he was also. thinking out loud. like it all gave him the creeps. He’s like a spirit. you know. Yes: he was. And she talked about her. “I could see where that would be devastating.” “The baby. “Petey. Whatever this was. Like Lana’s power is part of her body. Yet. Somehow Pete’s power was a function of his body. the boy who loved Astrid Ellison. her things. He’s the building material Pete used to create the barrier. put his arms around her.” .” Sam said. Diana’s only. I was pretty close there.

It sent sparks a hundred feet into the air. to his even greater shock. “Yeah. thinking maybe that was violating a confidence. but alive. The will of the gaiaphage was clear in his mind. And then the baby crawled back to her mother and nursed. he worries about it all the time. Looking at Drake. “I’m hungry!” a voice cried out of the dark. Not by myself. Even with Caine’s sullen help. Babies still covered with slime weren’t supposed to be sitting up and making eye contact. In the dark fights broke out.” “Take me. “Which is pretty hard in the dark. Not the worst thing I ever did. Way too impressed by her own power. But okay. Drake set her down and the baby toppled over. Sun shining. And the light of it barely cast a glow on the first circle of kids. So it toppled. what am I going to do. It would have been comical in another time and place. It would have been cooler if it was a dude’s body. And still slow. but the greater glow did draw some of the people to it. Light everywhere. as they all did. with her boundless optimism. kid.” “Your brother. It was a fight I couldn’t win. she knew her hope had been futile.After a while Drake lifted the baby up with his whip hand. He was gentle. “I was just thinking about Edilio for some reason. I used to call him a wetback. . And about the overwhelming urge to place the baby on the gaiaphage. Sam. it was on all fours. The baby was sitting up on Diana’s belly. He knew that much. But no. No wonder ancient man had worshiped fire. He laid it down just as gently on Diana’s belly. Besides…” She stopped herself. Diana closed her eyes. ripping flammable materials out of buildings and carrying them to the fire was not easy. On a dark night surrounded by lions or hyenas or whatever. breathing softly in the pitch-black. They’d realized that it had to be if they were going to keep it burning. I guess. But a voice in his head made him turn around. So now the bonfire was more like a campfire. “Somehow I always feel like if Edilio’s still standing. The first home fire had flared in the west end of town.” he ordered. staring at the fire.” Brianna said. I didn’t. Even though the baby itself was a girl. Most sat in darkness. Penny gasped. She was lying in a pool of her own blood.” Caine said. Drake felt a stab of jealousy. protected. Drake knew nothing about babies.” Caine was resting beside them. With Justin she’d be moving at whatever it was that was slower than a crawl. She was shivering like she was cold. I couldn’t pull it off. Now. Brianna still hoped that when they emerged they would find the world magically restored. but that wasn’t right. She was too full of herself. all it did was to heal the wound. He winced. little dude. Fine with Drake. what was a body but a tool or a weapon? Drake gave Diana the baby. “It’s stupid to waste time worrying about what you did. It reached out a pudgy hand and touched the grisly wound. Still.” He laughed. This was definitely not right. Brianna had not expected to return to Justin. a sound that might have been either pain or pleasure. shivering and muttering incoherently. They began feeling their way. a mess of cuts and bruises. That was a shame. The baby body must be nurtured. not hard to carry. The bonfire in the plaza was much smaller now. unwilling to explain about the baby.” So much for peaceful conversation. Sitting up. to the baby gaiaphage. She was still blind. The baby’s giant head was too big for the body to support it very well. She was white as a ghost. I guess. They could be heard jostling and calling out to one another as they felt their way to it like moths drawn to a lightbulb. He curled his tentacle arm around Penny.” Drake said. but then.. “It’s me. thinking the gaiaphage might give Penny the gift of a whip hand. for now he still liked the fire. “It’s not going to matter. in fact? Wasn’t this maybe the last peaceful conversation before the end? “Does he?” Caine asked. Diana shook her head. But weren’t they past all that? Past everything.. “Feed it. cleaner air on her face. “Did you rescue her?” “No. “I need to find Sam. okay?” “Yeah. but he knew without question what the gaiaphage wanted. And here she was. the baby seemed to be trying to speak. Caine was returning to form..” Quinn said. Drake’s god. The trip was from narrow darkness to wide-open darkness. The baby healed the shotgun-destroyed flesh in seconds. Drake thought with a smirk. He would obey it. “Idiot. One fight went from curses to sickening thuds of some blunt weapon on flesh and bone. Soon he’d grow tired of pretending to get along. annoyed but submissive. Of course. No sounds came out. Brianna finally felt clearer. And he would follow it. at irresistible urging from the gaiaphage. It crawled the few inches to Penny.” she said wearily. toward the mine shaft entrance. too. The gaiaphage didn’t need her. unable even to see the person sitting beside them. That baby now was the gaiaphage. The baby latched on and nursed. So he brought her.” Quinn said. although it was hot as always down here. But no.” Lana said. but I wish I could take it back. all the snark has been beaten right out of that girl. with surprising speed. Who it was. and Quinn was certain it would spread. He knew what the baby was. And there was nothing Quinn could do but yell at them. She was already slowed to a crawl by the dark. squeezing out a tear. because I didn’t used to like him. “I wish I knew whether Sanjit was safe. But there he was. It didn’t seem to. inch by bruising inch. She was small. leave you here?” Actually the thought had occurred to Brianna. But when. after a terribly long time. having used his power to noisily rip some wooden doors off houses and then carry them back to feed the fire. Drake went to Penny. Yeah. A few seconds later someone—no one knew who—dashed forward to grab a burning chair leg and ran off into the night. at least not quickly. we’re not totally beaten yet. In her imagination. he’d have loved to make her beg. Of course. “Weird. it must have seemed like it was more than just burning twigs. Then.

“What?” she snapped.” Lana said.” He shared a strange. It wasn’t the first such cry. Oh.” Lana said. “Lana. Lana had been quiet for a long time. “I can feel it. but Caine cut him off. I think Patrick’s starting to wonder about dinner. into the fire. But a few minutes later Patrick came nosing against Quinn. So Quinn leaned past his former king and saw Lana staring. It’s coming. eyes wide. irritated. a frown deepening the black and orange lines of her face. Not by a long shot. “She’s right. It wouldn’t be the last. “Are you okay?” Lana shook her head. No answer. my God.” “What are you ranting about?” Caine snapped. It’s free. He reached past Caine and shook her. “It’s coming!” Quinn saw then what he never expected to see in this life: sheer terror in Lana’s eyes. “Probably just—” Quinn started to say something reassuring. His jaw clenched hard. “The gaiaphage.” Quinn saw Caine snap his mouth shut. and so he said.Quinn ignored it. too. Quinn asked her whether she was okay. it finally did it. So he let it go. frightened look with Lana. “It’s changed. He saw Caine’s eyes widen. Like someone awakened from a dream. .” And again she didn’t answer. “None of us are okay.” “It’s coming.

6 MINUTES THE BABY TRIED to walk. “She gave birth to our lord. Drake was now trapped with females he couldn’t just beat on or intimidate.” Drake snapped. let’s say. woozy. The baby hit solid rock with a sickening thud. You’re sickening.” Diana could see that Drake was not happy. More terrible by far. In that first contact Diana had read the baby’s power level. “It’s just a body. a belly full of rats! Hungry rats!” Diana felt her belly swelling. “Hallelujah. She could see its cheek. might take over its thoughts and use it. and Penny. grinned as well. “You’re a mess. curling her lips at Diana’s disheveled appearance. amazingly visible in the glow that came from the baby. “She glows!” Brittney said. Nothing could be seen in this absolute darkness. He’s still what he always was.” Penny said. “If you were pregnant again. A four bar. “No. The name came to her as if she’d known it all along. meaning it. She felt in the dark and touched the baby’s arm.” Drake said. ended abruptly. She fumbled the baby to her and cradled it. her baby. “You know what would be creepy. It cried just like any baby.” The illusion. “Shut up. Drake’s dark discontent grew darker still.” Penny said. She just said.” Drake announced. No. “I’ll carry it. “Let’s go. But it wasn’t supposed to try. She also. Brittney. cow. He’s still he. “The gaiaphage says she has to live.” Brittney didn’t argue. Moo. unfortunately.” “We must go to the barrier and prepare for our rebirth.” “Go forth. “Do it. coordination lacking. The stains. “What do we do with her?” Penny pointed at Diana with utter contempt. “Why? Is the gaiaphage getting sentimental now that it has a girl’s body?” “Shut up. Within a few feet they found themselves in total blackness. But it failed. Willing him to do it. “She speaks to me. The torn clothing barely put back together.” Penny smirked. “Maybe I listen to Drake. She’s our lord’s mother.” Brittney said. “Are you a moron?” Diana said. You look like roadkill. Impossible. the baby girl. “I will make straight the way of the lord. A four bar now. not Drake now. Diana’s baby. and her tiny fist pressed into her mother’s breast. but I don’t listen to you. felt the hundreds of— “No. Brittney was as much a tool of the gaiaphage as was Drake. but she lacked Drake’s own personal hate-fueled insanity.. “I just had a baby. It latched on and again began to suck vigorously.” Diana looked down at the baby. I’ve tried to put up with your—” “Hush!” Brittney put up a hand. feeling she should vomit except that her stomach was empty. but her thoughts were all for the baby at her breast. Diana was on her feet. Diana recalled that there were places where she might throw herself down a crevasse and end her hellish life. It was.” Penny echoed with cutting sarcasm.. . The weakness.” Brittney said calmly. She dared to hope that he and Penny would go after each other. And still just a baby! “Our lady should carry our lord. both of them. Drake’s whip hand. Diana. The wounds. Diana?” Penny asked.” Diana heard all this. you dumb metal-mouthed hick?” “I will walk in front. after all. joined in. now it was Brittney. “Are you that stupid? You think this is Jesus in the manger and she’s Mary. “No. Were the emergences coming faster? She dared to hope that Drake was weakening. barely begun. a weird smile revealing pink gums and no teeth. It was the first time the baby had cried. The greenish glow of the gaiaphage—because not all of the lurid green had flowed onto or into the baby—had faded so that there was almost no light.” That made him laugh. But something in there was still her daughter. Gaia. she did see the baby’s cheek. Drake. Penny’s sick visions. It made her sad. Diana felt her heart respond.” Brittney announced. He’d have been happier to see her die. And yet. I can’t—” They hit her then. But none of those would have been the right name. had less knowledge of the path. My powers don’t need me to use my hands.” “So kill me. almost but not quite knocking Diana over. Only this time with.. It would have been so much better if she could have named her baby Sally or Chloe or Melissa.” “Uh-huh. Do it. Diana had no right to reject Gaia. From the darkness a thin wail of baby fury. Not happy at all with Penny. If Drake didn’t stop her. And if terrible things awaited this little girl. let alone attempting to stand up. You even stink. And her body. Diana relaxed a little.” Penny snorted. after a hesitation during which Diana saw contempt for Drake in her eyes. whose fault was that? The guilt lay on Diana and Caine. And her squeezed-shut eyes. “Our lord gives us her light!” “That’s it. It toppled over. Drake’s a psycho but at least he’s not a moron. “Are you mental?” Penny was disbelieving. Hers and Caine’s. because she went sprawling with the baby in her arms.THIRTY-FIVE 4 HOURS. The gaiaphage might be inside it. And then her fat little arm. The equal of Caine or Sam. And her little rosebud mouth holding on. The sound of her breathing was different from his.” Diana said. She plowed into Diana.” Penny must have tripped over a rock. I will carry it.” Drake sighed theatrically. “You may need your whip hand free. legs still too weak. as her breasts leaked milk. Big man. It’s a weapon the master uses. competing to see who could force her to her feet. And you’re the cow. It shouldn’t even be born. “Babies need milk. And she did not intimidate Penny. Drake squatted down in front of Diana. We must go forth. You’re nobody.

and they walked toward it. Orc. “Mr. You saved me. because when I switch off gravity the dirt tends to float up and get in your eyes. “Caine. but all close together. “And I think the Sammy suns are going that way. “What do you see. we don’t even know which way is which. It’s probably better for me. Even now it was almost impossible to believe it was just an illusion. they could be blocked. “A Sammy sun!” Quinn said.” “That’s what I’m saying. I can see my hands. not just a sound and a resistance at the fingertips. “But that don’t mean it doesn’t weigh me down. can’t you see better if you’re up high?” Dekka said. “Stupid ideas are all we’ve got. Caine raised his hands. Better than dirt. Dekka. But her skin was unmarked. But me. The sense of relief was amazing. beloved toys. So what is it?” “Well.” But Orc hesitated. Orc. “Yes. delighted guffaw. Quinn. and took off down the highway. He felt like he might well faint from the sheer release of tension.” He held out his oversize paw and Dekka felt strangely moved taking it. “What happened to your hands?” Sam asked. announcing himself.” “It’s a trail of lights. this? It’s nothing.” This was such an understatement. I set out to find Drake and kill him. then. Orc. leaving some of Quinn’s people in nominal charge. “Thanks. big guy. She squinted blue eyes at Diana. But what does that mean if more go one way?” She could see perhaps half a dozen of the suns spreading out to the right. like he was on display and wanted to look right.” Sam said.” “No. When all that weighs you down.” “Orc. One hand was scratching Patrick’s ruff. And that’s not stupid at all. The small patch of human skin around his mouth and part of one cheek looked as gray-green as every other part of him. “You’re having a bad day. Just four to the left. Orc. You know? People can’t see me. huh?” Caine said. And then he went galumphing off into the dark. It was hard to tell.” . Orc?” “Fire. “Okay.” he said. of course. “You could say that. there’ll likely be some booze back there in town. His eyes were down inside deep wells. It just appeared!” Lana said. water. “Most of them go that way. Sarcasm wasn’t the worst thing he was capable of.” Orc said. Anyway. “The fire.” Then he added. “Because as good as that would be. “Hah! This is fun!” At thirty feet she could no longer see him at all. you must know we can’t look for anything.” “I have an idea. “I don’t mind the dark as much you do. But he stopped himself.” “Perdido Beach?” “Maybe. “Wow. But he may have smiled. Caine was a power-mad tool. In fact. So I’m just going to go on in the dark. and yet so kind in a way. that Dekka had to laugh. Patrick barked once. Not that anyone was able anymore to do more than yell. you want to fly a little?” “Me?” “Why not you? There’re some rocks over there.” After ten minutes a new Sammy sun appeared. Sunshine. But he was real. If we had a compass… I mean. “I love a happy ending. And it’s not like they show up all that well anyway. we have bigger problems.” “I’m bringing you down now.” “Astrid?” Lana said. “Well. and Caine—with Patrick as well—had snuck away from the dying campfire. Each small pebble that made up his body was surrounded by blackest shadows. “Quinn. Penny’s vision had been powerful. perhaps no more than a hundred feet away. “But I’ve been forgave of that.” When he was back on terra firma Dekka said. But it’s probably stupid. “Oh.” Orc shrugged his massive shoulders. Okay?” He didn’t look too sure of that. What did it look like?” “Like it was two or maybe three different fires. The gaiaphage is coming. Not well. “Knock it off!” Torches were spreading through Perdido Beach. and Dekka could actually see him. I prayed and I was forgave. So. listen to me. The highway was littered with debris up to and including entire trucks. still patched with concrete.” he said reluctantly. but he’d been through hell this day. At ten feet he let out a huge. I just need a little lotion. “There’s a light out there. Down the highway. but he wasn’t really agreeing.” She stepped close to the Sammy sun and checked her body for marks. “I’m your mommy. still moving carefully. Then Quinn could make out two forms dimly outlined. How’s it going? Some weird weather we’re having. you remember that you saved me. brother. little knots of kids looking for food.” Quinn was about to say something to Caine. Not in this pitch-black. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it. I know you have some bad stuff on your conscience. “You’re back?” “About time. The two groups came together and Sam illuminated the scene. something along the lines of shut up.” Dekka said. Now Sammy suns were blossoming like radioactive flowers on the highway. Orc stood stiff. you know. Dekka. it’s a happy ending. “Yeah. Lana.Gaia’s eyes opened. or just a bed.” “Hey.” Diana said. We don’t know if Sam is moving right or left from this point. It could take us forever to just accidentally run into Drake. as a matter of fact. so we follow the Sammy suns toward town.” They moved to a rock outcropping. “You here to turn on some lights?” Lana asked. “You can do that.” Quinn said under his breath. Lana.” He nodded and muttered. Dekka followed the lights leading left. “Yeah. Sam was coming. In the dark I don’t have to be like I am.” “Nah. “I mean. Dekka did her thing and Orc rose.” Orc pointed.” Caine muttered. “Hail the conquering hero.” He nodded.” Caine said savagely.

Out there in the dark. Can’t happen soon enough for me. We weren’t waiting for you. “It has Diana. That crown stapled into your scalp. “So Lana says the gaiaphage is coming.” “Oh. helped Brianna. the five of them and one dog. He kept his gaze on Quinn but spoke to Sam. Is that the right word.” All the while Sam had been watching Caine like a specimen under a microscope. Only slight problem is this darn darkness. and then leave ourselves. “Albert’s sitting out there eating cheese and crackers and laughing his butt off at fools like us. And you want to run out and get killed before that happens? Let the barrier crack open like an egg. Astrid: why aren’t you arguing more? I tell you this is happening and you just meekly accept it? You know something. playing all bad and tough.” Lana said. “He’s a fisherman.” “I don’t know when. Not to mention Mr. Caine: you went out. “He doesn’t even have a weapon. Did…” “Barely. almost like a wolf baring its teeth. Sam—and I should be taking parenting classes. I don’t know where Brianna is.” Quinn couldn’t stop himself glancing out toward the utter darkness within which he knew monsters hid.” “I helped Brianna?” Caine snapped. And he’ll need one.” Quinn saw Sam’s jaw clench hard at that. Quinn felt the heat of his malevolence.” “All that. by the way. “Penny. all of that. and all you could do was be Penny’s little monkey. They heard the agitated voices of young children. At least.” Caine said. you’ll be hearing stories about that on TV. You got beat. “Look.“How?” Astrid asked sharply. “Everyone says the gaiaphage is a green encrustation in the bottom of a mine shaft. And they stood there in silence. a little evasively. Caine. smirking. or Dekka. sounding amazed. Diana says it’s yours. and you fought those bugs back. We’re waiting for it.” “If what?” Quinn asked. and you guys say it’s got Diana—by the way. That’s why we’re standing out here. A baby.” There was no way to know whether Caine was as pale as he seemed by the light of the Sammy sun. abandoning his snarky pose. “It just is. and nothing works. King Caine.” Sam said. “If you come with us. His eyes were narrow. But I don’t even know what it means to say the gaiaphage is coming. Quinn. Coming how? Coming as what? With what kind of power? I don’t even know if—” Quinn held up his hand and Sam stopped. “What’s the matter with you. Nasty himself.” .” “Funny how things fall apart when the lights go out. Humiliation was dangerous stuff to play around with. Then Caine spoke to Quinn. It’s because of you I had a beef with Penny in the first place.” Caine said. and most likely Drake and maybe even our old friend Penny are out there. Show me Penny and I’ll kill her for you. “Well. “there’s someone I’ll fight. “Yeah?” Lana shot back.” “I don’t know how. Kids will be laughing about that for a long time. too. “Now. Dragging that cement bowl around. “But as far as I know he’s safe at the lake.” Astrid said quite calmly. Sam. His face was right in Quinn’s. because the end of the story is how Penny humiliated you—” “Enough. And the best part? He’s been planning it for a long time. great job protecting her. no entertainment. I’m ready to get out of this place.” Caine said. “Your loser friend here must have grown a pair.” Astrid said. plus. He seemed about to say something more. Caine? Always swaggering around. underneath a weak mockery of a light. Internet jokes about it. but stopped himself and just muttered. though.” “The gaiaphage is looking for a body. “And your baby. Anyway. so he dropped it to his side.” he said with savage sarcasm. “As soon as Albert realized what was happening he caught a boat and ran for the island. “She helped me. since you’re so worried about my … legacy.” Sam said. “Now.” Lana interrupted. Not much food. And Astrid was bringing a message to you as well. “Sanjit. “You’ve been a pain in my ass. I’ve been really craving some ice cream. “I thought maybe that fact might make you consider something besides yourself. fisherman. me?” Caine laughed. there. “Tell you what.” “Seems like.” Astrid said. Astrid.” Quinn said. The barrier is dead. What do you think I’m going to do? Suddenly become a different person just because I had sex with Diana?” “You got her pregnant. all right?” Caine said sharply. “Don’t play that game with me. that’s better. “It needs a physical body.” Quinn watched Caine’s hands warily. the end of the story will be how you cried and crapped yourself and danced like a trained monkey for Penny. “Yeah. I’ll kill her twice. plenty of weapons. “We followed her until she crossed the highway. “You know what time this is all supposed to happen? Because I have to say. yeah. or at least pretended to ignore.” Sam said. and that’s why the people said. Maybe barbecue some steaks. that gets wiped out. “You hear what Albert did? Did you?” Caine tried to point in the direction of the ocean and the island. “Thanks. “Lots of plans. He bribed Taylor.” “Yeah. Caine. wait until he’s a ways down the road. I got your message. Sam? Genius girl says the barrier is going to come down. he can be our king. holding up his crusted index finger. I’ll go out Drake hunting with my brother there if. She tilted her head and considered Caine.” “There’s no reason to think she would run into Drake.” The conversation died. He was hoping someone would stop Caine before he struck and threw Quinn against and through the nearest wall.” “Taking Diana and your … and the baby. And if the barrier comes down.” “Oh.” “Wait.” Astrid said. Too late. You did one right thing.” Caine yelled over his shoulder. but it drew attention to his still-encrusted hand. It could be months. too. “Everyone saw you. it does. “What people remember is the end of the story. “Have you been to Perdido Beach? It’s a nice little town. or Orc.” Caine laughed. Real daddy kind of stuff.” Sam said. Quinn said. Hunched over like a monkey walking on its knuckles. It’s finally going to be over. Caine turned with menacing slowness to Quinn. Probably after we’ve all starved to death. the barrier is coming down. If the gaiaphage wants to walk on out I say we wish him well. Trying to figure him out. Quinn. Jack is maybe dead by now. Astrid? She knows everything.” Quinn said. “You going to fight or not?” “Who.” Sam ignored. So maybe I can take down Drake myself. oh. Astrid. he’s Albert—and moved them out there. Someday. “It makes me want to go toss the football around in the backyard.” Caine said with a cruel smile. He apparently got hold of some missiles—who knows how he pulled that off. She’s out there somewhere. It’s going to crack open. If the barrier comes down. He said. So it’s real dark out there. Weapons are the one thing we do have. But when that happens the gaiaphage is going to try to get out. but she sounded worried. Your son or daughter isn’t due for—” “Stop that!” Caine snarled.” Lana said. Yeah. Caine. “What do you think your story will look like. here’s my question. and his lips were drawn back. Astrid? Since you’re worried about my legacy.” “And you know this because of your amazing geniusness?” Caine said.” A flame leaped into the air not far from the road. he won’t be coming to the fight.” “I won’t ask how you know.” Caine went on. and maybe not.

Caine laughed cruelly.” Quinn protested. if he’s actually coming.” . “It’s not for you to shoot Drake or Penny.“I don’t even know how to shoot. let alone the Darkness.” he mocked. “It’s for you to stick in your mouth and pull the trigger if any one of them gets hold of you.

Just one thing. “It’s a light. “I think it means you’d better watch very carefully what you do or say to me. They both knew. cow. Now Edilio. He wasn’t snarking or snarling anymore. what was coming. AFTER HOURS AND “Something coming down the highway. Brittney wore the expression of an ecstatic believer. Diana could feel her baby’s mind probing inside her own. the baby has game. opened her hand. little Gaia. Gaia had healed her. Gaia said inside Diana’s thoughts. Murder. She’s mine. Now Duck and Albert and Mary.” Penny said. The teasing. Caine. She was fine. deep down in their souls. checking in with her whipped back. all that I confess. true. But against it all was this person. go there. Drake said. The baby felt her stomach gratefully receive the meat that had been a boy named Panda. Diana stopped. Not rustling around blindly. “It’s following the Sammy suns. and Penny screamed. The dark ambition she had seen in him. peering in eagerly to see Gaia’s face. She would never. that Diana couldn’t dismiss from her thoughts. “What’s the matter?” Brittney asked. Straight for us.” Yes. No. once more cradled in her mother’s arms. grinned a two-toothed grin.” He unwrapped his whip from around his waist and said. It occurred to her for the first time that she felt better.” Astrid said. Not Panda. ever be able to block that out.” Diana whispered. The terrible things they had done. Gaia was studying the people Diana knew. The way Diana had made him want her.” Gaia kicked against Diana’s enfolding arms. and the resulting entity might be more than or less than. either the baby or the monster. Gaia. When at last Penny stopped. Soon Gaia would not need to nurse. And of people. And then what would Gaia do with her mother? “Doesn’t matter. And did it fill her with a brutal sort of joy to see Penny writhe in terror and pain? Yes. “Actually. But your mommy loves you. Now Brianna. As it pleased her daughter to cause that terror. The aroma of roasted human flesh. She seemed to grow heavier even as Diana carried her down through the ghost town beneath the mine shaft. Already Diana could feel tiny teeth biting. “It doesn’t matter. Diana had no defenses against Gaia. Yes. I’m a monster. and just sat on her meager haunches. Gaia. but don’t look any further. Please don’t. my daughter. Like she was looking for something. Enough. “Don’t think that means I can’t do what I want with you. She watched and listened. This soft.” Sam said. either. “You don’t give orders. The two were becoming one: Gaia and the Darkness.THIRTY-SIX 18 MINUTES hours of total darkness. Sam saw the same look on his face and Lana’s. She could hide nothing from her. but enough. staring. Something the baby sensed must be there. Battles. but she felt … fine. Diana’s eyes filled with tears. She pushed herself up so that she could see over Diana’s shoulder. gurgling laugh. She felt still the horror at seeing the green pixels. “They look like Christmas lights. chubby little girl. Diana could only watch as her memories unfolded to reveal pictures of things past. The first time he had revealed his power to her. “So. the soft glow of her baby’s skin allowed Diana to walk with more confidence. Her baby.” Brittney walked beside her. Long enough that Drake merged from where Brittney had been. The baby pushed her clenched fist over Diana’s shoulder. The smell. Diana. “Go to the lights. “A light called Darkness.” Gaia. Penny’s scream seemed to last a very long time. her murderously stretched belly. Brittney would do it. that swarm that was the gaiaphage enter her daughter’s nose and mouth. her bruises. Not the mind of a baby. Gaia laughed a baby’s innocent. “There’s a string of lights up there. “Then follow them to the left. So many things she would never be able to forget. though.” Diana met his dead gaze. who looked up at her with eyes so absurdly blue and so unnaturally aware. Diana knew that if Gaia somehow spoke and told Brittney to leap off a cliff. Diana said to the mind within her own. her torn parts. Gaia lingered long on pictures of Caine. She looked at Penny.” Penny said.” “Shut your mouth. staring in horror at the baby. That was what the baby found first. She was a light in the darkness. She spoke through her mother. The way Gaia reached into Diana’s memory and opened it up as if she was thumbing through a picture book. . and so are you. Yes. but looking for something. Drake. A first meeting at Coates. The many flirtations. Much better. But Gaia spoke through Diana now. Just one thing.” Diana said without even thinking about it. but definitely not equal to. The two were growing together.” Caine said. She inventoried her body. She had just gone through hell.” Lana said in a faraway voice. but not quite the cold violence of the gaiaphage.” Diana said. The baby tasted what Diana had tasted.

At that point he would fixate. and for only a moment as he raised his hands and. There was hair—dark like her parents’—on her head. But he would eventually be able to see Quinn. The next one back was a hundred yards down the road. He yelled. It had been four months since she had seen him. ‘I must not fear. leaving a terrible smell. You can go tell everyone the last thing I said was. Sam couldn’t make out faces. It would mean Quinn was in darkness until he neared the next Sammy sun back. . Caine froze. twisting. It was a weird bond they shared: memories of the gaiaphage.” “I know. “Shut the—” Drake said. “Yeah. I will face my fear. She was already the size of a two-year-old. Penny. Whoever it is. Quinn. Slapping and yelling. Astrid said. Caine. he probably hadn’t been able to tell how many there were. Then Sam pushed her away and said. “Lana. I will face my fear. slapping at his body with hands weirdly encrusted on their backs. What you’ve got won’t kill him. They’ll keep coming toward you. Caine. Sam pulled Astrid to him and they kissed. “That means most likely Penny is one of them. first go for Penny. An invisible Penny was even more dangerous. Seeing now that it was three indistinct shapes. That moment’s hesitation was too long. I’m letting you off the hook. Their eyes met.” Sam said. “‘Fear is the mind-killer. Light sliced deep into his side.” Then it was just the three of them. Gaia was in her head again. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. “Quinn. glowing child. Sam knew what was in her heart. Penny was not there. From a book I read a long time ago. My friend. burning up the shrubbery. she wasn’t there. Go. A few confused seconds where Caine and Sam could strike unexpectedly. Just making contact. A roar from the dark behind them and Drake was rushing forward.” Quinn said. reciting from memory. and then Sam was yelling. he told himself.” Quinn said shakily. defiant look down the highway. Diana saw Sam rush from the darkness. He watched Quinn begin to walk backward.” They had found Quinn a pistol. “I’m in this. “And I love you.” Astrid said. but reaching straight into Diana’s memories. “No. no more wild lack of coordination. and was hurled bodily onto his back with such sudden force that he skidded clear out of sight.’” Lana said. Beyond him at least two fires could be seen. Penny had reacted faster to Diana’s warning. revealed by the flash of light from Sam’s palms: Caine. Just a little longer since together they had made Gaia. we hit them when they’re fifty feet out. But he melted into the darkness on the left-hand side of the road. with a wild sweep of both hands. They won’t have any depth perception. “Three of them. Fear is the mind-killer. And suddenly it was clear.” Caine took a deep breath.” With that Sam plunged into the deep. A beam of terrible green light shot from the other direction. Sammy boy?” Caine asked. But when the beam pursued her. “Quinn. too. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. flung Penny into the dark. enveloping darkness. What Caine said before. though barely.” Lana took a furious. But even as he fell the burn was healing. “‘Only I will remain. watching the dim light advance.” “Great plan. Scars left on their souls. and try to stay alive. “Dada. A revolver. you start walking backward toward the last light. And someone—or something—glowing like an old headlight. But get the hell out of here. you drop left.Lana went to Caine and put a hand on his arm. Caine reeled back. Suddenly. ‘Just get out of here. If they were fast and lucky they could take out at least one of the three and reduce the odds. Her movements were already deliberate and controlled. it’s just Penny. A look of pain creased his brow. If Drake had seen them at all. searching for her. It had three bullets. because I can’t be watching out for you. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.’” “Quinn. All my heart. Pictures of Caine. “I love you. I …’ I can’t remember the rest. “Did you say ‘Dada’?” Gaia was looking fixedly at the dark off to the right. I drop right. Half of Penny’s hair frizzled and burned. get down!” and fired at the spot where Drake had been a split second earlier. Memories of its painful touch deep inside their minds. “You’ve got nothing to prove. Save one bullet. one fairly close and dramatic. It was as if the one in the middle was carrying a Sammy sun of a different hue.’” She and Lana together spoke the last phrase of the incantation. running. plunging them into darkness. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. Astrid was. Sam. Who was that third person? Drake. Hopefully before Penny can find a target. “It’s Penny. Forever. I don’t think I will. It was a mistake. his terrible whip at the ready. A flash of Penny. not straining to use her child mouth. Quinn. He stared at Diana.” To almost no one’s surprise.’” There was a collective sigh that was almost a sob. “Get outta here.” Caine said a little sarcastically. Caine!” Caine seemed to get control of himself. by Frank Herbert. “Dune. “Diana. “It’s an ambush!” Diana said. Caine didn’t shake her off. okay? I’m being a good guy. anxious to take whoever it was standing in his way. There might be an opportunity there. Penny was the one to fear. Diana wondered if she could already walk. But he was sure he saw a tentacle twisting. “You have a plan. fisherman. turning sand to bubbling glass. man. and Quinn. What you’ve got may save a bunch of others.” He extinguished the nearest Sammy sun. “‘Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” Gaia said.” “Hey. Straight ahead a lone figure stood beneath the light of a Sammy sun. She was already moving to hide behind Diana when the light split the night. He spun and fell. searching for a target. Diana stared down at her bright. Now. no more than we do in this light. Sam saw it and swept his killing beam around in a semicircle.” Caine said. There were teeth in her mouth.

You?” “Penny. and Diana. The laugh carried. He was already whipping off his shirt to smother the flames when she suddenly ballooned. Her blond hair was like a single flame and the edges of that fire ate at her forehead and cheeks. but just now returning to consciousness. with a baby in her arms—kept walking on down the road. They were marching calmly toward Quinn. “Drake?” Caine nodded and rubbed his neck. “But it was Penny who distracted me.” Sam wasn’t sure if he believed it or not. But the days of doubting a story just because it sounded crazy were over.” Sam said. “So she had the baby.” A scream reached their ears.Astrid in flames. “Astrid!” Sam cried. “They’ll be ready. He watched as Quinn started to make a brave show of it. like a marshmallow dropped into a fire. “It’s the FAYZ.” “Penny first. So did the crack. but now the darkness had closed in and he had to toss Sammy suns profligately in order to see. “Why didn’t they finish us?” Sam wondered. There was a livid red mark around Caine’s throat.” Sam said. “Quinn! Run! Get out of there!” Sam yelled. He turned and saw the glow of the child in Diana’s arms. Drake.” Sam said. Panting. I guess we’d better give Quinn a good story. He sat up. There was a smell of burned meat. “But they’re going through town. And Drake let me go. Anyway. The baby stopped Drake. . Caine? Where was he? Sam heard the sound of a whip. “Okay. I saw the baby. The little procession—Drake. and ran to her. I was choking and he was behind me so I couldn’t get at him. then accepted Sam’s extended hand. next time we have to take Penny out before we do anything else. will you just accept it?” Caine said. He ran toward that sound. “My legacy and all. “If I tell you something crazy. King Caine.” As if to make the point. and snapped his whip. She swelled and her skin turned charcoal and her eyes were just smears and… The vision was gone.” Caine said. Running. Looked right at me. now even with the next Sammy sun. laughed. screaming toward Sam. turned to look back at them. and started running.” Sam confirmed. “They’re heading for the barrier.” Caine said dryly.” Caine said. It was several minutes before Sam found Caine.” “Maybe it really will open?” “Maybe. “Well. then he realized it wasn’t so much brave as stupid. “Congratulations?” “We lost the element of surprise.” “It was the baby. Her skin was crisping. if I’d thrown him or pushed him I’d have ripped my own head off. Sam was in the dark. Penny. as good a hold as he had on me. He was breathing. Tearing up your people. Staring.

Then a third soldier. The Camry hit the helicopter’s skids. Penny had done something to make them run into the burning house. at the eternal gray wall. The air bag exploded in her face. In the rearview mirror Connie saw Abana’s SUV take a sharp. She heard something snap. bouncing. The seat belt jerked back against her. They would come creeping or cavorting. apologized to her car. And watch TV in… They would find a house. It was funny. and only as she ran past him. couldn’t drag her away. Now the car was flying and crashing. they could play the games and eat pizza. It would lead straight through the remains of the hastily moved camp.” She turned on him. too. Dumpsters. Connie did not stop. Then suddenly she was on tarmac. If she could reach it. and landed way too hard in the final feet of pavement before the intimidating wall of the barrier. GAIA LAUGHED AND There was no way the suspension on Connie’s car was built for this road. The road came perilously close to the highway when they were just half a mile from the barrier. It’s too late. Fine: if they survived this day they could drive home in that. It’s too late. A mother whose child—whose children—were in danger. Gaia could see the fear inside Diana. It was no longer a case of the car just bottoming out. Amazing how fast she learned. The Camry kept bottoming out with a sound like chain saws ripping through steel. her beloved little daughter. Or what was that place kids went for pizza and games? Chuck E. Who could stand against them? They had brushed Caine and Sam aside like they were nothing. almost suicidal maneuver. and the light that shone from Gaia was enough to draw people like moths to the flame. They cut right through her and saw the truth. Still a satellite dish array. But even as the high of joy washed through her. Reached it. The strained edginess of it. Her SUV was doing a little better. MPs with guns drawn. The barrier would be broken and Diana and her baby girl would be free.” This was repeated several times before the helicopter sped ahead. If Abana ever talked to her again. She wanted to shout for joy and scream for joy and then stab the baby. Something’s happened to the device. The helicopter was after them again and it blew overhead. Gaia had a sense of humor. Hah! Servants. restricted area. staggered. only when he called out. She jumped out of the car. She felt a jolt of pain. and when they did Drake would whip them until they ran away again. really? With Drake and Penny as their servants. and all the suffering her body had been through all felt as if it was still there and only concealed from view. Diana credited herself. too. The steering wheel tore itself from her grip. “I’m sorry. babe. crazy veer into the rough terrain. Gaia was looking at her. Each impact jarred Connie’s bones. The dust trail they were putting up would be obvious.THIRTY-SEVEN 3 MINUTES Diana couldn’t help laughing. And then Diana couldn’t help but laugh. They could go to the zoo. In the rearview mirror she saw Abana keeping pace. Gaia had gotten that from her mommy. Diana felt the falseness of it. and began to land in the road a quarter mile away. Now was the time for her to behave like a mother. But the time for hesitation was over. realized she’d broken her collarbone. Gaia laughed and clapped her hands. And Connie ran. Stared at it. She reached the barrier. Turn around immediately. Down the street. She aimed the battered. “Connie! No!” did she realize that the third soldier was Darius. somehow believing he was reproaching her. needing it after so long in the hopeless pitch-black. And Gaia had yet to even reveal the extent of her own power. her baby. How amazing to see it in an infant. Porta Pottis. breathless. Sure enough. Connie swore to herself. disintegrating car at the helicopter and stood on the accelerator. One of the soldiers snagged Abana as she ran. in a way. then she could stop it all from happening. but Connie dodged. flying and crashing. Stopped. A loudspeaker blared. An empty nothingness tottering along on stick-figure legs that would snap and collapse. Abana slammed on her brakes. They’d passed a burning house with kids lurking as near as they could get to the light without burning. They came. Cheese’s! Yes. Two soldiers jumped out. and veered after Abana. Her eyes held her. needing that light. as the awful blank monstrosity that was the Perdido Beach Anomaly filled the entire field of view. her genes. pivoted neatly. the fear of Gaia. It executed a daring. “You are in a dangerous.” she cried. “It’s my . She hit the ceiling so many times she quickly lost count. if they couldn’t stop her. For joy. audible even over the chop-chop-chop of the rotors. blistering through the remains of the camp. “Connie. Connie heard a helicopter overhead. Diana wanted to laugh aloud and dance around with her baby. Screams of burning children pursued Diana as she held her baby close and looked fearfully into her glittering eyes. Diana couldn’t look away. Darius was behind her. stumbled over the twisted metal remains of the skid. Diana was horrified until Gaia laughed. too emotional to understand what he was saying. Gaia laughed and clapped her hands and her blue eyes shone and Diana felt weak inside. saw that the rotor had plowed into concrete and stuck fast. There were still a few trailers there. Who could stop them. She was angling toward the highway where it met the barrier. or danced just out of his range. ran on toward the barrier. She was hollow. stab her with a knife. and sick.

” the larger of the two MPs. seeing tiny blue eyes follow him. “The climb isn’t too bad. hanging a sun. silencing their curses. Sam was torn between spreading light with abandon and being seen coming.” Sam felt himself lifted off his feet. Sam ran straight for them. but Diana moved between him and Penny. It was like someone had set a bomb off under him. . and then descend at the point where the highway ran into the barrier. The MPs had given up holding her back. “They can’t stop it. very faint phosphorescence that seemed almost bright. strained look on their faces. Like she wanted to see better. but without hitting the ground.” a strange. Sam aimed carefully. “How long?” Connie asked. He tossed off Sammy suns at a run as he and Caine made their way to the beach. falling.” Drake cried. It seemed to go on forever and ever. And now Connie understood the passive. “No. Sam fell to earth. Caine landed beside him. His whip. said. a slab of concrete two feet across and shedding the dirt from which it had been ripped. If he was where he thought he was. a sand berm. but her skin was the color and texture of a well-glazed ham. Calm. spreading the flames to her clothing. no illusion.boys in there. An unimaginably powerful force threw Sam spinning into the air.” At last his words penetrated. He pointed at the forbidding wall of stone to their left. It could be seen not as particular waves or even ripples. “We’re getting out. Sam fired wildly.” Sam hissed. he could easily cross the driveway. “Get her!” Caine screamed in despair as a horrific vision left him plummeting. Sam did not hesitate. He rose through the air with the cliff face just within reach. Sam felt his body pulling in opposite directions. when they heard a crack. It’s my babies!” He took her in his arms.” Darius said. smashed down on Penny’s head with such force that the ground bounced beneath Sam’s feet. screaming. “You’re too dangerous to live. Like a switch had been thrown. He looked down and saw the baby looking up at him and laughing and clapping her hands. Sam shouldered Diana roughly aside. As soon as his feet touched the ground he jumped up. as if she’d known he was there. He heard his bones cracking. Felt the sharp pain of ribs separating from cartilage. He stopped falling back to earth. Like she wanted to be sprayed with his very blood as he was ripped in— Diana stumbled forward. “One minute and ten seconds. breathing hard. Something went wrong and they can’t stop the countdown. “Here. His own flesh suddenly caught fire. but with no lightning. It was as if two giant hands had each taken a rough grip on him and were tearing him apart. It squeezed the air from his lungs. They were just beside the sand berm. Sam thought. Penny spun. “Listen to me. He was already there and all he had to do now was to think and— —and a chunk of pavement. fluid. the message got out. She looked. ignoring the bone-shattering pain in his body. And then he stopped spinning. It didn’t kill him. childlike. hands raised. a lieutenant. glaring furiously. It worked. Too near the highway.” Sam said. But she had shown excellent timing.” “You don’t need to climb. but as a fuzzy mass that was only dark as opposed to utterly black. Darius looked at the MPs. was in perfect working order. He could sense—at least. he hoped he could—Clifftop off to his right. Sam scrambled to get from Caine’s grip onto solid ground. It was like a peal of thunder. “It begins. He chose a compromise. Did he dare hang a light? No. and said. “You going to light up?” “No. or going without light and moving much more slowly. the rock face look like the blades of broken knives. Penny’s left leg caught fire. but he still looked like a microwaved action figure. and prayed. folded his hands. too ready. Let’s try for surprise number two. She stood in the middle of the road. Caine stood over her. The baby was bringing him closer now. real pain. and they tried to stop it. the access road. Then the baby took her chubby little fingers and made a motion like she was stretching dough. and Penny saw him in an instant. He fired once. It’s this place. tripping. The soldiers wore identically strained expressions. squeezed her tight. Penny had dropped and rolled. “They tried to stop the countdown. but it would keep him from talking for a while.” “What?” Abana came running up then. “It’s opening!” “Now. And he knelt on the pavement. but beautiful voice said. She screeched and ran in panic. however. to the ground. and then along the beach until they were hidden from view beneath the cliffs. In the eerie light. “Payback. hitting Drake full in the face. He kicked the slab of cement for emphasis. too. Dekka! She was panting like she’d just run a marathon.” Sam said. Sam ran to where she lay gasping with pain. Neither seemed interested in the two women anymore. the fire was out. like she’d taken a trip to hell. Her body ceased moving instantly. He and Caine motored up the side of the sand. But he. did not quite smash onto the concrete. and straddled her and aimed his hands down at her. Drake’s melted face had begun to repair itself.” he snarled. The ocean had a faint.” They stumbled across rough ground. but he was too close. As soon as Caine could see his target he swept his hands down and literally threw himself into the air. She plowed into her child and both fell. The swoosh gave him away. a sand wind barrier that ran within fifty feet of the road. “The egg cracks! Soon! Soon!” “She speaks!” Diana cried. Sam!” Diana cried.

” said Gaia. Daddy.He struck and Sam cried out in pain. Caine raised the rock he’d used to kill Penny and readied it to smash down on Drake. “No. .

“I…” Diana looked stricken. He couldn’t stop. Seeing Drake lashing viciously in every direction with his whip.” Connie whispered. They pressed closer. a toddler. he could quite literally see Caine’s body flatten as if a truck were pushing against him. covering her eyes. A wrecked helicopter. Diana reeled back. Diana did not move.” Abana took her hand. Connie and Abana looked at each other. Friends. Too late. And the next instant it was as if they were staring into the sun itself. naked two-year-old. No warning. “Or it does … something else.” She heard a cracking sound. six adults. Sunlight! Brilliant. the women. unharmed by Sam’s now-extinguished light. groggy. Sunlight. All on its own. His mother mouthing some unhearable words and looking at him as Sam aimed his palms toward the defenseless little girl. A bug against a windshield. Like she was coming out of a nightmare into a worse reality. Drake used his tentacle to cover his eyes. The adults. Four.” Diana said weakly. Seeing the brutally pulverized head and face of a young girl named Penny driven half into the pavement. Faces everywhere. by all appearances. But now the vision lingered. His mother. Connie looked at the MPs. He ran with his whip hand lashing straight into something unyielding but invisible. a glowing. squashing him like a bug against the barrier. “I’m sorry. The barrier was still there. Connie went to Darius and they waited. had joined them after roundly cursing the damage to her craft. But now it was transparent. It was no longer in Diana’s arms. It stood. Caine. stood up. He ran straight at the barrier. Sam’s heart seemed to stop. for the end. From the barrier. No sound. with only the pitiful light of a few Sammy suns. “She’s killing him!” “Don’t. The chopper pilot. “I’m sorry I did this to you. palms out. He had stopped once before. Not police—there were no sirens. There were people. mouths open. Diana. These were a handful of private cars and vans. Everyone fell silent and listened. “It’s opening. Her cherub lips drew back in a weird snarl. He was pressed against the barrier. “The barrier. then jumping back from the barrier. no five. Caine slid to the ground. The same flash of the world outside Sam had seen for only a millisecond once before. a woman with blond hair and captain’s bars. the soldiers. side by side. And other vehicles were coming down the highway. The baby. Caine was leaning on something. untouched. But something was wrong about it. it’s cracking open!” Too late. in full contact. It was not the light of his hands. Caine flew back. It went on for a long time. Connie thought. A Carl’s Jr. Sam glanced at Caine. his whip swishing at his side. “Don’t kill your father. all stared. relentless. they tried to walk. propping himself up. Sam could see him being squashed.” Abana whispered. Sam raised his hands. “Make her stop!” Sam yelled at Diana. They were seeing! Seeing Diana screaming. What he saw was impossible. And the entire world exploded in blinding light.” Connie said quietly.THIRTY-EIGHT 15 SECONDS “IT BLOWS UP and kills us all. It was not the light of the baby. then barely making a sound at all as the pressure grew stronger. Like slow-motion thunder. No: he couldn’t stop. Sam was blinded by it. The two of them.” But there was a determined look on the child’s face. yelling at the pain. Sam fired. but Sam could see them touching. Seeing a little girl. People who had gotten the emails and tweets and were rushing to stop what could not now be stopped. . Sam squeezed open one eye. or like a world-size eggshell breaking open. Sam’s light burned. Adults. Southern California midday sunlight. A look full of fear and sadness and guilt: they had brought these people here to die. weirdly calm. Drake hit the wall.” Sam said. Twin beams of murderous light hit the child dead center. One second the world was black. One face suddenly came into focus. blazing. The barrier was gone! Drake cried out in a sort of ecstatic fear. injured. “Get back. The police and soldiers had been withdrawn to a safe distance. then pulling his hand sharply away. Parents.

the monster. ran after her. No! Noooo! The little girl’s hair caught fire. for she had her mother’s lush dark hair. bruised and battered. its face turned away from onlookers. . her face a twisted mask. stared at Sam in undiminished fury. all of them screaming soundlessly. Her angelic mouth leered in a knowing grin even as it burned.His mother’s face. at the face of their mother. Diana. The blue eyes never looked away. It flamed magnificently. turned and ran back down the highway. lashing impotently at nothing. all features obscured. all the faces. the gaiaphage. to stare over Penny’s sickening corpse. eyes hollow and vacant. Until at last. the devil. Drake. horrified. Sam fired again and the little girl’s flesh burned at last. The baby. Sam and Caine were left standing side by side. But all the while the girl. turned and ran. Sam stopped firing. the child. the gaiaphage was a pillar of flame.

“No. be with him up at the lake. We miss you! Are you okay? There wasn’t much paper left in the FAYZ. Died of a coyote attack. Murdered in a fight over a bag of chips. the helicopter. No explanation will ever change that. in Santa Barbara or Los Angeles.” “We look like savages. as though she might collapse. staring. The drops splatted on the dome and then ran down in streams. Along the inside of the barrier. Not relief. almost as if she were hiding. And she knew. She couldn’t switch suddenly from one despair to a different despair. But some found pieces of wallboard or tattered windblown scraps of cardboard. Killed because it was the only way we could deal with him. many. Tell my mom I’m okay! Help us. “Yeah. and a handful of parents. and used bits of gravel to write back. stared with binoculars and telephoto lenses. Quinn and Lana stood a little apart. A woman moved slowly. And whose job was it. and Orcutt. They were a stab in her heart when she just could not take any more. kids stood as close as they could get to the outside. I love you. Dead because she was playing with matches and we don’t exactly have a fire department. Astrid knew that more. but having as yet no faces to connect with. There were boats beginning to appear on the ocean outside the dome. glass-clear barrier. parents alive. “We’re monkeys in a zoo. I don’t even know what Petey is.” “I’ve been picturing it since the beginning. It made no sound. of course—the dome was still impervious to noise—but Astrid could see faces in the cockpit. She wanted to close her eyes and. parents erased from past as well as present. scribbling as they ran. Dead. She’d written it with a Magic Marker on the side of a canvas bag. Some of the parents were holding up signs. “People like monkeys. rushing from Perdido Beach. waving. A man jumped out. Ariel? No one would answer that. just marveling at the sight of the outside world. Desperate months had gone by when all Astrid had wanted was to be out of this place and back in her old life as her parents’ loving daughter. Three or four dozen kids had come so far. “They saw me burn a child.” Sam said. But more parents were arriving in cars and SUVs from their new homes in Arroyo Grande. when she just could not start to feel any more. parents all off in some parallel universe. that they would in the end be accusers. it was raining. Her father was holding her mother up. Imagine what they’re seeing. too. not with so many eyes watching. dressed like street people. because the cats had all been eaten. not touching her. Astrid stared at it for a long time. I don’t know where Petey is. unsteady. Now they were back. Their sign read.” Sam said harshly. Where is Petey? Astrid’s mother held that sign. The sight of them tore Astrid apart. would take a while longer to get here. How many thousands of hours had Astrid spent trying to figure it out. And in the end she could manage no answer better than a shrug and a shake of her head.LATER A HELICOPTER HAD arrived overhead. or gouged with a nail on a piece of wood. would come. The helicopter’s view was slightly hampered now by the fact that outside. out there beyond that diamond-hard. too. Dekka stood behind Sam with her arms crossed. And they. and kids had come at a run. The parents who had found new places to live farther away. because now the rain was too intense to allow for paper. Santa Maria. She wanted to lean against him. and the people. Astrid’s mother and father came to the barrier. They were strangers. An old couple came running from a motorhome. many more. Astrid wondered bitterly. Sam was beside her. Now she could barely stand to look at them. to write the answers? Dead. when she opened them again.” “You want to know what they see? What my mother sees? A boy who fired light from his hands and tried to incinerate a baby. crying. The adults and older teens who had been in the FAYZ area when Petey had performed his mad miracle had obviously made it out. Filthy and starved. on both sides of the highway. trying to walk through each possible outcome? Parents dead. Now she sought desperately for an excuse to leave. the adults—parents and cops and gawkers. At first all they saw were the soldiers and the state cops who had raced up with lights flashing. “Weapons everywhere. there was no avoiding her mother’s look of … of what? Not joy. How did one explain to all those watching eyes what life was like inside the FAYZ? Then a familiar car that almost rear-ended a parked police cruiser. Can you check on our cat. carrying loads of emotional baggage and demanding explanations that most kids—Astrid included —could not somehow reduce to a few words scratched on a piece of plaster. not even waiting to grab anything. And all of this was watched by the TV camera on the helicopter. Look at the way they look at us. It was decorated with the logo of a news station out of Santa Barbara. Where is my son? And a name.” Astrid said. A girl lying dead with a rock crushing her brains.” She looked at her mother and oh.” Astrid said. Half a dozen smartphones were snapping pictures and shooting video.” Astrid nodded. Where is my daughter? And a name. and could guess at the telephoto camera lens aimed down at them. Dead of suicide. parents with all memory rewritten. Too much. . as Sam had always known. Died of carnivorous worms. Where is Charlie? Where is Bette? We love you! With the ink bleeding from the rain.

“There’s a lot to do. “Me burning that … that creature. or is it just me?” Brianna said. “You’ve been afraid of this for a long time. She had expected to see sadness there.” Lana shook her head just slightly. Astrid felt as if their eyes were looking through her. If we’re looking for people to bury. refusing to look away. “She’s ready for her close-up. “Is it bright in here. a welcome distraction that caused silent faces on the other side to form round circles with their mouths: Ooh. Brianna gave a little salute and a wave. “That’s the kind of thing all those people out there are going to have a hard time understanding. Everyone who shows up stares at—” Dekka fell silent. “I saw someone recording it. Sam looked straight at the cameras. . Or that she’s alive. “I guess they’ll think what they want to think. like some grotesque parody of the Wicked Witch of the East. Astrid held her breath. over his shoulder. Not as real as her memories of them.” Astrid smiled. Then Sam systematically. Because she no longer belonged with them. “You ready to go?” Astrid looked past him. No. because Sam was moving. “That can be my tagline.” Dekka said dryly. His back was turned to the outside. Nooo. turned his back. “No? Well. She could see—anyone could see—the look of horror on Connie Temple’s face every time she looked at her son. Bury her. That is one bad baby. “A lot to do. whirled it at ten times human speed. And this was their world. Then he looked at his mother. He walked purposefully to the spot where Penny’s body lay. When Sam was finished. Explain that she had to leave. She saw the eyes of the boy who had first stepped forward to fight Orc and later Caine and Drake and Penny. Until nothing but ash was left. Connie Temple stood still as a statue. no. She was his. back to business: they’re headed into the desert. there they are. then at Astrid. I got a little too close and that baby nearly buried me under about a ton of rock. Distance. Astrid’s father seemed small. Caine and Lana and Edilio and Astrid. “I can’t say for sure that Taylor is dead.” Sam said. Yes: I will play myself in the movie. searching for a memory of their daughter. Sam.” He jerked his head toward the north. for Caine had taken one long look at his mother.” Sam looked a little taken aback. She was no longer theirs. “Quinn. satisfied.” Quinn said. now saw the huge gulf that had opened up between them.” singular.” Astrid felt she should look back at her parents. her head crushed beneath a rock.” Dekka said. and executed a little bow to the baffled and appalled onlookers. we’d better get Penny out of there. I guess they’ll work something out.” Sam said. Stay there to reassure them.” Dekka said. He looked down at the ground.” Quinn said fervently. She was thankful Brianna had broken at least some of the tension. The Breeze is way beyond special effects. “No. He gave Sam a friendly punch on the shoulder.” “Absolutely not. and this war is a long way from over. “You want to be in charge of business down here in Perdido Beach? Take over Albert’s job? I think Caine would agree.” Brianna nodded.” Astrid said in a low voice.” Sam nodded. “Just: no. “Son. Eyes—many of them hostile. we’ll find what’s left of Cigar and Taylor. “Yes. Then she took Sam’s hand. And hands to point and cameras to swivel. They both were like ancient photographs of themselves. But anyway. to her mother’s worry-etched face.” Sam said to the kids within earshot. but some girl she had long since ceased to be. and walked away. They will be back. Maybe guilt. Mom and daughter and Uncle Whip Hand. Like they didn’t want to see her.” He reached his hand toward Astrid. and her mother thought it was meant for her and smiled back. But me? Dude: I am going fishing. and you know what? We still have kids to feed and a monster to kill. parents and children.” Sam said. Her Sam Temple. “Thanks for saving our butts. Brianna came zooming up. “When night comes. You know what they’ll see? You know what people out there will think?” Astrid knew he was jumping out of his skin. Make some excuse.” Brianna announced to Sam. thoroughly. “You’ve been afraid of being judged. “By the way. Then she drew her machete. And he was hers. “A happy little crew. a lot to work out. condemning—traced his every step. incinerated Penny’s body. She saw Sam Temple. Again. not like real people. ‘That is one bad baby. turned. like a shift in the magnetic poles or a rearranging of the laws of physics.” Astrid breathed for what felt like the first time in a long while. “Well. Cameras tracked Sam’s movement. Both sides. back to town. sheathed it again. stopped.’” “No. Her mother looked old.Horror. “She will not be buried in the plaza with good kids who died for no good reason.” Sam nodded. She almost cried out with relief when she saw the eyes of the boy who had never backed down. where Gaia had fled. and walked over to Astrid. Ahh.” “It’s getting dark out there.” “I hope they do. But something fundamental had changed. he nodded once at his mother.



MICHAEL GRANT has spent much of his life on the move. Raised in a military family, he attended ten schools in five states, as well as
three schools in France. Even as an adult he kept moving, and in fact he became a writer in part because it was one of the few jobs that wouldn’t tie him down. His fondest dream is to spend a year circumnavigating the globe and visiting every continent. Yes, even Antarctica. He lives in California with his wife, Katherine Applegate, and their two children. You can visit him online at www.themichaelgrant.com. Visit www.AuthorTracker.com for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins authors.

“This intense, marvelously plotted, paced, and characterized story will immediately garner comparisons to Lord of the Flies or even the long-playing world shifts of Stephen King, with just a dash of X-Men for good measure. A potent mix of action and thoughtfulness—centered around good and evil, courage and cowardice—renders this a tour de force that will leave readers dazed, disturbed, and utterly breathless.” —ALA Booklist (starred review)

“Readers will be unable to avoid involuntarily gasping, shuddering, or flinching while reading this suspense-filled story. The tension starts in the first chapter and does not let up until the end. The story is progressing with smart plot twists, both in actions and emotions.” —VOYA (starred review)

“Grant’s science fiction-fantasy thrillers continue to be the very definition of a page-turner.” —ALA Booklist


No part of this text may be reproduced. Michael. transmitted. ISBN 978-0-06-144915-4 (trade bdg. now known or hereinafter invented.] I. decompiled.—(Gone) Summary: As the young residents of Perdido Beach begin to better comprehend the truths of who they are and their relationships to one another. Fear : a Gone novel / Michael Grant. www. 2. you have been granted the nonexclusive. cm.com Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Grant. bdg. downloaded. Supernatural—Fiction.)—ISBN 978-0-06-144916-1 (lib.epicreads.) EPub Edition © MARCH 2012 ISBN 9780062099242 [1. PZ7. without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.G7671Fe 2012 2011019374 [Fic]—dc23 12 13 14 15 16 LP/RRDH 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 First Edition . Survival—Fiction. or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system. 4. Title. p.—1st ed. reverse engineered.COPYRIGHT Katherine Tegen Books is an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. Fear—Fiction. whether electronic or mechanical. By payment of the required fees. bringing their understanding of fear to a new level. 3. the Darkness finds a new way to be born. Fear: A Gone Novel Copyright © 2012 by Michael Grant All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Good and evil—Fiction. in any form or by any means.

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