The City of Mirrors Page 238

“Maybe people came back without our knowing it.”

“Possible. But why just her? Why haven’t we found anybody else in thirty-six months?”

“Maybe they don’t want to be found.”

“She has no problem with it. ‘Come to me’ sounds like an engraved invitation.”

The conversation is drowned out by the roar of the lifter’s engines; a lurch and they are airborne again, rising vertically. When a sufficient altitude is achieved, the nose tips upward as the rotors move to a horizontal position. The lifter accelerates, coming in low over the water and then the coast. The ocean vanishes. All below them is trees, a carpet of green. The noise is tremendous, each of them encased in a bubble of their own thoughts; there will be no more talking until they land.

Logan is drifting at the edge of sleep when he feels the lifter slowing. He sits up and looks out the window.

Color.

That is the first thing he sees. Reds, blues, oranges, greens, violets: extending from the forested base of the mountains to the sea, flowers paint the earth in an array of hues so richly prismatic it is as if light itself has shattered. The rotors tilt; the aircraft begins to descend. Logan breaks his gaze from the window to find Nessa staring at him. Her eyes are full of a mute wonder that is, he knows, a mirror to his own.

“My God,” she mouths.

The camp is situated in a narrow depression separated from the wildflower field by a stand of trees. In the main tent, Wilcox presents his team, about a dozen researchers, some of whom Logan is acquainted with from previous trips. In turn, he introduces Nessa to the group, explaining only that she has come as “a special adviser.” The house’s resident, he is told, has been working in the garden since morning.

Logan issues instructions. Everybody is to wait here, he says; under no circumstances should anyone approach the house until he and Nessa report back. In Wilcox’s tent, they strip to their underclothes and don their yellow biosuits. The afternoon is bright and hot; the suits will be sweltering. Wilcox tapes the joints of their gloves and checks their air supplies.

“Good luck,” he says.

They make their way through the trees, into the field. The house stands about two hundred meters distant.

“Logan…” Nessa says.

“I know.”

Everything is perfect. Everything is just the same, without the slightest deviation. The flowers. The mountains. The sea. The way the wind moves and the light falls. Logan keeps his eyes forward, lest he be consumed by the powerful emotions roiling inside him. Slowly, in their bulky suits, he and Nessa make their way across the field. The house, one story, is homey and neat: wide-planked siding weathered to gray, a simple porch, a sod roof, from which a haze of green grass grows.

As promised, the woman is working in the dooryard, which is planted in rosebushes of several colors. Logan and Nessa halt just outside the picket fence. Kneeling in the dirt, the woman doesn’t notice them, or appears not to. She is profoundly old. With gnarled hands—fingers bent and stiffened, skin puckered in folds, knuckles fat as walnuts—she is plucking weeds and placing them in a bucket.

“Hello,” Logan says.

She offers no reply, just continues her work. Her movements are patient and focused. Perhaps she has not heard him. Perhaps she is hard of hearing or deaf.

Logan tries again: “Good afternoon, ma’am.”

She stops in the manner of someone alerted by a distant sound; slowly she raises her face. Her eyes are rheumy, damp and faintly yellow. She squints at him for perhaps ten seconds, fighting to focus. Some of her teeth are gone, giving her mouth a pursed appearance.

“So, you’ve decided to come up, then,” she says. Her voice is a coarse rasp. “I was wondering when that would happen.”

“My name is Logan Miles. This is my friend Nessa Tripp. I was hoping we could talk with you. Would that be all right?”

The woman has resumed her weeding. She has also begun, faintly, to mutter to herself. Logan glances at Nessa, whose face, behind her plastic mask, drips with sweat, as does his own.

“Would you like some help?” Nessa asks the woman.

The question appears to puzzle her. The woman shifts backward onto her haunches. “Help?”

“Yes. With the weeding.”

Her mouth puckers. “Do I know you, young lady?”

“I don’t believe so,” Nessa replies. “We’ve only just arrived.”

“From where?”

“Far away,” says Nessa. “Very far away. We’ve come a great distance to see you.” She points toward the field of rocks. “We got your message.”

The woman’s yellowed eyes follow Nessa’s gesture. “Oh, that,” she says after a moment. “Set that up a long time ago. Can’t really remember the reason for it. You say you want to help with the weeding, though—that’s fine. Come on through the gate.”

They enter the yard. Nessa, taking the lead, kneels before the rose beds and begins to work, scooping the dirt aside with her thick gloves; Logan does the same. Best, he thinks, to let the woman get used to their presence before pressing her further.

“The roses are lovely,” Nessa says. “What kind are they?”

The woman doesn’t answer. She is scraping the ground with a metal claw. She appears to take no interest in them whatsoever.

“So, how long have you been here?” Logan asks.

The woman’s hands stop, then, after a beat, resume working. “Started work early this morning. Garden doesn’t rest.”

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