The Twelve Page 74

"Stop it this instant!"

The girl picked up a large ceramic vase.

"Eva, no-"

The little girl heaved it over her head and brought it down like somebody slamming the trunk of a car. Not a crack but a detonation: the vase exploded into a million ricocheting shards.

"I hate you!"

Something was happening, something final. Lila knew this, just as she sensed, in a deeper layer of her brain, that all of this had happened before. But the thought went no further; the hard edge of something hit her head. The girl was throwing books.

"Go away!" she screamed. "I hate-you-I-hate-you-I-hate-you!"

But as Lila watched her mouth forming these terrible words, they seemed to be coming from somewhere else. They were coming from inside her head. She lurched forward and grabbed the little girl around the waist and hoisted her off her feet. The girl kicked and screamed, wriggling in Lila's grip. All Lila wanted was-what? To calm the girl down? To get ahold of the situation? To silence the screaming that was tearing through her brain? For every ounce of force Lila applied, the girl replied in kind, shrieking at the top of her lungs, the scene ballooning to grotesque dimensions, a kind of madness, until Lila lost her footing, their combined centers of gravity tilted backward, and they went down hard, crashing into the dressing table.

"Eva!"

The little girl was scooting away from her. She came to a stop against the base of the sofa, glaring furiously. Why wasn't she crying? Was she hurt? What had Lila done? Lila approached her on her hands and knees.

"Eva, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it ..."

"I hope you die!"

"Don't say that. Please. I'm begging you not to say that."

And with these words tears came at last to the little girl's eyes, though not tears of pain, or humiliation, or even fear. I will despise you forever. You are not my mother and never were, and you know that as well as I.

"Please, Eva, I love you. Don't you know how much I love you?"

"Don't say that! I want Dani!" Her tiny lungs expelled an amazing amount of sound. "I hate-you-I-hate-you-I-hate you!"

Lila clamped her hands over her ears, but nothing would block the child's cries.

"Stop it! Please!"

"I-hope-you-die-I-hope-you-die-I-hope-you-die!"

Lila tore into the bathroom and slammed the door. But this accomplished nothing: the screaming seemed to come from everywhere, an obliterating roar. She fell to her knees, sobbing into her hands. What was happening to her? My Eva, my Eva. What have I done, to make you hate me so? Her body shook with pain. Her thoughts were swirling, tumbling, shattering; she was a million broken pieces of Lila Kyle spread across the floor.

Because the girl wasn't Eva. No matter how hard Lila wished to make it so, there was no Eva; Eva was gone forever, a ghost of the past. The knowledge poured through her like acid, burning the lies away. Go back, Lila thought, go back. But she could never go back, not anymore.

Oh, God, the terrible things she'd done! The terrible, awful, unpardonable acts! She wept and shook. She cried, as her father always said, stroking paint on his little boats, a river. She was an abomination. She was a stain of evil on the earth. Everything was revealed to her, everything was of a piece, time stopped and moved again in a reassembled continuum inside her, telling its history of shame.

I hope you die. I hope you die I hope you die I hope you die.

Then something else was happening. Lila found herself sitting on the edge of the tub. She had entered a state beyond volition; she chose nothing, everything was choosing her. She opened the tap. She dipped her hand into its current, watching the water flow through her fingers. So here it was, she thought. The dark solution. It was as if she'd always known; as if, in the deepest recesses of her mind, she'd been performing this final act, over and over, for a hundred years. Of course the tub would be the means. For hours she'd sunk into its warmth; whole decades had passed in its comforting immersion, its delicious erasure of the world, yet always it had whispered to her: Here I am. Lila, let me be your last deliverance. The steam swirled upward, clouding the room with its moist breath. A perfect calm encased her. She lit the candles, one by one. She was a doctor; she knew what she was doing. Soy medico. She stripped and examined her na**d body in the mirror. Its beauty-for it was beautiful-filled her with memories: of being young, a child herself, emerging from the bath. You are my princess, her father had teased, rubbing her hair to dry it and hugging her in the soft warmth of a freshly laundered towel. You are the fairest in the land. The recollections flowed through the water. She was a child, and then a teenager, in her blue taffeta dress with a fat corsage pinned to the shoulder, each picture morphing into the next until finally she beheld a woman, full of maturely youthful strength, standing before the mirror in her mother's wedding gown. The bodice of delicate lace, the descending curtain of shimmering white silk: how her life in all its promise had seemed captured in that image. Today is the day I will marry Brad. Her hand fell to her belly; the wedding dress was gone, replaced by a vaporous nightgown. A morning sun was streaming through the windows. She turned and, in profile, cupped the voluptuous curve of her belly. Eva. That's who you'll be; that is who you are. I will name you Eva. The steam was rising, the tub nearly full.

Brad, Eva, I am coming. I have been away too long. I am coming to be with you now.

Three blue lines pulsed at the base of each wrist: the cephalic vein, winding upward around the radial border of the forearm; the basilic, commencing in the dorsal venous network before ascending the posterior surface of the ulnar side to join the vena mediana cubiti; the accessory cephalic, arising from the tributory plexus to merge with the cephalic at the back of the elbow. She needed something sharp. Where were the scissors? The ones Dani, and all the others who had come before, employed to trim her hair? She tried one drawer of the vanity and then the next, and when she came to the bottom, there they waited, gleaming with sharpness.

But what was this?

It was an egg. A plastic Easter egg, like the ones she'd hunted in the grass when she was just a girl. How she'd loved the ritual: the wild dash over the field, her little basket swinging in her hand, the dew on her feet and the slow accumulation of treasure, her mind envisioning the great white rabbit whose nocturnal visitation had left behind this bounty. Lila cupped the egg in her palm. She felt the faintest rattling within. Could it be ...? Was it possible ...? But what else could it be?

There was only one answer. Lila Kyle would die with the taste of chocolate on her tongue.

Chapter 60

Treachery. Treachery.

How had the insurgency gotten so close? Could somebody please tell him that? First the redhead, then Vale, and now Lila's attendant, too? That quaking mouse? That anonymous nobody who looked at the floor whenever he entered the room? How deep inside the Dome did the conspiracy reach?

To Guilder's vast irritation, the redhead was still at large. She'd killed eleven people making her escape; how was that even possible? They'd never even learned her name. Call me what you like, she'd said, just don't call me early in the morning. Jokes, from a woman who'd been beaten continuously for days. As for Sod, Guilder, in hindsight, was forced to concede his error. Letting a man like that off his leash had been a one-way ticket to disaster.

Guilder supervised the attendant's interrogation himself. Whatever it was that gave the redhead her strength, this one was made of softer stuff. Three dunks in the tub were all it took to make her talk. The bomb in the shed. The serving girl, Jenny, though nobody had seen her in days. A hideout she didn't know the location of because they'd knocked her out, which made sense; that's what Guilder would have done. A woman named Nina, though the only Nina in the files had died four years ago, and a man named Eustace, whom they had no record of at all. All very interesting, but nothing he could make real use of.

Do you want us to try harder? the guard asked. We could, you know, go a few more rounds. Guilder looked down at the woman, who was still strapped to the board, her hair drenched by the ice-cold water, the last wet gasps shuddering through her. Sara Fisher, No. 94801, resident of Lodge 216, a worker in Biodiesel Plant 3. Verlyn remembered her from the haul they'd brought in from Roswell. So, one of those infernal Texans. Now that the eleven virals had arrived, he'd really have to do something serious about the Texas situation. The woman hardly seemed the type; he had to remind himself that she'd intended to kill him. Though, of course, there was no type; that's what the last violent months had taught him. The insurgency was everyone and no one.

Never mind, he told the guard. Get her hooked up. I think Grey will enjoy what this one has to offer. He always likes the young ones.

He took the stairs from the basement to his office, donned his glasses, and opened the drapes. The sun had just dipped below the horizon, jetting the clouds with ribbons of bright color. The sight was pretty, sort of. Guilder supposed it was the kind of thing he might have enjoyed, a century ago. But a person could only look at so many sunsets in a lifetime and muster an opinion. The problem of living forever, etc., etc., etc.

He missed Wilkes. The man hadn't always been the best company-he'd been far too eager to please-but at least he'd been somebody to talk to. Guilder had trusted him, confided in him. Across the years there wasn't much they hadn't gotten around to saying. Guilder had even told him about Shawna, though he'd masked the story in irony. A whore, can you believe it? What a jackass I was! My, but they'd had a good, long laugh at that. The thing was, this was just the sort of unconstructed, vaguely anxious hour when Guilder would have stuck his head from the door, summoning his friend into his office on some pretense-"Fred, get in here!"-but really just to talk.

His friend. He supposed they were. Had been.

Darkness came on. Guilder's gaze traveled down the hill to the Project. It would need a new name now. Hoppel would have been the guy for that; no doubt about it, he'd had a way with words. In his former life he'd been an ad guy with a big Chicago agency, experience he'd put to plentiful use concocting the catchphrases and jingles that kept the troops in rhetorical line, right down to the words of the anthem. Homeland, our Homeland, we pledge our lives to thee. Our labors do we offer, without recompense or fee. Homeland, our Homeland, a nation rises here. Safety, hope, security, from sea to shining sea. Corny as hell, and Guilder hadn't been so keen on the word "recompense"-it seemed a little bookish-but the thing scanned nicely and was, by the standards of its genre, not too hard on the ears.

So, what should they call it there? "Bunker" was too martial. "Palace" had the right general ring, but there was nothing palatial about the place. It looked like a big concrete box. Something religious? A shrine? Who would not go willingly into a shrine?

Just how many of the flatlanders would have to go, and at what frequency, remained to be seen; Guilder had yet to receive specific instructions from Zero on this point, the general sense being that things would come out in the wash. The Twelve-or rather, Eleven-might be different from your garden-variety viral, but they were what they were-eating machines, basically. No matter what directives came down from on high, a century of gobbling up everything with a pulse would be a hard habit to shake. But in the main, their diet would consist of a combination of donated human blood and domestic livestock. The right ratios needed to be scrupulously maintained; the human population had to grow. Generation by generation, human and viral, working together-which was, come to think of it, not a bad way to sell the thing. It was positively Hoppelesque. What was the term? Rebranding? That's what Guilder needed. A fresh point of view, a new lexicon, a new vision. A rebranding of the viral experience.

He might have really hit on something with this shrine business. The establishment of something rather like an official religion, with all the mumbo jumbo and ritualistic trappings, might be just the lubricant the gears of human psychology required. State worship was all stick and no carrot; it produced only an arid obedience to authority. But hope was the greatest social organizer of all. Give people hope, and you could make them do just about anything. And not just your average, everyday kind of hope-for food or clothes or the absence of pain or good suburban schools or low down payments with easy financing. What people needed was a hope beyond the visible world, the world of the body and its trials, of life's endless dull parade of things. A hope that all was not as it appeared.

And there it was, the name. How simple it was, how elegant. Not a shrine; a temple. The Temple of Life Everlasting. And he, Horace Guilder, would be its priest.

So, not such a worthless day after all. Funny how things could just come like that, he thought with a smile-his first in weeks. Screw Hoppel and his ditties. And while he was at it, screw Wilkes, that ingrate. Guilder had everything in hand.

First the injection, and the wooziness, and Sara, lying on a wheeled gurney, observed the ceiling flowing past.

"Alley ... oop."

Now she was somewhere else. The room was dim. Hands were lifting her onto a table, tightening straps around her arms and legs and forehead. The metal was chilly beneath her. At some point her robe had been removed and replaced by a cotton gown. Her mind moved with animal heaviness through these facts, noting them without emotion. It was hard to care about anything. Here was Dr. Verlyn, peering down at her through his tiny glasses in his grandfatherly way. His eyebrows struck her as extraordinary. He was holding a silver forceps; a wad of cotton soaked in brown fluid was clinched between the tines. She supposed that since he was a doctor, he was doing something medical to her.

"This may feel a little cold."

It did. Dr. Verlyn was swabbing down her arms and legs; at the same time, somebody else was positioning a plastic tube beneath her nose.

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