The Twelve Page 78

"Anything to say for yourself?" Guilder couldn't have cared less; the question was just for fun.

Her wrists and ankles were shackled. Her split and swollen lips gave her voice a thickened quality, as if she had a bad cold. "I'd like to say I'm sorry."

Guilder laughed. Sergio was sorry! "Tell me, what are you sorry for?"

"For what's about to happen to you."

So, defiant to the end. Guilder supposed it came with the territory, but it was nonetheless irritating. He wouldn't have minded banging her around a little more.

"Last chance," the woman said.

"You have an interesting point of view," Guilder replied. He stepped back from the open door. "Seal her up."

For a long time, perched on the edge of the bed, Lila watched her. Slants of light from the window fell across the child's sleeping face, blond curls flowing over the pillow. For days she had been beyond the reach of comfort, alternating between hours of sullen refusal to speak and explosive, toy-throwing tantrums, but in sleep her defenses dissolved and she became a child again: trusting, at peace.

What is your name? Lila thought. Who are you dreaming of?

She reached out to touch the little girl's hair but stopped herself. The child wouldn't awaken; that wasn't the reason. It was the unworthiness of Lila's hand. So many Evas over the years. And yet there had only ever been one.

I'm sorry, little girl. You didn't deserve this; none of them did. I am the most selfish woman in the world. What I did, I did for love. I hope you can forgive me.

The child stirred, tightening the covers around herself, and pivoted her face toward Lila's. Her jaw flexed; she made a little moan. Would she awaken? But no. Her palm slid under the curve of her cheek, one dream passed into the next, and the moment slipped away.

Better that way, thought Lila. Better that I should simply fade into darkness. She rose gingerly from the bed. At the door she turned for one last look, bathed in memory: of a time when she had stood at the nursery door with Brad, in the house they had made together with their love, to watch their little girl, this swaddled newborn bundle, this miracle upon the earth, sleeping in her crib. How Lila wished she herself had died, all those years ago. If heaven were a place of dreams, that's the dream she would have passed eternity inside.

Farewell, she thought. Farewell to you, somebody's child.

The scene outside the stadium was one of ordered chaos, a human vastness on the move. Peter slid into the stream. Nobody even looked at him; he was one more anonymous face, one more shorn head and filthy body in rags.

"Keep it moving, keep it moving!"

In four lines they flowed up a ramp and passed through an iron gate into the stadium. To Peter's left, a series of concrete staircases ascended to lettered gates; ahead, a longer flight climbed to the upper decks. The crowd was being divided-two lines to the lower stands, two up the stairs. The field was brilliantly lit; light poured through the gates. Peter tried to catch a glimpse of Lore or Eustace, but they were too far ahead of him. Maybe they'd already broken away. The letters ascended. P, Q, R, then: S.

Peter dropped to one knee, pretending to tie his shoelaces. His successor in line bumped him, grunting in surprise. Whatever you did, you didn't stop.

"Sorry, go ahead."

The line bunched as it flowed around him. Through shuffling legs he glimpsed the nearest guard. He was gazing vaguely in Peter's direction from a distance of ten yards-probably attempting to discern the source of the interruption. Look away, thought Peter.

A flick of the col's eyes, and Peter darted into the crawl space underneath the stairs. No shouts rose behind him. Either he had gone unnoticed or the crowd didn't care, locked into their habit of obedience. The entrance to the men's room was ten feet away, at the base of the bleachers. There was no door, only a cement-block wall angled for privacy. Peter peeked around the stairs. An obscuring barrier of shuffling flatlanders marched past. Now.

The room was surprisingly large. On the right was a long line of urinals and stalls. He moved briskly to the last and pushed open the door to see a fierce-looking woman with short, dark hair perched on the rim of the toilet, aiming a heavy-handled revolver at his face.

"Sergio lives."

She lowered the gun. "Peter?"

He nodded.

"Nina," she said. "Let's go."

She led him to a tiny room behind the lavatory: a desk and chair, wheeled buckets with mops, and a line of metal lockers. From one of the lockers Nina withdrew a pair of guns of a type Peter had never seen before, something between a rifle and a large pistol, with an extra-long magazine and a second handle jutting from the underside of the barrel.

"Know how to use one of these?" she said.

Peter drew back the bolt to show that he did.

"Short bursts only and fire from the waist. You'll get twelve rounds per second. If you hold the trigger down, the clip will empty fast."

She handed him three extra magazines, then pulled open a drawer-like panel in the wall.

"What's that?" Peter asked.

"The garbage chute."

Peter stood on the chair, wedged himself inside, and dropped down feetfirst. The corridor was tipped like a slide, cushioning his descent, but not enough. He landed hard, his feet skidding out from under him.

"Who the hell are you?"

There were two of them, dressed in suits. Redeyes. Lying helplessly on his back, Peter could do nothing. He was clutching the gun over his chest, but shots would be heard. As he scrabbled away, simultaneously attempting to rise to his feet, both men drew pistols from belt holsters.

Then, Tifty. He appeared behind the one on the left and swung the butt of his rifle upward into the man's head. As the second turned, Tifty kicked his feet out from under him, dropped to his knees to straddle his back, yanked him by the hair to angle his head upward, wrapped his neck with his free arm and twisted. A crunching pop, then silence.

"Okay?" Tifty glanced up at Peter. The dead man's head, still locked by Tifty's forearm, sagged at an unnatural angle. Peter looked at the other redeye. Dark blood was seeping from his head onto the floor.

"Yeah," Peter managed.

A rattling from behind them and Nina dropped down. She landed catlike, fluidly raising her weapon to sweep it over the room.

"I see I'm late." She angled the gun to the ceiling. "You're Tifty?"

For a moment the man said nothing. He was staring at her intently.

"You can let go of him, you know," she said. "He's not going to get any more dead."

Tifty broke his gaze away. He released the dead man's head and rose to his feet. He seemed a little shaken; Peter wondered what had thrown the man off.

"We better hide these bodies," Tifty said. "Did Eustace make it in?"

"We'd have heard it if he didn't."

They were in some kind of loading area. A tunnel, wide enough to fit a good-sized truck, led to the left, presumably to the outside; to the right was a smaller hallway. An arrow painted on the wall bore the words VISITORS' LOCKER ROOM.

They dragged the corpses behind a pile of crates and moved down the hall. They were under the field now, on the south side. The hallway ended at a flight of stairs going up. The light was barely enough to see by. Overhead Peter heard the rumble of the crowd.

"We wait here till it starts," Nina said.

In the back of the van, Amy could see nothing. A small window separated the cargo area from the cab, but the driver had left it closed. Her body felt like she'd been dragged from a runaway horse, but her mind was clear and focused on the moment. The van descended the hill and leveled out, the tires spitting up mud and snow into the wheel wells.

"Hey, you back there."

The window had opened. The driver glanced at Amy through the mirror with a smile of wicked delight.

"How's it feel?"

The man in the passenger seat laughed. Amy said nothing.

"You f**king people," the driver said. His eyes narrowed in the mirror. "You know how many of my friends you killed?"

"Is that what you call them?"

"Seriously," he said with a dark laugh, "you should see these things. They are going to rip you apart."

The van was bouncing through deep potholes, jostling the chains. "What's your name?" Amy asked.

The driver frowned; it wasn't the kind of question he expected from a woman on the way to her execution.

"Go on, tell her," the other man said. Then, shifting his weight to angle his face to the opening: "He's Ween."

"Ween?" Amy repeated.

"Yeah, everyone calls him that on account of he's got a short one."

"Ha, ha," the driver said. "Ha, ha, ha, ha."

The conversation seemed over. Then the driver flicked his eyes to the mirror again.

"That thing you told Guilder," he said. Amy could read the uncertainty in his voice. "About what was going to happen. I mean, you were bullshitting, right?"

Amy hooked a foot under the bench and shot her thoughts deep into his eyes. At once the driver stomped on the brake, slamming the second man face-first into the windshield. A crash sent him jerking backward again as the vehicle behind them clipped the van's bumper with a sound of breaking glass and crunching metal.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" The second man was pressing a hand to his face. Blood dripped through his fingers. "You broke my nose, you a**hole!"

The convoy had come to a halt. Amy heard a rapping on the driver's window.

"What's going on? Why did you stop?"

The driver replied sluggishly: "I don't know. My foot fell asleep or something."

"Jesus, look at this," the second guard said. He was holding out his bloodied hands for the man at the window to see. "Look what this idiot did."

"Do you need another driver?"

Amy watched the driver's face through the mirror. He gave his head a dislodging shake. "I'm okay. I just ... I don't know. It was weird. I'm fine."

The man at the window paused. "Well, be careful, all right? We're almost there. Keep it together."

He moved away; the van began to creep forward again.

"You are an unbelievable dick, you know that?"

The driver didn't answer. He darted his eyes to Amy's, their gazes ricocheting in the mirror. A split second, but she saw the fear in them. Then he looked away.

2140 hours. Hollis and Michael were crouched in the alley behind the apothecary. Using binoculars, they'd watched Amy being loaded into the van, followed by the departure of the convoy for the stadium. The assault team that would take the Dome, a dozen men and women armed with firearms and pipe bombs, was still concealed in the storm pipe, fifteen feet below.

"How long do we wait?" Michael said.

The question was rhetorical; Hollis merely shrugged. Though the city had an empty feel, the entrance to the Dome was still defended by a contingent of at least twenty men they could see from the alleyway. The thing they weren't saying was that they had no way of knowing if Sara and Kate were even in the building or how to find them if they were, assuming they could actually get past the guards-a chain of contingencies that in the abstract had seemed surmountable but that now rose before them with stark definition.

"Don't worry about Lore," Hollis said. "That girl can take care of herself, believe me."

"Did I say I was worried?" But of course Michael was. He was worried about all of them.

"I like her," said Hollis. He was still scanning the scene with the binoculars. "She'd be good for you. Better than Lish."

Michael was taken aback. "What are you talking about?"

Hollis pulled the lenses away and looked him in the eye. "Please, Circuit. You've never been a very good liar. You remember when we were kids, the way you two went at it? It couldn't have been more obvious even then."

"It was?"

"To me, anyway. All of it. You, her." He shrugged his broad shoulders and looked through the binoculars again. "Mostly you. Lish I could never read."

Michael tried to assemble a denial, but the attempt collapsed. For as long as he could remember, there had been a place in his mind where Lish stood. He'd done his best to suppress his feelings, since nothing good could come of them, but he'd never quite managed to tamp them down completely. In fact, he'd never managed it at all. "Do you think Peter knows?"

"Lore's the one to worry about. The girl doesn't miss much. But you'd have to ask him. I'd say so, but there's a way of knowing something without knowing it." Hollis tensed. "Hold up."

A vehicle was approaching. They pressed themselves into the doorway. Headlights blazed down the alley. Michael held his breath. Five seconds, then ten; the truck moved away.

"You ever shot anybody?" Hollis asked quietly.

"Just virals."

"Trust me. Once things get going, it's not as hard as you think."

Despite the cold, Michael had begun to perspire. His heart was hammering against his ribs.

"Whatever happens, just get her, all right?" he said. "Get them both."

Hollis nodded.

"I mean it. I'll cover you. Just get through that door."

"We'll both go."

"Not from the looks of things. You need to be the one, Hollis. Understand? Don't stop."

Hollis looked at him.

"Just so that's clear," said Michael.

Like the others, Lore and Greer had successfully faded into the crowd. Where the lines of flatlanders separated, they nudged their way into the stream being directed to the second tier, then the third, and finally the top of the stands. They met beneath the stairs that led to the control rooms.

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