Friday, November 5, 2010

TG&SS Part VII Ch 7 Synopsis 64

Part VII chapter 7

Back at the Mormon bookstore in the Mall, Hotchkiss was looking at a book called Preparing for Armageddon. It was a cookbook for surviving the imminent Apocalypse. Livestock, water, grain, clothing, bedding, fuel, heat and light were covered. There was a list of commonly stored food. There were photographs of various American calamities that had in fact occurred. These were usually natural phenomena like forest fires, hurricanes and floods. But the biggest image was a mushroom cloud with a simple legend:

The first atom-bomb was detonated at 0530 hours July 16, 1945, at a location named Trinity by the bomb's creator, Robert Oppenheimer. With that detonation, Mankind's last age began.”

Following this was a discussion of how to survive an atomic blast. Hotchkiss stood up and walked out of the store to take this news to the mansion. He stopped in his tracks in the parking lot. Dozens of animals were running free on the lot. Puppies rolling around, mice running for cover with kittens on their tails; lizards basking on the hot asphalt. A parrot flew through the open door of Ted Elizando's store. He knew about Elizando, a man who had lost his mind, his wife and his baby. Now he was losing his little ark in the Mall as well, setting it free.

Hotckhiss heard an anguished cry within the pet store and went to investigate. He found Elizando's body, but blood had stopped pumping from it and the man had been dead for several minutes. He had died violently. Then Hotckkiss saw something like a snake or moray eel slithering on the floor, moving to cut him off from the exit. The snake was leaving tracks of blood on the floor. Then there was laughter coming from the pet store office. There was a naked ape, obviously Raul, squatting and getting ready to defecate and create more of these monsters. They attacked Hotchkiss, who fought but lost his breath fighting the constructions of the monsters. “You're not Raul,” he said to the ape. As he fainted, he heard the ape mention two words: Kiss and soon.

= = = = = = = = = =

“I think what we've got here is a lost cause,” Tesla said to Grillo as she emerged from the house. She was shaking from head to foot, hour upon hour of exertion and hurt taking its toll. She longed to sleep, but she had a terror that if she slept she'd have a nightmare warning from Quiddity.

Grillo took a hold of her arm but she shook him off, saying he couldn't hold her up any more than she could hold him.

“What's happening in there?” Grillo asked.
“The hole's started to open again. It's like a dam's going to burst.”

Grillo said her should warn the cops and tell them what's coming. Tesla asked him if he knew what happened to Hotchkiss, but Grillo had no information. Grillo wanted to get to a phone and call his editor to break the bad news.

Grillo got into the car. He had trouble aligning his hand with the ignition key, which told him just how violent the shaking in the ground had become. He got the car started and down the hill. He discovered that any warning to the cops was redundant. Most had withdrawn most of the way down the hill. There was a single vehicle just outside the gates with two men posted as observers, and they were watching for further cracks rather than others leaving the area like Grillo. Grillo drove for the Mall, where there was a public phone and a chance to warn Hotchkiss.

Grillo was thinking about his article and what would work as a headline. “The End of the World is Nigh” was corny and too often used by the tabloid press. Then he thought of Buddy Vance and realized the “The Ride is Over” would be a better headline.

He stopped the car in the lot to watch the animals play. He smiled at their bliss and the joy of knowing nothing. He crossed the lot to the book store, where volumes were scattered all over but Hotchkiss was nowhere present. So he went to the pet store in hope of finding some human company and a phone. There were still some birds squawking in their cages, the last captives. If he had time, he'd set them free himself. “Anyone home?” he asked as a gecko ran out between his legs. The gecko had run through blood on its way out the door; blood smeared and spattered everywhere he looked. He saw Elizando's body first, then the companion corpse, half buried between the cages. He tore at the cages to get at the body, which smelled of blood and feces. He was certain Hotchkiss was dead. The skull had been crushed to smithereens, shards of bone sticking up like broken crockery from the mush of his mind and senses. No animal housed in a store this size could have committed such violence; nor was it easy to see what weapon might have caused it. He scanned the floor, looking for some weapon – a leash, a studded collar, anything to ward off the slaughter. He found a book, dropped on the floor a little way from Hotchkiss's body. He read the title aloud: “Preparing for Armageddon.” Disaster was coming but the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles were standing over the flock and advising them. “If ye are prepared, ye need not fear...Be pure in heart, love many, be just, and stand in holy places. Maintain a year's supply.” He flipped through it rapidly. Why had Hotchkiss selected this book? Hurricanes, forest fires and floods? What did they have to do with Trinity?

And then, there it was: a grainy photograph of a mushroom cloud, and the words beneath, identifying the place where it had been detonated.

Trinity, New Mexico.

He read no further. Book in hand he ran out into the lot, animals scattering in front of him, and got into the car. His call to the editor would have to wait. How the simple fact that Trinity was the birthplace of the bomb fitting into this story he didn't know, but perhaps Tesla would. And even if she didn't he'd have the satisfaction of bringing her the news. He knew it was absurd to be so pleased with himself, since the information made no difference. But he was happy being a messenger, a Nuncio. It was the closest he'd ever got to understanding the word happy.

Even in the four or five minutes he spent at the Mall, the Grove's stability had deteriorated. He found a new route that was still passable, but the tremors of the ground made it hard for him to control the car. There were now three unmarked helicopters overhead, the largest directly over the Vance house, obviously making an assessment of the situation. Maybe they were late to realize the gravity of the situation. He didn't blame them, it sounded to an outsider like an overheated fantasy.

The gates of the mansion had been toppled and so had its perimeter wall. He left the car in front of the pile of rubble, clutching the book, and climbed toward the house, on the face of which something like a cloud shadow seemed to sit. The scene was grimy, as though some sort of dirt varnish had been painted over everything. His sinuses pricked, his ears popped, and he felt a sense of dread. His head was filling up with images of cruelty – babies and children being beaten and maimed, dumped out with the trash; the sick and the old brutalized; the retarded humiliated. So many cruel images.

“The Iad,” he heard Tesla say, and swung his eyes around in the direction of her voice. The air between them was thick, her face grainy, as though reproduced. Not real. None of it real. Pictures on a screen.

“It's the Iad coming, she said. “That's what you're feeling. You should get away from here. There's no use in your staying --”

“No,” he said. “I've got a message.”

He was having trouble concentrating. The horrible images of innocents were haunting him.

“What message?” she asked.

He had to concentrate to say Trinity. He gave her the book. “The bomb” he said.


“Trinity is where they exploded the first atomic bomb.”

A look of comprehension crossed her face. She told him to get away from the house.

He backed away and turned down the hill, but then realized there was another piece of information he'd forgotten. Hotchkiss was dead, his head brutally crushed. Murdered. He had to go back and tell her. Warn her. Even though the horrific images would haunt him on his walk back toward the house.

He pulled out pen and paper. He wrote “Hotchk--” and his finger lost the power to write.

So much suddenly made sense to Tesla, not least the atmosphere of anticipation she'd always felt in the Loop, particularly when passing through the town. She'd seen films of the bomb's detonation, and the destruction of the town, on documentaries about Oppenheimer. The houses and stores she'd puzzled over had been built to be blasted to ash, so that the bomb's creators could observe their baby's wrath at work. No wonder, in her mind's eye, she'd tried to set a dinosaur movie there. This was a town waiting for doomsday. What better place for Kissoon to hide the evidence of his c rime? The cloud that destroyed the shoal would itself also be one of the most indelible images of the century.

But he'd been out-plotted. Mary Murales had trapped him in the Loop until he could find a new body to leave from it. No wonder the word Trinity had thrown his thoughts into confusion. It was the name of his terror.

Was there a way to use this knowledge against the Iad? An outlandish possibility occurred to her as she returned into the house, but she'd need Jaffe's assistance.

It was hard to hold on to any coherent thought process in the cesspool that was spilling from the schism, but she'd fought off influences before from movie producers and shamans, and she was able to hold the worst of it at bay. It was getting stronger, however, the closer the Iad came to the threshold. She was able to ward off this assault of vileness for a time, but she knew she'd capitulate to it sooner or later. No human mind could keep it at bay forever, and would have no choice, drawing in such horrors, but to take refuge in insanity. The Iad Uroboros would rule a planet of lunatics.

Gaffe was already well on his way to mental collapse, of course. She found hum standing at the door of the room where he'd practiced the schism. Looking through the door she truly understood for the first time why Quiddity was called a sea. Waves of dark energy were beating against the shore of the Cosm, their surf spilling through the schism. Beyond it she saw another motion, which she was only able to glimpse briefly. Jaffe had talked about mountains that moved; and fleas. But Tesla's mind fixed upon another image to characterize the invaders. They were giants. The living terrors of her earliest nightmares. Often, in those childhood encounters, they'd had the faces of her parents, a fact her analyst had made much of. But these were giants of a different order. If they had faces at all, which she doubted, they were impossible to assimilate as such. One thing she was certain of: caring parent's they weren't.

“Do you see?” Jaffe said.

“Oh yes,” she said.

“Do you see, Poppa?”

“Poppa?” she said.

“I'm not afraid, Poppa,” the voice out of Jaffe went on. “They won't hurt me. I'm the Death-boy.”

Now she understood. Jaffe wasn't simply seeing with Tommy-Ray's eyes, he was speaking with the boy's voice. She'd lost the father to the son.

She would have to do something herself, alone, without help or power from Jaffe. She wasn't a great shaman. She couldn't seal the opening. But maybe she could move it. She'd passed herself in and out of the Loop twice. Could she also jump dead matter? Wood and plaster? This part of this house, for instance? Could she dissolve the slice of the Cosm she and the schism occupied, and remove it to Point Zero, where a force was ticking that might fell the giants before they spread their madness?

Tommy-Ray had started to speak again, his monologue now deteriorated to a ragged babble.

“...up like Andy...” he was saying, “...only higher. See me, Poppa? ...up like Andy... I can see the shore! I can see the shore!”

That at least did make sense. He was within sighting distance of the Cosm, which meant the Iad were almost as close. She wanted to look into the opening and see the approach of the Iad, but she knew she wasn't properly girded. So she didn't do so,. Instead, the stepped back to the front door and seized hold of the door jamb. It felt so damn solid,. Her common sense protested at the idea of being able to think such solidity into another place and time, but she silenced such thoughts.. It and the madness that was spewing from the schism were not opposites. Reason could be cruel; logic could be lunacy,. There was another state of mind that put aside such naïve dichotomies; that made power from being in between conditions.

All things to all men.

She remembered suddenly what D'Amour had said, about there being a savior rumored. She'd thought he'd meant Jaffe, but she'd been looking too far afield. She was that savior. Tesla Bombeck, the wild woman of West Hollywood, reversed and resurrected.

She didn't need to deny the confusions and contradictions to be powerful; she needed to embrace them. Devour them with the mouth of her mind, chew them up, swallow them. They were all devourable. The solid and unsolid, this world and that, all edible and moveable. She looked at the schism, dead on. “Not even you,” she said and began to eat.

= = = = = = = = = =

As Grillo had got within two steps of the front door the innocents had come back to claim him, their assault more pitiless than ever, this close to the schism. He lost the power to move forward or back, as brutalities rose around him. He seemed to be treading on small, bloody bodies. They turned their sobbing faces up to him, but he new there was no help for them. Not now. The shadow that was moving across Quiddity brought with it an end to mercy. Nor would its reign ever end. It would never be judged; never be brought to account.

Somebody moved past him toward the door, a form barely visible in an air thick with suffering, a thuggish face, heavy-boned and lantern-jawed. Then the stranger went into the house. There was movement on the ground. Grillo saw black snakes, as thick as his arm, crawling over the children as they followed the man inside. He tried to stamp them out. It drove him mad, which made him stronger, and he stamped some more. The fourth step took him over the threshold of the house and into another madness entirely.

= = = = = = = = = =


Of all people, Raul. Only her confidence in her own clarity of thought convinced her that this was Raul and not an hallucination. “What are you doing here?” she asked.

“I came for you,” was his reply. On his heels came a grim comprehension of what he meant by that. There were Lix slithering over the doorstep into the house.

“What have you done?” she asked.

”I told you,” he replied. “I came for you. We all did.”

She was wary and warned him to stay away from her. Then she saw, under his unbuttoned shirt, a shoal medallion. His manner wasn't of the frightened Nunciate she'd met at the Mision de Santa Catrina. There was somebody else behind his semi-simian face: the man who'd first shown her the Shoal's enigmatic sigil.

“Kissoon,” she said.

“Now you've spoiled my surprise,” he replied.

“What have you done with Raul?”

“Unhoused him. Occupied the body. It wasn't difficult. He'd got a lot of Nuncio in him. That made him available. I pulled him into the Loop, the same way I did with you. Only he didn't have the wits to resist me the way or or Randolph resisted. He gave in quickly enough.”

“You murdered him.”

“Oh, no,” Kissoon said lightly. “His spirit's alive and kicking. Keeping my flesh from the fire till I go back for it. I'll reoccupy it once its out of the Loop. I certainly don't want to stay in this. It's repulsive.”

He came at her suddenly, agile as only Raul could be, leaping to grab hold of her arm. She yelled at the force of his grip. He smiled at her again, closing on her in two quick steps, his face inches from hers in a heartbeat.

“Gotcha,” he said.

She looked past him to the door, where Grillo was standing, staring into the schism, against which Quiddity's waves were breaking with mounting frequency and ferocity. She yelled his name, but he didn't respond. Sweat ran down his face; saliva dribbled from his slack jaw. He was out wandering. He wasn't home.

What Grillo did see was that the horror o the innocents underfoot was gone. He saw the horrors in the surf of Quiddity. Thrown to the shore were two bodies, and he recognized them – Jo-Beth and Howie. There was a third one he didn't now, who was a death's head, riding the surf.

Further out were massive and rotting forms, the air around them dense with activity, as though flies the size of birds were feeding on their foulness. These were the Iad Uroboros. He was hypnotized with horror.

Tossed in the waves, Howie could have told him a thing or two. As the Iad had closed on them, he'd remembered where he'd sensed this horror before: in a Chicago slaughterhouse where he'd worked two years previous. There was blood congealing in the gutters, the animals emptying their bladders and bowels at the sound of the deaths that went before them. This assembly line of death had filled his mind as the Iad approached behind him.

Tesla urged Kissoon to look into the schism and see the Iad. She told him, “If they come through you're dead like all of us!”

“No,” he said. “They're bringing a new world, and I've earned my place in it. A high place. You know how many years I've waited for this? Planned for it? Murdered for it? They'll reward me.”

“Signed a contract did you? Got it in writing?”

“I'm their liberator,” Kissoon said. “I made this possible. You should have joined the team back in the Loop. Lent me your body for a while. I'd have protected you. But no. You had your own ambitions. Like him.” He looked at Jaffe. “Him the same. Had to have a piece of the pie. You both choked on it.” Knowing Tesla couldn't leave now, when there was nowhere to leave to, he let her go and took a step towards Jaffe. “He got closer than you did, but then he had the balls.”

Tommy-Ray's whoops of exhilaration were no longer issuing from Jaffe. There was only a low moan, which might have been the father, or the son, or a combination of both.

Jaffe wouldn't look at Kissoon in the form of Raul. Kissoon shook him and Jaffe still wouldn't look. Tesla looked at the schism. How many waves before the Iad reached the shore? A dozen? Half that number?

“Wake up and see me,” Kissoon said to Jaffe. “It's Kissoon. I got out! I got out!”

She let the harangue become part of her imagined buffet. All of it had to be devoured. Chewed up and spat into another time.

Kissoon's shouts suddenly stopped.

“What are you doing?” he said, turning to look at her. His stolen features, not used to expressing rage, were knotted up in a grotesque fashion. She didn't let the sight distract her. That too was part of the scene to be swallowed. She was equal to it.

“Don't you dare!” Kissoon said. “Hear me?”

She heard and ate.

“I'm warning you,” he said, moving back in her direction. “Don't you dare!”

Somewhere in the back of Randolph Jaffe's memory, those three words, and the tone of their delivery, started an echo. He'd been in a hut once, with a man who'd delivered them in just that fashion. As before, his hand went down to the pocket of his jacket to find a blunt-bladed knife that was waiting there. His arm, a parody of the strong limb he'd once owned, went down to his pocket. All these years he'd never let the knife out of his possession. His eyes focused on the head of the man who'd spoken from his memories. It was an easy target.

Tesla saw the motion of Jaffe's head from the corner of her eyes; saw him push himself away from the wall and start to raise his right arm up from the vicinity of his pocket. Kissoon's fingers were tight around her neck and the Lix were about his shins. She saw the knife glinting in his raised hand, saw it fall and drive into the back of Kissoon's neck. He cried and she liked the cry, being the power of her enemy, as if the sound passed his strength and power to her. She felt the space they occupied in her mind's mouth and chewed on it. The house shuddered as a significant piece of it was wrenched away and removed into the closed moments of the Loop.

Instantly, light.

The light of the Loop's perpetual dawn poured in through the door. The air smelled fresher. Desert wind blew. The glazed look left Grillo's face.

With their maker wounded, the Lix left off their attack, but she didn't hope they would leave her for long. She stepped outside to talk to Grillo. He wanted to know what she'd done.

She told him that she'd transported the house and the schism and the Iad to the Loop. The bad news was that they were at Point Zero for nuclear detonation. She couldn't find Kissoon or Jaffe in the waters of Quiddity spurting from the schism, so she told Grillo she was staying but he should run for the border of the Loop, and she pointed the right direction. Grillo asked if she thought him a coward. “If you're going to go, go,” she said.

The schism itself was hanging in the air, growing with each blink of the eye. The first things to dribble out, though, were Howie and Jo-Beth. She brought them to Grillo, ignoring the blossom of growths on their faces. Grillo agreed to go, telling Tesla there were so many things he should have said to her but didn't. Tesla grinned widely.

A third body was emerging from the schism. It was Tommy-Ray, only much more profoundly changed than Howie or Jo-Beth. He looked like a bleached skull. Jo-Beth took a step toward her brother, then another step, but this was to reveal that she was still holding on to Howie because the two were joined, encrusted together by Quiddity.

Tommy-Ray stopped in disgust. He stayed. Grillo led Howie and Jo-Beth to safety.

“Death boy,” Tesla said, addressing Tommy-Ray. He looked around at her. She asked how far the Iad were behind him. He didn't understand. The giants?

He still didn't understand. “There are no giants. Just darkness.”

How far?

“Very close.”

Darkness was forming into a wall, thirty feet high and growing taller. She looked for Kissoon and the Jaff. She found both on the far side of the rubble that had been the room. They were standing face to face, hands at each other's throats, the knife still in Jaffe's fist but held from further work by Kissoon. It had been busy. What had once been Raul's body was covered in stab wounds, from which blood was freely running. The cuts seemed not to have impaired Kissoon's strength.

Kissoon wriggled lose from Jaffe and started walking toward Tesla. He said that the Iad were assembling. It was too late to blind and eliminate them with a bomb. Show them your breasts, he said to Tesla. Show this to the power. He approached closer, oblivious to all else. But Jaffe stood and approached Kissoon from behind.

Tesla didn't resist him. He touched her but she shuddered with disgust. Kissoon was excited but smart enough to be suspicious. A glint in his eye appeared and he turned to see what Jaffe was doing. Jaffe's blunt knife sliced into Kissoon's right eye. Kissoon screamed and Jaffe accurately sliced open Kissoon's left eye.

Jaffe stabbed and stabbed. Kissoon took two steps and then fell. Tesla was electric with pleasure, wanting the bomb to detonate at that moment, matching its completion with her own. Kissoon was dead and it would not be bad to die now, knowing the Iad would be swept away in the same moment.

“Go on,” she said to the bomb. But there was no explosion. She looked around. She thought. “What have I missed?” she asked herself. “What in God's name have I missed?”

“Synchronicity,” said Jaffe, glad that he'd killed Kissoon.

But Tesla said that the death didn't answer the problem. “This is Point Zero,” she said. “There's a bomb, just waiting to detonate. He was holding that moment at bay.” Tesla asked Jaffe to accompany her to the hut.

Jaffe began walked after her but heard a cry. “Poppa? Poppa?” The boy fell into his father's arms, and Tesla knew she had lost Jaffe to a prior claim, a primal claim. Tesla continued toward the hut.

= = = = = = = = = =

The trip for Grillo, Howie and Jo-Beth was no easier than Tesla's. They were exhausted by their rigorous work, but the oldest fear known to man drove them on: that of the pursuing beast. This one had neither claws nor fangs, of course but it was all the more lethal for that. It was a breath of fire. It was only when they reached the town that they slowed their pace long enough to exchange a few gasping words.

:”How much farther?” Jo-Beth wanted to know.

“Just on the other side of town.”

Howie was staring back at the Iad curtain, which had now mounted a hundred feet and more.
“Do you think they see us?” he said.

“Who?” said Grillo. “The Iad? If they do they don't seem to be following.”

“That isn't them,” Jo-Beth said. “That's just their veil.”

“So we've still got a chance,” Howie said,.

“Let's take it,” said Grillo, and set the pace down the Main Street.

Tesla's mind, befuddled as it was, had the route a cross the desert to the hut inscribed deep into her mind. As she trotted – because running was beyond her – it was the conversation she'd had with Grillo back at the motel that she went over in her mind, the exchange in which she'd confessed to him the extent of her spiritual ambition. If she died here in the Loop – and that was virtually inevitable – she knew she'd come to understand more about the workings of the world in the days since she'd arrived in Palomo Grove than in all the years previous. She'd had adventures beyond her body. She'd encountered incarnations of good and evil, and learned something of her condition because she resembled neither. If she was gone from this life soon, either at the instant of detonation, or at the Iad's arrival, she had no complaint at that.

  1. But there were so many souls who had not yet made their peace with extinction, nor should have to. Infants, children, lovers. Peaceable people the planet over, whose lives were still in the making and enriching, who, if she failed now, would wake up tomorrow with any chance to taste the same adventures in spirit she'd had denied them. Slaves of the Iad. What justice was there in that? Before coming to the Grove she'd have given the twentieth century's answer to that question. There was no justice because justice was a human construct and had no place in a system of matter. But mind was matter, always. That was the revelation of Quiddity. The sea was the crossroads, and from it all possibilities sprang. Before everything, Quiddity. Before life, the dream of life. Before the thing solid, the solid thing dreamt. And mind, dreaming or awake, knew justice, which was therefore as natural as matter, its absence in any exchange deserving of more than a fatalistic shrug. It merited a howl of outrage; and a passionate pursuit of why. If she wished to live beyond the impending holocaust it was to shout that shout. To find out what crime her species had committed against the universal mind that it should now be tottering on execution. That was worth living to know.

The hut was in sight. Behind her the suspicion she'd had, that the Iad were rising behind the veil of clots, was confirmed. The giants of her childhood nightmares were emerging from the schism, and would soon draw that veil away. When they did they'd surely see her, and come in a few thunderous strides to stamp her out. But they didn't hurry. Their vast limbs took time to draw up from Quiddity; their heads (the size of houses, every window blazing) were immense, and needed the full machinery of their anatomies before they could be raised. When she began again towards the hut the glimpse she'd had of the emergents began to resolve itself in her mind's eye, her wits making coherence of their titanic mystery.

The door of the hut was closed, of course. But it wasn't locked. She pulled it open.

Kissoon was waiting for her. The shock of the sight of him took her breath away, and she was about to retreat out into the sun until she realized that the body propped up against the far wall was vacated by spirit, its system ticking on to preserve it from mortification. There was nobody behind the glazed eyes. The door slammed closed, and without wasting any more time she named the only spirit here that could possibly be holding the moment in Kissoon's stead.


The weary air in the hut whined with his unseen presence.

“Raul? For God's sake, I know you're here. I know you're afraid. But if you can hear me, show me somehow, will you?”

The whine intensified. She had the sense that he was circling the hut, like a fly trapped in a jar.

“Raul, you've got to let go. Trust me and let go.”

The whine was beginning to hurt her.

“I don't know what he did to you to make you give up your body, but I now it wasn't your fault. He tricked you. He lied to you. He did the same to me. Do you understand? You're not to blame.”

The air began to settle somewhat. She took a deep breath and began her persuasions again, remembering how she'd first bullied him into coming with her, back at the Mission.

“If it's anybody's fault, it's mine,” she said. “Forgive me, Raul. We've both of us come to the end. But if it's any comfort, so's Kissoon. He's dead. He won't be coming back. Your body... won't be coming back. It's destroyed. There was no other way of killing him.”

The hurt of the whine had been replaced by another, deeper ache: that of knowing how much his spirit must be suffering, dislocated and frightened, unable to let go of the moment. Kissoon's victim, as they'd both been. In some ways, so much alike. Nunciates both, learning to climb out of their limitations. Strange bedfellows, but bedfellows nonetheless. Which thought inspired another.

She spoke it.

“Can two minds occupy the same body?” she said. “If you're afraid... come into me.”

She let that notion hang in the silence, not pressing him for fear his panic would escalate. She waited beside the cold ashes of the fire, knowing every second he remained unpersuaded gave the Iad another foothold, but devoid of further arguments or invitations. She'd offered him more than she'd offered anyone in her life: total possession of her body. If he didn't accept she had no more persuasions.

After a few, breathless seconds something seemed to brush the nape of her neck, like lover's fingers. The stroke suddenly became a needle point.

“Is this you?” she said.

In the beat it took her to ask the question, it became self-directed, as his spirit entered her head.

There was no dialogue, nor any need for dialogue. They were twin ghosts in the same machine, and in the instant of his entering entirely conversant with reach other. She read from his memories the method by which Kissoon had claimed him, pulling him through to the Loop from the bathroom in North Huntley Drive, using his confusion to subdue him. He'd been easy meat. Weighed down by leaden smoke, mesmerized into performing one duty and one alone the holding of the moment, then wrenched from his body to do that duty in a blind round of terror that had not ceased until she'd opened the door. She had no more need to instruct him in their next act they had to perform together than he'd had to tell her his story. He shared her comprehension.

She went back to the door and opened it.

The Iad's curtain was huge enough now that its shadow touched the hut. There were still some shafts of sun breaking through, but none near the threshold upon which Tesla stood. Here there was darkness. She looked toward the veil, seeing the Iad assembled behind it. Their silhouettes were the size of thunderheads, their limbs like whips plaited to beat mountains with.

Now, she thought. Or never. Let the moment go.

Let – it – go.

She felt Raul do just that, his will releasing its hold and shedding the burden Kissoon had laid upon him. A wave seemed to move from them toward the tower above which the Iad loomed. After years of suspension, time was unfettered. Fife-thirty on the sixteenth of July was moments away, and so was the event that marked that innocent instant as the beginning of Mankind's Last Madness.

Her thoughts went to Grillo, and to Jo-Beth and Howie, urging them on through the exit and into the safety of the Cosm, but her urgings were interrupted as a brightness began in the heart of the shadow. She couldn't see the tower, but she saw the shock spring from the platform, the ball of fire becoming visible and a second flash appearing the instant after, the brightest light she'd ever seen, from yellow to white in a blink.

We can do no more, she thought, as the fire began to swell obscenely. I could be home.

She pictured herself, woman, man and ape in one bruised body – standing on the step of the hut, the light of the bomb blazing on her face. Then she imagined that same face and body in another place. She had only seconds to work with. But thought was fast.

Across the desert she saw the hosts of the Iad drawing their veil of clots aside, as the blazing cloud grew to eclipse them. Their faces were like flowers the scale of mountains, and they kept opening, throat upon throat upon throat. It was an awesome display, their hugeness seeming to conceal labyrinths, which turned inside out as they uncovered themselves. Tunnels becoming towers of flesh, as it was flesh they had, and turning again, and turning, so that every part of them was in constant transformation. If singularity was indeed their appetite, then it was a salvation from this prodigious flux.

Mountains and fleas, Jaffe had said, and she saw now what he'd meant by that. The Iad was either a nation of leviathans, itching with numberless parasites and opening their guts, over and over, in the vain hope of shedding them, or the parasites themselves, so numerous they imitated mountains. She would not know which, this side of life or Trinity. Before she could interpret the countless forms they took, the explosion eclipsed them, burning their mystery out.

At the same moment Kissoon's Loop – its task fulfilled in a fashion its creator could never have anticipated – disappeared. If the device on the tower failed to consume them utterly they were undone nevertheless, their madness and their appetite sealed up in a moment of lost time.

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