17

HE DROPPED OFF ALMOST IMMEDIATELY, falling into a deep sleep almost as soon as Mahonri lifted him off the wheelchair and put him in the cot. He woke up hours later in an utterly pitch-dark room, with no idea where he was. He was filled with panic that he was unconscious again, frozen, deep in storage, but muddled desperately through that to a memory of Mahonri sitting on the floor beside the cot as his eyes closed, reading the Scriptures to himself, half-aloud. Either he was still in Granite Mountain or he’d managed to escape into a dream again. In either case, he lay there, shivering in a cold sweat, his heart beating very fast, the blood pounding in his ears, until at last, little by little, he began to calm down.

He started trying to picture the room in his head, reached out to one side to touch the tin wall beside the bed, adjusting his image of the room accordingly. Mahonri must be here, he realized, lying somewhere beside his bed. He held his breath and listened, heard at last the muffled sound of the other man’s breathing.

What now? he wondered.

It was the first time since he’d begun the journey that he’d had a chance to relax, slow down, think. He imagined Qatik and Qanik still hiding, huddled against the side of the mountain, waiting for him, slowly dying. Or perhaps quickly dying. Or perhaps already dead. What did he owe them exactly? They weren’t like him—were, if Mahonri was to be believed, almost another species. He couldn’t remember enough about who he was or what his life had been like before the Kollaps to know what he owed them, or owed Rasmus, or owed anyone, for that matter. Had he been, as Mahonri suggested, “pure in heart”? Was that why he’d been singled out, as it were, touched by the so-called finger of God? Not likely, he thought, remembering how he had almost strangled the technician who had awakened him—almost without meaning to, on impulse. No, the last thing he’d been was pure in heart, he was convinced of that.

But what was he now? Was it better that he couldn’t remember what he had been before? A fixer, Rasmus had called him, but what did that mean exactly? Someone called upon when nobody else could solve a problem and willing to proceed by any means necessary. Definitely not pure in heart.

But how did he know that Rasmus was telling the truth? Maybe he hadn’t been a fixer at all but simply an ordinary man living an ordinary life: a bank clerk or a high school teacher. Even Rasmus had couched everything he told him in doubt—my father told me and if I get a few of the details wrong, it’s because I have them secondhand—almost as if he expected from the first not to be believed.

He lay staring into the dark, seeing nothing. Whom should he listen to? Whom should he trust? Rasmus, with his hive? The whole structure seemed clearly a sort of mystification, a way of manipulating others for some purpose that Horkai himself couldn’t quite see. Was Rasmus the one doing the manipulating, or was he himself manipulated as well? And if so, by whom or what?

He took a deep breath. Too many questions, too few answers. What he did know was that from the beginning Rasmus had not been honest with him, was clearly holding something back. The little he’d been able to get out of the mules didn’t tell him much, just confirmed that something was wrong, that he hadn’t been told the truth and that maybe they hadn’t been either.

But why was Mahonri to be believed instead? A group of seven transfigured men, if they were still men, living deep in a hole within the side of a mountain, guarding what must be millions of records as well as the contemporary equivalent of the ark. And believing that they were acting out God’s will, having manipulated Christianity to fit changing conditions. Mahonri was obviously deranged. How could he be trusted? He’d been brainwashed, was clearly a little addled from so much time spent alone. Finger of God, Horkai thought. Not fucking likely. More like the finger of the Devil. Or, even worse, no finger at all.

So whom did that leave for him to trust?

Nobody. Not even himself, since he had no idea who he really was.

What now? he wondered, and stared up into the dark. Vague shapes were beginning to move across his vision now, vague flashes of light that stuttered back and forth, the result of the effort of his brain to see something when it was too dark to see anything at all.

What were his choices?

He could go off on his own, but without legs he wouldn’t get far. Plus there was the disease to consider, the reason he had been frozen in the first place. If that was in fact real and not one lie among many, then there was something to be said for sticking with the people who claimed they were trying to find a cure.

He could stay here with a group of religious fanatics whose only redeeming quality was that they seemed to be suffering from the same physical condition as he, and live largely in storage, allowing himself to be thawed one month out of every eight and participate in the reinstitution of the human race. Something he wasn’t exactly sure was a good idea.

Or, finally, he could do as Rasmus and his community had asked, collect a cylinder with red characters on it, whatever secret or special seed it contained, and bring it back.

The first two were dead ends and would get him nowhere. The last was a wild card: something might come of it or maybe nothing. But it wasn’t immediately a dead end. Would he ever get answers? Maybe. Would he ever know the whole truth? Probably not. But he had to try.

Which was why, almost without realizing, Horkai had pulled his dead leg toward him with both hands and was now forcing his hand into his boot, groping for his knife.

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