There were times, many times, all the time, when Alicia herself could not have said precisely what she was.
She came upon a shed. A pockmarked and pitted thing, half-buried in the sand, with a sloping metal roof.
She ... felt something.
Which was strange, nothing that had happened before. The virus had not given her that power, which was Amy's alone. Alicia was yang to Amy's yin, endowed with the physical strength and speed of the virals but disconnected from the invisible web that bound them together, thought to thought.
And yet, did she not? Feel something? Feel them? A tingling at the base of her skull, and in her mind a quiet rustling, faintly audible as words:
Who am I? Who am I who am I who am I who am I ...?
There were three. They had all been women, once. And even more: Alicia sensed-how was it possible?-that in each one lay a single kernel of memory. A hand shutting a window and the sound of rain. A brightly colored bird singing in a cage. A view from a doorway of a darkened room and two small children, a boy and a girl, asleep in their beds. Alicia received each of these visions as if it were her own, its sights and sounds and smells and emotions, a melange of pure existence like three tiny fires flaring inside her. For a moment she was held captive to them, in mute awe of them, these memories of a lost world. The world of the Time Before.
But something else. Wrapping each of these memories was a shroud of darkness, vast and pitiless. It made Alicia shudder to the very core. Alicia wondered what this was, but then she knew: the dream of the one called Martinez. Julio Martinez of El Paso, Texas, Tenth of Twelve, sentenced to death for the murder of a peace officer. The one Alicia had come to find.
In Martinez's dream, he was forever raping a woman named Louise-the name was written in a curling script on the pocket of the woman's blouse-while simultaneously strangling her with an electric cord.
The door of the shed was hanging kitty-corner on its rusted hinges. Tight quarters: Alicia would have preferred more room, especially with three. She crept forward, following the point of her cross, and eased into the shed.
Two of the virals were suspended upside down from the rafters, the third crouched in a corner, gnawing on a hunk of meat with a sucking sound. They had just fed on an antelope; the desiccated remains lay sundered on the floor, clumps of hair and bone and skin. In the dazed aftermath of feeding, the virals took no notice of her entry.
"Good evening, ladies."
She took the first one in the rafters with her cross. A thud and then a squeal, abruptly squelched, and its body crashed to the floor. The other two were rousing now; the second released its hold on the rafter, tucked its knees to its chest, and rolled in the midst of its decent to land on its clawed feet, facing away. Dropping the cross, Alicia drew a blade and in a single liquid motion sent it spinning into the third, which had risen to face her.
Two down, one to go.
It should have been easy. Suddenly it wasn't. As Alicia drew a second blade, the remaining viral turned and swatted her hand with a force that sent the weapon spiraling into the dark. Before the creature could deliver another blow, Alicia dropped to the floor and rolled away; when she rose, fresh blade in hand, the viral was gone.
She snatched her cross from the floor, loaded a fresh bolt, and dashed outside. Where the hell was it? Two quick steps and Alicia launched herself to the roof of the shed, landing with a clang. Quickly she surveyed the landscape. Nothing, no sign.
Then the viral was behind her. A trap, Alicia realized; it must have been hiding, lying flush to the far side of the roof. Two things happened simultaneously. Alicia spun on her heels, aiming the cross instinctively; and with a sound of splintering wood and tearing metal, the roof gave way beneath her.
She landed face-up on the floor of the shed, the viral crashing on top of her. Her cross was gone. Alicia would have drawn a blade, but both of her hands were now occupied in the stalemated project of holding the viral at arm's length. Left and right and left again the creature darted its face, jaws snapping, toward the curve of Alicia's throat. An irresistible force meeting an immovable object: how long could this go on? The children in their beds, Alicia thought. That's who this one was. She was the woman looking through the doorway at her sleeping children. Think about the children, Alicia thought, and then she said it:
"Think about the children."
The viral froze. A wistful expression came into its face. For the thinnest instant-not more than half a second-their eyes met and held in the darkness. Mary, Alicia thought. Your name was Mary. Her hand was reaching for her blade. I send you home, my sister Mary, thought Alicia. I release you from the prison of your existence. And with an upward thrust she sank her blade, tip to hilt, into the sweet spot.
Alicia rolled the corpse away. The others lay where they had fallen. She collected her blade and bolt from the first two, wiped them clean, then knelt by the body of the last. In the aftermath Alicia usually felt nothing beyond a vague hollowness; it surprised her now to discover that her hands were shaking. How had she known? Because she had; with absolute clarity, she had known that the woman's name was Mary.
She pulled the blade free, touched it to her head and heart. Thank you, Mary, for not killing me before my work is complete. I hope you are with your little ones now.
Mary's eyes were open, gazing at nothing; Alicia closed them with her fingertips. It wouldn't do to leave her where she was. Alicia hoisted the body into her arms and carried it outside. A rind of moon had risen, washing the landscape in its glow, a darkness visible. But moonlight wasn't what Mary needed. A hundred years of nighttime sky were enough, Alicia thought, and laid the woman on a patch of open ground where, come morning, the sun would find her and cast her ashes to the wind.
Alicia had begun to climb.
A night and a day had passed. She was in the mountains now, ascending a dry creekbed through a slim defile. The feeling of the virals was stronger here: she was headed toward something. Mary, she thought, what were you trying to tell me?
It was nearly dawn by the time she reached the top of the ridge, the horizon jumping away. Below her, in the wind-scraped blackness, the valley floor unfurled, none but the stars for company. Alicia knew it was possible to parse discrete figures from their arbitrary-seeming arrangement, the shapes of people and animals, but she had never learned to do this. They appeared to her only as a random scattering, as if each night the stars were flung anew against the sky.
Then she saw it: a gaping maw of blackness, set in a bowl-like depression. The opening was a hundred feet tall or more. Curved benches, like an amphitheater, carved from the rocky face of the mountain, were situated at the cave's mouth. Bats were flicking through the sky.
It was a door to hell.
You're down there, aren't you? Alicia thought, and smiled. You son of a bitch, I've found you.
Denver Police Dept.
Case File 193874
Transcript of Interview with Lila Beatrice Kyle
VIA: Det. Rita Chernow
3 May 4:17 A.M.
RC: Let the record show that the subject has been fully apprised of her rights and has declined to have an attorney present at this interview. Questioning conducted by Detective Rita Chernow, Denver PD, District Six. The time is four-seventeen A.M. Dr. Kyle, would you please state your full name?
LK: Lila Beatrice Kyle.
RC: And you're an orthopedic surgeon at Denver General Hospital, is that correct?
RC: And do you know why you're here?
LK: Something happened at the hospital. You wanted to ask me some questions. What is this room? I don't know it.
RC: We're in the police station, Dr. Kyle.
LK: Am I in trouble?
RC: We talked about this, remember? We're just trying to figure out what happened in the ER tonight. I know you're upset. I have just a few questions for you.
LK: There's blood on me. Why is there blood on me?
RC: Do you recall what happened in the ER, Dr. Kyle?
LK: I'm so tired. Why am I so tired?
RC: Can we get you something? Coffee maybe?
LK: I can't drink coffee. I'm pregnant.
RC: Water, then? How about some water?
RC: So let's start at the beginning. You were working in the emergency room tonight, is that correct?
LK: No, I was upstairs.
RC: But you came down to the ER?
RC: At what time?
LK: I'm not sure. Sometime around one A.M. They paged me.
RC: Why did they page you?
LK: I was the orthopedist on call. They had a patient with a broken wrist.
RC: And was that patient Mr. Letourneau?
LK: I think so, yes.
RC: What else did they tell you about him?
LK: Before I went downstairs, you mean?
LK: He had some kind of animal bite.
RC: Like a dog bite?
LK: I suppose so. They didn't say.
RC: Anything else?
LK: He had a high fever. He'd vomited.
RC: And that's all they told you?
RC: And what did you see when you got to the ER?
LK: He was in the third bed. There were only a couple of other patients. Sunday's usually quiet.
RC: What time would this be?
LK: One-fifteen, one-thirty.
RC: And did you examine Mr. Letourneau?
RC: Let me rephrase. Did you see the patient?
RC: Dr. Kyle?
LK: I'm sorry, what was the question?
RC: Did you see Mr. Letourneau tonight in the ER?
LK: Yes. Mark was there, too.
RC: Are you referring to Dr. Mark Shin?
LK: He was the attending. Have you talked to him?
RC: Dr. Shin is dead, Dr. Kyle. He was one of the victims.
RC: Could you speak up, please?
LK: I just ... I don't know. I'm sorry, what did you want to know?
RC: What can you tell me about Mr. Letourneau? How did he seem?
RC: Yes. Was he awake?
LK: He was awake.
RC: What else did you observe?
LK: He was disoriented. Agitated. His color was strange.
RC: How do you mean?
LK: I have to go to the bathroom.
RC: Let's just get through some questions first. I know you're tired. I promise I'll get you out of here as quickly as I can.
LK: Do you have children, Detective Chernow?
RC: I'm sorry?
LK: Do you have any children? I was just curious.
RC: Yes, I have two boys.
LK: How old? If you don't mind my asking.
RC: Five and seven. I have just a few more things to ask you. Do you think you're up to that?
LK: But I bet you're trying for the girl, aren't you? Believe me, there's nothing like having a baby girl of your own.
RC: Let's focus on Mr. Letourneau for now, would that be okay? You said he was agitated. Can you elaborate on that?
RC: Yes. What did he do?
LK: He was making a funny noise.
RC: Can you describe it?
LK: A clicking sound, in his throat. He was moaning. He seemed to be in a great deal of pain.
RC: Had they given him anything for the pain?
LK: They'd given him Tramadol. I think it was Tramadol.
RC: Who else was there besides Dr. Shin?
RC: Dr. Kyle? Who else was there when you examined Mr. Letourneau?
LK: One of the nurses. She was trying to calm him down. He was very upset.
RC: Anyone else?
LK: I don't remember. An orderly? No, two.
RC: What happened then?
LK: He started to seize.
RC: The patient had a seizure, you mean?
RC: What did you do then?
LK: Where's my husband?
RC: He's right outside. He came with you. Don't you remember?
LK: Brad is here?
RC: I'm sorry. Who's Brad?
LK: My husband. Brad Wolgast. He's with the FBI. Maybe you know him?
RC: Dr. Kyle, I'm confused. The man who came with you is named David Centre. He's not your husband?
RC: Dr. Kyle? Do you understand what I'm asking you?
LK: Of course David is my husband. What a strange thing for you to say. Where did all this blood come from? Was I in an accident?
RC: No, Dr. Kyle. You were at the hospital. That's what we're talking about. Three hours ago, nine people were killed in the ER. We're trying to figure out how that happened.
LK: It looked at me. Why did it just look at me?
RC: What looked at you, Dr. Kyle?
LK: It was horrible.
RC: What was?
LK: It killed the nurse first. There was so much blood. Like an ocean.
RC: Are you speaking of Mr. Letourneau? He killed the nurse? I need you to be clear.
LK: I'm thirsty. Can I have some more water?
RC: In a minute. How did Mr. Letourneau kill the nurse?
LK: It happened so fast. How could anybody move that fast?
RC: I need you to focus, Dr. Kyle. What did Mr. Letourneau use to kill the nurse? Was there a weapon?
LK: A weapon? I don't remember a weapon.
RC: How did he do it then?
RC: Dr. Kyle?
LK: I couldn't move. It just ... looked at me.
RC: Something looked at you? Was there somebody else in the room?
LK: He used his mouth. That was how he did it.
RC: Are you saying that Mr. Letourneau bit the nurse?
LK: I'm expecting, you know. I'm going to have a baby.
RC: I can see that, Dr. Kyle. I know this is very stressful.
LK: I need to rest. I want to go home.
RC: We'll try to get you out of here as quickly as we can. Just to clarify, is it your statement that Mr. Letourneau bit the nurse?
LK: Is she all right?
RC: She was decapitated, Dr. Kyle. You were holding the body when we found you. Don't you remember?