Title: The Last Vampire #8 | Thirst #4: The Shadow of Death
Summary: I have returned to life, but it’s to a suddenly lonely world.
Alisa is a five-thousand-year-old vampire, stronger and more cunning than her adversaries. But now she’s trapped in the body of a newborn vampire and at the mercy of a terrible thirst. Worst of all, she’s facing enemies whose fierce desire for domination grows ever stronger. The immortal race the Telar is threatening to release a virus to decimate humanity. But Alisa and her friends can’t take down the Telar on their own, and they must turn to the mysterious organisation the IIC for help. But the IIC has secrets of its own and may have ulterior motives. With two rivals and no one to trust, Alisa must rely on her dark side to defeat them. But it could cost her life, or her soul… [Wing: How many goddamn times is she going to die?]
Tagline: Tortured Soul. Final Judgment. [Wing: Yeah, right. I’ll believe this is the end when I see it.]
Previously on Sita-has-a-new-body-and-the-world-may-end-soon-whoops: Sita was in Teri’s body. Sita’s back in Sita’s body. Teri’s body is dead. The Telar want to use a virus to end the world. The IIC wants to use their Array to at least control the world and possibly end it. Sita’s off to IIC to try to blackmail and bribe them into being used to take out the Telar. Good times, good times.
Thirty hours later, Sita’s near IIC’s primary office in Malibu, with Umara. They’ve been alone for the past six hours and Sita’s learned a lot about the ancient Telar Umara helped create and the current Cradle Brutran’s using to get what she wants. There are parallels, but the two things aren’t fully the same.
Umara tells Sita that simple knowledge of what’s been done isn’t the key to victory, but experience is. Only someone who has died and been reborn can face it. Only Sita. Umara agrees with Sita that the only way to destroy the Telar is to use IIC’s Cradle. Umara won’t go with her because she doesn’t want the IIC to get a picture of her. Instead, she’ll watch the road and keep anyone from entering or exiting while Sita’s there.
Sita walks in like she belongs and is shown in to Brutran’s office within just a few minutes. She’s scanned for metal, first, a new security measure. Sita doesn’t care, because of course she carries no metal weapons. She is the brute force weapon.
When Sita enters Brutran’s office, she secretly opens a vial in her left pocket and lets the liquid seep into her pants. It’s not water. Gee, I wonder what it is. They talk lightly about their summers and how Brutran’s dealing with Wall Street on one side and Telar on the other. Brutran tries to wave the Telar away as an old, pointless annoyance, but Sita calls her on that. They’re IIC’s most lethal enemy.
Brutran subtly warns her away just like she did last time, but this time Sita stays instead of leaving. It’s too late for her to leave now. She can hear the sound of heavy weapons being loaded and targeted on her. Everyone carrying the weapons wants to know why she’s there. She can hear all this even through extensive soundproofing. Sita’s back, y’all.
She tells Brutran that while Brutran knows that Sita had a run-in with the Telar, she doesn’t know what happened during that meeting. Brutran says they have an idea, and Sita figures out that they know about Matt. She suspected as much already, but now she knows for certain. Brutran tells Sita to share her secrets, she’s listening, but Sita’s not inexperienced enough to do that until they come to an understanding.
She says she’s there to accept the job Brutran offered to her last time, with certain conditions. Brutran says the offer was time sensitive and now they can’t work together. Many people in the firm see Sita as a liability.
Brutran still wants the information, though, and says that Sita’s compensation will be them letting her walk out of their alive. Brutran has confidence that she can use brute force against Sita to survive; Sita then asks if she really thinks Sita came unarmed.
She has no metal weapons. She has no plastic explosives.
She has, of course, a virus. They talk about it without Brutran actually realising that she’s already opened the vial, about how the Telar plan to release it soon. Brutran scratches her hands, but she’s too focused on Sita to really notice. Sita says she thinks they’ll release it within the next two weeks, if sooner, and says if the IIC doesn’t work with Sita, they’ll have to frantically try to come up with a vaccine in that time. (Seriously, people, you really should be focusing on a goddamn cure too.)
Brutran tries to bluff that they already have a vaccine, but Sita points out if they did, she wouldn’t have been so horrified when she learned that Sita brought the virus into the building. Brutran grows angry and threatens to have her gunned down if she doesn’t hand over the samples immediately.
Sita goes to the window and tells Brutran that she can try that, but Sita has only one vial of vaccine with her and along with it a vial of sulfuric acid that will neutralize it on contact. She’s holding them both, and if she goes down, the vaccine is gone. Plus, you know, the itching hands, that’s the first sign of infection. Since the virus is highly contagious, it’s now spread to every floor in the building, all the upper floors and even the underground levels. It’s too late to seal the ventilation ducts. No one should leave or enter, because they’re not ready for what will happen if the virus escapes.
Thomas breaks into the room with a dozen men in special ops gear. He’s angry that Sita brought the disease into the building. She had no right. She tells him that she thought they would be impressed, since they pride themselves on using psychic tools to rape people’s minds. Surely they would respect her bold attack.
He doesn’t know how to respond to that and demands she hands over the virus or die. Cynthia blows up at him because they don’t need the goddamn virus now, they need the vaccine. (You need a goddamn cure, and I wish you fuckers would start getting it right.)
She takes out the vaccine and the sulfuric acid and promises to give every person in the building a shot if they come to an agreement. Thomas orders his men to kill her; she tells them that if they shoot her, the vaccine will be destroyed and they’ll all die within the next half hour. Cynthia adds that she’s standing in front of the window for a reason and if they open fire, she’ll escape. Thomas doesn’t believe she’s that fast or strong enough to break the bulletproof glass. Thomas, you are an idiot. Also, Cynthia, aren’t you the one in charge? Why do you keep trying to stop Thomas from giving orders? Just override him.
Cynthia does finally send out the men; Sita makes them leave their weapons. Cynthia begs her to get started with the vaccine, but Sita refuses. She can move fast even while playing nurse and they have time. If she wants to speed things up, she can send Thomas down to get people lined up outside the clinic underground.
Also, this isn’t the most powerful vaccine, this is the first version, the one that will give them a little relief for twenty-four hours. After that, they’ll need another shot from Sita. Thomas begs Cynthia not to give in because they’ll be at Sita’s mercy. Uh, yeah, duh, you already are. What exactly do you think you’re going to be able to do at this point?
Thomas finally leaves and Sita points one of the automatic weapons at Cynthia. She wants to know how it feels, since Cynthia used the Cradle to force a shooting about a week ago, a shooting that left someone Sita loved dead. (That’s the simple way to put it, I guess.)
Cynthia doesn’t flinch, just says that she received a report about it. Sita wants to shoot her. Sita comes close to shooting her. Even though she knows she needs Cynthia to save humanity, she nearly does.
And then she realises that Cynthia didn’t exactly order the hit since she got a report on it, not the full information. Sita wants to know who did, but Cynthia says it’s complicated and thanks to her, they don’t really have time to talk about all the things Cynthia’s done to her. They need to fix terms or Cynthia will walk away from this despite everything.
Sita is impressed despite herself. She tells Cynthia that she wants to take control of the Array and the Cradle so she can wipe out the senior members of the Telar. Cynthia says that’s impossible, but Sita won’t accept that answer.
Cynthia means logically impossible. There are only a few people who can use the Array against another human being; they are called the Lens. There are only about 24 of them, and they all have unique abilities. Sita breaks in to say that she knows IIC created these psychic mutant kids with no empathy, etc. Cynthia will not defend what she’s done, and not just because they’re running out of time but because the situation is more complex than Sita knows.
Anyway, Sita can’t control the Cradle via the Lens, and even if she could, she can’t reach the inner core of the Telar, the Source. IIC’s tried and failed. The only Telar they can harm are the ones they can see with their own eyes, the ones who attack them. The Lens can’t focus on them on the other side of the world, especially if they are linked. Apparently the Source can link their minds together and form the Link (god, there are a lot of capitalised words lately) and that makes them impossible to kill.
Sita offers to give Cynthia samples of their blood. She really does have them, but she won’t go into how, of course. This should allow the Cradle to home in on the Source because blood, even removed from their body, always contains the vibration of the original person. That’s why they needed Sita’s blood to attack her.
Cynthia says that’s partially correct. She had to get Sita’s blood to every member of the Cradle; she doesn’t keep them all in one place. Sita wants to know why, but Cynthia fumes about that being beside the point and running out their time, too. Sita can’t control the Lens because she is too human. She might have killed in the past, but she’s not a killer now.
But they can work together, Cynthia says, to wipe out all the Telar. Sita doesn’t want to kill all the Telar because not all of them are evil. Cynthia says she’s wrong, but Sita’s not going to trust her judgment on that, considering. Cynthia argues that while it might be natural to compare the Telar and the IIC, it is a mistake. Even the young Telar are so old that they’ve forgotten how to feel, and Sita should not protect them.
But that’s Sita’s decision to make and why she won’t just hand over the blood samples. Cynthia should get all the Cradle kids in one place, in an underground room, and that will allow Sita to keep track of the blood. Cynthia grows pale at this, and Sita asks if she’s afraid of the kids. Cynthia agrees she can meet that condition but they’ll have to agree to work together to solve whatever issues come up. This won’t be easy.
They agree that Sita will give the IIC the real vaccine, that Cynthia and the IIC will not steal her blood samples, that Cynthia will return Sita’s blood, and Matt’s blood, you know, the friend who shot Teri on the mountain.
Cynthia knows nothing about Teri dying and is hesitant about only being able to see what she can do to get that blood back. Sita shoots this down. She knows Cynthia’s in charge, she knows Cynthia planted a spy in their group, and she’s determined to put a stop to everything.
Except Cynthia seems to be telling the truth when she says she doesn’t know anything about that part. Sita says she won’t care when Sita uses the Cradle to kill the mole, and Cynthia doesn’t seem to care, just says it’s Sita’s call to make.
Sita’s struggling to get used to her old body again, which is funny considering how much she had not adapted to Teri’s body in the short time she had it. Why would she have so much trouble adjusting back when she never adjusted in the first place? And as confident as she is, she’s worried about failing, because she’s locked herself in the heart of the IIC so she can destroy them as soon as she destroys the Telar, but, you know, even Yaksha failed at stopping the Telar.
Sita is managing to charm the rank and file members of the company to see her as a leader. They know a lot of her history and she’s powerful enough that they are starting to look to her, especially because she’s acting as the doctor with their vaccine and because she treats them with kindness and respect. She doesn’t let this get her guard down, though, because she’s certain that the IIC at other sites are working behind her back with the data the scientists in her location are sending them, frantically trying to create a better vaccine so that they aren’t beholden to Sita.
She’s not real worried about that, though, because she also has the blood samples, and the IIC needs them. She infected the IIC to get them to move quickly, but she knows the Telar blood is what really gives her control.
Cynthia keeps stalling when it comes to the Cradle, and Sita doesn’t know why. Cynthia knows the danger of the virus and she’s been desperate to stop the Telar before, but now she drags her feet. Sita’s been at the IIC for three days and only about 20 kids have shown up so far. She doesn’t think she’s met any of the ones who control the actual Lens, though, and Sita’s patience runs out on the fourth night.
She takes Cynthia for a walk, outside, through a hidden exit Sita’s already been told about. Cynthia and Sita are both loathe to talk inside, but Cynthia’s certain that security will know they’ve left the building. Except that Sita’s befriended Harold, in security, and he’s not going to talk about their escape. Also, the rank and file don’t know she’s a vampire. But I thought just about a page or two ago you said they knew some of her history, Pike. Make up your mind.
They again argue over how to go about this. Cynthia now says she didn’t promise to bring the Cradle to the IIC building, Sita rejects that. Cynthia wants Sita to give her the blood so they can kill the Telar immediately while Sita oversees the operation, accesses their surveillance equipment, etc. Sita rejects that.
Cynthia finally confronts her about why Sita would say no to that offer, and it’s because she also plans to destroy the IIC. Sita doesn’t even deny it and says that they’re dangerous. Sita even calls them like the Nazis, with too much power concentrated among too few. Cynthia blames Hitler’s actions on insanity, because of fucking course she does. Megalomania and racism, and you have at least the first, Cynthia, so fuck out of here. Sita talks about the checks and balances that are built into the USA government and how they are meant to stop people from seizing absolute control. It is to weep.
Cynthia says that Sita understands little about what’s really going on. The words are degrading, but Sita hears the truth in it and encourages her to explain what that is. And, in some ways, Cynthia does. She references what Sharp and Freddy would have told Sita about how the Array and the Cradle came to exist, but also that their view is limited because they were on the outside looking in. Sita says that’s because Cynthia is the real founder of the company; Cynthia hesitantly says that she thought that at the time. She talks about losing Henry and how that made her go “a little crazy” which in turn drove her to do what she did to get Henry to talk back to her. Again with the crazy = dangerous. You’re a peach, Stine.
Cynthia asks Sita a question and says it’s the most important question she’s ever asked anyone. She talks about that battle with the Telar in Colorado and how they escaped by flying into the Rockies. They don’t know exactly what happened, but their best information says that Sita was killed. Sita weighs the risk that puts on her friends over the desperation and loss that Cynthia is projecting, and Sita tells her the truth, both that she died and that she came back to life, but she doesn’t know how.
Sita gives her a version of what happened, days passing, floating near her body, and then she woke back inside her body. When Cynthia asks about Teri, Sita mentions the story in the news that morning, that she fell and broke her leg. The shattered bone ruptured her femoral artery and she bled out. Cynthia thinks she’s leaving things out of the story (which obviously she is) and again asks how she was killed. Sita reminds her of the Cradle possessing a friend of hers and forcing him to shoot her in the heart. Cynthia swears that she knows nothing of this and Sita can tell that’s the truth. She also wants to know how Sita healed the wound. Sita says she doesn’t understand all the qualities of her own vampiric blood. It healed, she recovered, that’s that.
Cynthia gets very emotional over this and talks about the questions that haunt everyone above all else: Do we have souls? Is there life after death? Is her son still alive somewhere? And, of course, Sita understands a mother’s grief over the loss of a child.
Sita gives her one more piece, that Krishna brought her back. Cynthia demands to know if she saw him at the end, but Sita stands by her claim that she doesn’t remember what happened and wishes she could. When Sita tells her to trust her, Cynthia blows up about faith being for the foolhardy and how she can’t believe something just because she’s told it.
And I am sympathetic to this. Sita finds empathy for her in the mother’s loss. I find empathy in that obsessive search for knowledge and to understand. I don’t think there’s life after death in the way of heaven and hell, but I can understand why people believe that, believe in their religion, reach for something bigger than themselves.
Sita’s finally figuring out what Cynthia really did when she began experimenting with the Array. She used it to make money because she needed money to create a powerful Array, but her goal was to find out what had happened with her son. She also dismisses Freddy’s scientific astrology in that he came up with the idea but didn’t create it all by himself.
Goddamn it, I wish she’d just come out and mention this nebulous real leader. I understand in-universe why she wouldn’t, even though she and Sita are allegedly opening up here in an end-of-the-world type way, but I can’t stop seeing the writing structure of it, which is that Pike is intentionally holding it back for a grand reveal but he’s not doing it in a way that works. Sita’s smart. He’s built that up for books upon books. She should be right there trying to figure out who this other person (or people) is that floats in the shadows of everything Cynthia says, but she’s not and the only reason for that seems to be Pike needs her to carry the idiot ball to build to his big reveal. And that comes across as sloppy writing to me.
Anyway, Cynthia turned to trying to get the Array to talk because she had questions like who were they talking to when they asked for information and what was giving them insights, etc. She was tired of yes and no answers and changed the focus of the work.
First, she split the 2000 kids into pairs and gave them each a Ouija board, then asked the simple question: Who are you? The answers came one letter at a time and took a lot of discipline to stick with the program because the messages that came through were fascinating. Spirits claiming to be guides or angels, pages of esoteric knowledge, some garbage but some beautiful and insightful, but Cynthia would only let herself track the responses the group as a whole generated because, as per Sharp’s idea of ESP being a weak signal tapped into by the Array, she couldn’t trust individual or paired responses.
The answer she got for a long time was: I am no one.
Well that’s delightfully creepy!
Cynthia went on to try muscle testing, applied kinesiology, using the strength of an outheld arm to determine which letter was a yes and then doing this for every kid for every letter. This woman was obsessed, and I continue to find her far more sympathetic.
At first, the results were terrible, but the more they worked on it, the more the group mind formed and the kids got the same answer. She says the Cradle didn’t exist when Sharp had his stroke, and that Sita is silly for asking if her work caused Sharp’s stroke, but doesn’t actually say no.
When Sita asks if she was able to contact her son, Cynthia stops and has to take time to recover. Sometimes, they would contact a kind spirit who claimed to be her son. She says it was kind because it felt that way when it was in the room. (Well, Sita calls them “it” and Cynthia calls them “he.”) He told her that he was Henry and he was happy where he was. She doesn’t remember if he ever gave her any practical advice like letting go of her grief and moving on with her life.
Then the No One being came back and took control of the sessions. He wouldn’t let anyone else speak, but he gave Cynthia information she could validate. Fluctuation of the stock market, world events, bad weather in certain countries, plane crashes, earthquakes, fires, etc. Higher than 90% accuracy. By this point, Cynthia had stopped sharing the information with the test subjects. She separated them and used the phone to contact them, then kept them from contacting each other.
Sita asks: Did this brilliant being have a name?
Cynthia says it’s ironic she phrased it like that, because it called itself Ta-Ra-Na; Ra from the sun god in ancient Egypt that also means light or brilliant. All the words together mean the Light Bearer.
It is Sita’s turn to stumble and need a minute. Cynthia asks where she’s heard the name before; Sita says it reminds her of the Bible, and Cynthia immediately hits on Lucifer being called the Light Bearer. Cynthia also says that Sita knows more than she’s letting on and that Cynthia wishes it didn’t have to be that way between them. I mean, you’re hiding shit too, Cynthia. Cynthia admits she’s telling Sita things she’s never even told her husband, but Sita points out that Cynthia also calls them enemies, so.
Anyway, Tarana became the focus of Cynthia’s research, and the Array channeled him exclusively. He taught her simple herbal formulas and exercises to stop the aging process. He showed her how to choose the best candidates for the Array. He even gave her lessons on management and directed her on how to organise the IIC.
Okay, so, we are finally getting some answers (I say finally because it feels like this is taking forever, but we’re not even halfway through this book). Thanks, Pike.
Sita calls Tarana either Cynthia’s subconscious or the combined subconscious of every kid in the Array, not the Light Bearer. Cynthia points out that she sounds like she’s trying to convince herself more than Cynthia and maybe she should have another talk with Freddy, even though she knows he didn’t tell Sita about how many times he came to get Tarana’s insights on the astrological work.
Cynthia calls Freddy brilliant and imaginative but also says he’s a failure at reality. Sita wants to know why they had another kid, then, and Cynthia tries to call Jolie an accident, but, you know, Sita met her. She was no accident and she calls Cynthia out on making Jolie one of the kids born at a certain time and place so she could be used to focus the Cradle. She’s guessing a little, but Cynthia’s reaction gives it away.
Sita then asks about Noel and Wendy, other members of the original IIC, and whether they are still alive. Cynthia says they left the company years ago and of course they’re still alive. After all, if she was going to kill people who refused her, why would she leave Freddy alive? Except Sita calls her on that because Cynthia loves Freddy. She can’t use him as the baseline. Cynthia gets huffy and says that her personal life has nothing to do with anything, but, and as Sita points out, that’s a load of shit. Her personal life led her to create the Cradle, and it is a monster that she’s losing control of.
Cynthia finally admits that yes, she has lost control, to both the kids in the Cradle and the ones who control the Lens, but also neither of those things, too. She’s not sure Tarana has taken over, but it’s whatever stands over the kids when they come together to invoke the Cradle. That’s what has taken over, that power or those beings.
…are we going back to those fucking alien things from a few books ago? Goddamn it, Stine, I signed up for a vampire story, not metaphysical aliens and dimension rifts and religious metaphors and analysis. (Okay, that’s a lie, at least that last part was in there from the beginning.)
Sita, of course, asks about those beings. Cynthia goes back to the questions they asked Sharp at the very beginning: What is the nature of the consciousness they’d use? Is it individual or universal? Is it good or evil? They were philosophising, basically, absolutely certain that nothing bad could happen to them.
Sita’s not convinced by this turn painting Cynthia as the victim, and I can understand why. Especially when she has, you know, forced Sita to put a loaded gun in her mouth that time Sita visited Cynthia in her home. Cynthia says that was the Cradle, not Cynthia; Sita doesn’t believe that because Cynthia created the Cradle.
Are you — are you fucking kidding me?! You literally just got her to admit that she’s lost control of the goddamn Cradle or at least part of it. Whether or not she also wanted to kill you, how the hell are you now not putting that with the idea that whatever has taken control maybe also wants to kill you? See what I was complaining about earlier? It’s like Pike is making her willfully obtuse here so he can info dump via conversation and have his big reveal, too. IT DOESN’T WORK WITH SITA’S CHARACTERISATION OVER THE SERIES OR EVEN WITH THE CONVERSATION THIRTY FUCKING SECONDS AGO.
Goddamn it, Pike.
Cynthia says that she, Sharp, and Freddy helped bring it to life, but Tarana and other creatures like him were behind it from the start. Sita mocks this because it removes their culpability, blaming Satan for the evil and all the people the IIC has killed, etc. Which, yes, but you certainly let Sharp and Freddy find ways to absolve themselves from that responsibility of the thing they created. I don’t think you mean to do it, Pike, but there’s some sexism showing through.
Cynthia tries to slap Sita, but Sita stops her and the fear Cynthia has surprises her. She’s telling the truth, or at least her version of it. Of course, Sita takes the time to call her a bitch, because, again, Pike’s sexism and misogyny is coming through. It doesn’t even sound like a sentence Sita would say.
Cynthia says she doesn’t deny she wanted money and power, but that makes her the same as politicians and CEOs all over the USA. (True.) They kill people, too. (Also true.) That doesn’t make anything in her life okay, though; she was selfish from the start, but she did not want to end up where she is, and it is a waking nightmare.
Sita calls her melodramatic, which is fucking rich coming from her. Cynthia is bitter and says that when Sita released the virus, Cynthia’s first thought was to be glad it would all end soon and that’s why she almost didn’t make the deal.
But she did make the deal, Sita argues, so she must not be as depressed as she claims. Oh get the fuck out of here, Sita. And you too, Pike.
Cynthia says she feels responsible for the people who work for her, and she made the deal to save their lives. Which is a good point and Sita’s certainly ignoring how much of a killer she’s made herself even now. Without the deal, she’d be willing to let all those people, thousands of them, die. I get that it’s them versus the world, but she’s pretty fucking hypocritical.
Then Cynthia says that she teamed up with Sita because she knows Sita is probably the only one who can destroy the Telar — and the Cradle. When Sita asks if she’d kill her own daughter, Cynthia shows her the extensive scarring across her abdomen. When Jolie was three, she asked to stay up and watch tv all night. When Cynthia told her now, Jolie controlled her into burning all the skin off her abdomen. Jesus. And she did it without the Cradle, or at least Cynthia thinks so. JESUS.
Sita is more sympathetic but still says that Cynthia set herself up as the enemy from the beginning and that’s on her, not the Cradle, and she caused Sita and her friends to suffer. She does not forgive nor forget it. Cynthia doesn’t care as long as she stops both the Telar and the Cradle, because if Sita came back from the grave, and who else can say that, then if she can’t stop them, who can?
Two more days later, Sita’s in the center of the Lens in a virtual dungeon deep under the IIC’s building. There’s still one more level below that, and since the floor she’s on is a one-way mirror, she can see the two hundred kids who make up the Cradle gathered below. There are only 25 people, counting Sita, in the Lens itself.
The one-way mirror is made up of some sort of clear hard plastic, something the rest of the world hasn’t heard of yet, and something Sita believes is virtually unbreakable.
The kids all seem to know each other, which means they’ve probably been together before, so either Cynthia’s a liar again or they’re meeting without her knowledge. At this point, I’m going 60/40 that she doesn’t know about it and couldn’t stop it even if she did.
All the kids have been infected with the virus but they’ve all also received the weaker vaccine. Cynthia didn’t stop Sita from doing that, not even with her own daughter. Of the Lens, ¾ are younger than 5 and the others are between 15 and 18. The younger ones are planned, the kids created to do this. They’re too quiet, they don’t run and play. Jolie is in that group, and she’s talking to her stuffed clown toy she calls Mr Topper. Who is creepy as fuck.
The leader of the Lens is an 18-year-old boy called Lark. He’s from Florida and seems the most balanced on the surface, but Cynthia warned Sita about him. When he turned 10, he murdered his parents with the same knife is mother used to cut his birthday cake. He did it because they told him to make a wish on his candles and he wished that they were dead. The IIC is the only thing that kept him from still being in prison.
Lark welcomes Sita cheerfully and looks at her like he wants to rape her, Sita’s words. She’s supposed to be Alisa to the kids, but Lark asks if he can call her Sita. They’ve worked together before; she realises he was the one who has been inside her head. Twice. She tries to intimidate him, he doesn’t feel any worry about it and reminds her that she doesn’t understand how things work and oh yeah, what about that time they made her put a gun in her mouth? And that other time they forced her to viciously, violently devour Numbria the Telar? You know, those times they controlled the fuck out of her.
Sita starts to grab him by the throat, maybe crush his windpipe, but she stops for some reason. She’s not sure which. Maybe the gleam in his eye, darker than anything she’s ever seen. Maybe it’s the fact that the rest of the Lens have circled them, putting her in their crosshairs. Sita knows it is not the time to attack. She needs them to destroy the Telar. When she does attack, it has to come from within, she knows that. Still, she hates to back down in front of him.
She finally does, though, telling him that Numbria was a treat and she hopes they can play with other Telar soon. He very calmly tells her that if she wants to be her friend, he’ll be her friend, but if she challenges him in front of the others again, next time he’ll make sure she pulls the trigger on the gun in her mouth.
Jolie is the only other member of the Lens to come forward to greet Sita. She makes Sita shake Mr Topper’s hand. Up close, Sita can see his eyes and lips are made of lipstick, not blood. Surely you, a vampire, could have told that from across the room, too. Come the fuck on, Pike.
Below them, the Cradle moves into assigned seats that form a spiral while the Lens and Sita sit in a circle. There’s a crystal vase in the center of their room on a copper stool with a red candle in the middle. Jolie sits on Sita’s right, Lark on his left. He speaks through an “electronic device” (…a microphone and speaker? Why are you trying to make it so mysterious?) so the Cradle below can hear him and says an invocation:
all who gather today
are servants of the one
we call upon the powers that be
as wielders of the ancient flame
we pray to the darkness of old
we are thy servants
we are thy hands and feet
and thy eyes and ears
let thy fire
let thy darkness
enter us now and forever
so that we may do thy will
as servants of the one
we invoke the power that destroys
for we are one with thy power
now and forever
we are eternally one
Just once, I want these all-powerful presences to be way more chill about the dramatic language. Anyway, Sita does feel a presence enter the room, just like in Umara’s cave, but here it comes as a choking vibration that Sita recognises as that of the Cradle controlling her. Sita feels that if she tries to resist, it will just get worse, so she tries to let go and trust in Krishna’s grace.
Everyone but Lark sits with their eyes closed. He watches her with eyes so bloodshot the whites look like they’ve been painted red. He doesn’t even start talking before she realises what he’s going to demand of her for her to join the Lens.
He tells her that it’s custom to make an offering to the “powers that be.” What happened to your more dramatic language and less pop culture? The offering is twofold: it strengthens the powers they call on and confirms her commitment to those powers. She has to make a blood sacrifice.
Apparently Umara hinted that Sita might have to kill someone to be accepted into the inner circle. Did she? Because she certainly didn’t seem to anywhere on page, but okay. Sita’s 99% sure that Lisa, the teacher back in Missouri, is the mole. Lisa and her boyfriend showed up at Sita’s home the morning before the Telar attacked her the first time. Lisa’s the one who told her about the IIC but gave her no information to protect herself. Lisa worked for the IIC but allegedly left without suffering any repercussions. Jeff is allegedly dead, but Sita never saw his body. This one time back in Truman, Matt slipped while joking around with Teri at Sita’s pool and cut his head. Lisa’s the one who bandaged him. (How convenient that you finally fucking remembered that after all this time of no no no no way they have his blood.) Sita thinks it was weird that Matt was so careless with his blood that day. And, of course, Lisa was at Sita’s funeral and Cynthia flat out told Sita she had a spy in Denver who confirmed Sita’s death. Who else but Lisa?
Who. else. in. deed.
Sita chooses Lisa but says that she only has a strand of Lisa’s hair, not her blood. Since she’s a normal human, the hair with the DNA is fine for what they need. He has Sita give the hair to Jolie, and Jolie puts it in her mouth. Doesn’t swallow it, just holds it.
They all then hold hands and close their eyes. Lark repeats some of the original invocation with a religious fervor. He believes what he’s saying, and he sounds like he’s talking to someone who is physically present. He chants and chants until Sita feels like she’s only hearing him in her mind; the pain in her skull increases, but she also feels forcibly removed from it.
Finally, he invokes the power to destroy Lisa Fetch, and Sita starts to feel dizzy. Even with her eyes closed, the room spins. Welcome to vertigo, Sita. It’s a grand old time.
Sita feels caught up in an astral tornado and then ends up in Lisa’s condo in Truman. Lisa’s grading exams. She loves numbers as much as she loves people. She’s not a bad person. Sita’s surprised that she betrayed them. Sita reaches her mind before the tidal wave (wasn’t it a tornado thirty seconds ago) and finds her thinking about Shanti and Matt. Her thoughts of them are loving, which worries Sita.
Then they strike.
It’s like a black hole enters Lisa’s world, steals her vision, takes away her will, twists her papers and ink into a mess. Despair overwhelms her and she sees no escape but to kill herself. Sita immediate regrets her decision to sacrifice Lisa; she can’t find any guilt in Lisa’s mind. She begs Lisa to stop, but a hundred other voices disagree and she stabs a pen into the veins of her left wrist. The Cradle has her stab herself multiple times, then figure out she has a fear of heights, so they send her out of her building and to the chapel and its bell tower. Sita can hear the kids’ minds as if they’re one unit, but she’s not one with them, not completely, she still knows who she is and that she wants them to stop. Kind of late for that, Sita.
At the top of the bell tower, Lisa is dizzy and terrified and knows something horrible is happening to her but can’t stop it. She climbs over the edge, takes a step, and then falls. The Cradle loves Lisa’s screams, the sickening impact, the instant agony, the slow fall into darkness. Love, or, Sita thinks, a kind of gluttony for it.
Back in the room with the Lens, Sita feels part of her mind still with Lisa, but she’s also there to see as the crystal vase fills with blood. She’s not sure if it is real or illusion, but it looks real. And then the creatures come, two dozen of them, one for each child of the Lens. They stand behind the kids, touching their shoulders. Umara warned Sita about them, too (really? None of this might have come out sooner? It doesn’t feel like a normal, believable slow reveal of information because we’re in Sita’s fucking head. We should know these things if she does.), and called them familiars, like a witch’s black cat, the true source of the witch’s power.
And this is one of the reasons why people torture black cats stil. Jesus, the hate.
Umara said the Familiars (oh, god, here we go with yet another proper noun) are both the batteries that power the kids and the entities possessing them. In the end, the Familiar always claims the soul of the mortal partner.
At first, they look like oversized kachina dolls “something a Hopi Indian might make for a ceremony.” Good times, good times. Sita says that kachinas are friendly or natural forces, these things are unnatural. They have impaled blades instead of feathers, their hides are more like the raw scalps of human beings and other intelligent creatures from alien worlds. They are not bound to our earth.
Sita’s shocked for one of the few times in her long life, because there are two hands resting on her shoulders. She now has a Familiar assigned to her. She tries to look back at it, but it touches her temple and the touch revolts her. It stops her from turning around and she knows it won’t let her see it, not yet.
The Familiars empty the vase and Sita can hear them licking up the very last drop.
The pressure in her skull eases and the Familiars are gone. She can hear the real room, she can really opens her eyes to see, not just through her mind and other senses, and Jolie and Lark actually comfort her a little after this first time. Jolie even admits that she threw up the first time; Lark says it gets easier.
When Lark says that their minds link and they become one when they sit together like that (confirming Sita’s belief that they meet regularly), Sita wants to know if he can read her thoughts. She couldn’t get their thoughts, just their overall mood; Lark confirms that’s all they get, too, and then teases her over offering them an innocent victim. If Sita didn’t know that, she didn’t see into Lisa’s mind; Lisa never betrayed them. Sita’s pleased the powers and been accepted into the Cradle.
Sure, he could be lying, but, you know, there’s plenty of evidence of another potential traitor. Sita literally thought about it half a second after laying out some of the reasons Lisa must be guilty.
Lark tells her to speak of her Familiar with more respect because he’s very special and her master now. She asks if he saw her Familiar, but Lark doesn’t answer her question. Now this is believably withholding information, because of course he wouldn’t. Though I am curious as to why Sita thinks herself looks any different than the others, because she didn’t seem to think any of the others were distinguishable.
Cynthia wants to debrief Sita after, but Sita wants to be alone. She gets her own private space on the fourth floor and locks herself away. She feels like she’s in deeper than she planned. Mentally connecting to the Cradle like that reminds her of when the Telar tortured her with the Pulse, a device to create agony that caused her so much pain it made her lose her sense of her self. The psychic connection to the kids did the same thing.
Except the Cradle is probably worse, because now, even when alone, she doesn’t feel alone; she feels like she has two shadows and the second shadow follows her around but does what it wants. She feels watched and touched and afraid.
Apparently Matt gave Sita what he swears is a secure phone, so she calls Amara to hear a friendly voice. Sita updates her quickly, but then turns down the offered help because she still doesn’t trust Cynthia and wants to keep the plan in place.
Umara tells her that her Familiar is still attached to her all the time now and it will grow stronger the more she feeds it. The pain and suffering is just dessert, it feeds on everything, is listening to what they say, and comes up with long-term plans.
Sita begs for good news. Shanti and Seymour are 100% cured and they’re ready to start manufacturing the stronger vaccine. Sita suggests Charlie comes in to the IIC and have them help mass produce it; the IIC should get it up in two days. The Telar could kill half the population in that time, which is why Sita thinks they need to get started on it right now. Umara points out my concern, which is that without daily shots, Sita loses some control over IIC, but Sita’s certain that the Telar blood is a stronger control.
Before Umara hands the phone over to Matt, she tells Sita that she had to sacrifice Lisa, it was her only way in. Sita acknowledges that but says it doesn’t make her feel better. She doesn’t say that Lisa may have been innocent, which you’d think would be something she would admit to Umara, at least.
Matt has stopped arguing with Sita over not going to the IIC. He says it’s because it’s too late, but she thinks he sounds like he no longer cares about anything in the aftermath of Teri’s death. Which is valid.
During a part of the conversation about how much they loved Teri and how Sita hopes to see her again, Sita tells him she loves him. He waits a long time to respond, and then tells her that she’s always in his heart.
One final update from Matt: Lt. Trench came to Teri’s funeral, but he’s confused about all sorts of things. Dr. Trench is in a mental hospital. Jesus fuck, Sita, you fucked everything up for them. I sure as hell hope you can fix it for both of them.
(Yes, okay, I have a pretty hard response to a professional losing their career to mental illness, and to have it forced upon them like this, when Sita knew she wasn’t up to strength and tried it all anyway, infuriates me.)
Sita talks him through another hypnosis to remove what she put in before. He still hesitates. She’s not sure why, considering she’s at full strength. Fucking hell, Sita, you’re going to make him mush. He says that he feels something dreadful there, and she realises he’s sensing the Familiar and it’s trying to disturb the healing she’s doing.
Sita realises she can no longer act the healer until she’s rid of the Familiar, and that bothers her. She’s not used to being out of control, and she feels exposed with having it around.
Sita thinks back to that time during the drive from Santa Cruz to Malibu — you know, that distant time of less than a couple weeks ago, a period of time we already fucking read about. I don’t mind stories told out of order, but I am deeply annoyed at the weird pacing in this one.
Anyway, Sita asks Umara how a “primitive culture” like the ancient Egyptians came up with something as sophisticated as the array. Umara calls her on that bullshit, asking who the hell she’s calling primitive. She doesn’t go so far as to call it what it is, at least in part: it is racism, the idea that brown people could never possibly have come up with something sophisticated. This is behind the theories that aliens must have built the pyramids, the Incan temples, etc., because clearly no primitive (read: brown people) could have come up with something that even modern (read: white people) struggle to figure out how they could have done it.
Anyway, Umara explains that they were a religious people who worshipped many deities but understood they were all manifestations of one god. Umara started out not as a priestess but as a pot maker, and she loved the satisfying work.
The array started innocently when they gathered near the banks of the Nile at night to pray. They sang the same dozen songs over and over and took the time to enjoy the silence after every hymn, sitting quietly in it. They were “a sensitive race” (oh those brown people closer to nature and all) and many of them sensed a presence in the silence. One night, while they sat in the silence after prayers, some of them began to make involuntary sounds. Speaking in tongues, Sita calls it. Umara says it was like an energy burst out of a few of them. They didn’t know what they were saying, but it sounded like a language, it had structure and syntax. It wasn’t gibberish, not like Sita calls it; at first ten of them spoke it. Then more than a thousand. And at that point, they started seeing the meaning in the words.
Sita finds this all ridiculous, but Umara’s faith in what she says is unwavering. They started to write down the words and realised that a higher intelligence was trying to teach them things, like how to sterilise their milk and water by boiling it, how to use aqueducts in farming, etc. Dear god, Pike, are you really going with knowledge coming from some sort of alien, other-dimensional presence? Fucking hell.
Sita continues to be skeptical, but that doesn’t much bother Umara. Why would it, really? She’s twelve thousand years old. To her, Sita must seem like an impatient child sometimes. Umara’s people started calling their array the Source and it helped their culture evolve rapidly in just a few years, into higher math, algebra and geometry, engineering, etc. Sita scoffs, wanting to know if Umara will tell her next that they built the Great Pyramids. Umara says no, it came later, but not as late as Sita thinks. Sita points out that she was in Egypt five thousand years ago and she knows they had pyramids then, but there’s no way they had them seven thousand years before that.
And yet, Umara says, they did. Sita can tell she’s not lying, but still struggles to believe. And Umara talks to her about the hypocrisy in her being so willing to believe Sharp with his style of science versus Umara with her religion and science entwined.
Eventually, the most sensitive of Umara’s people found they could link their minds together so they could hear the language as clearly as Sita can hear her speak. Umara points out this is something similar to how Sita’s mind melds with Seymour, how he was able to write her life story before he met her. Sita admits that connection exists and that she can sometimes hear other people’s thoughts, but she’s never had the universe speak to her.
This explains things to Umara, and Sita gets pissy at her being “smug.” Damn, Sita, stop being a shit. Umara says that Sita’s problem comes from the fact that Krishna has never spoken to her since his death; if he had, she wouldn’t find the Source impossible.
That hurts Sita. Mostly because it’s true.
Sita turns talk back to how they linked their minds. Just like with the Array, Umara’s people had a thousand who could sense the Source, a hundred who could channel information from it, and a dozen who could link their minds to function as one. They called their inner circle the Link. Umara wasn’t the head of it, her father was, but she was a member and saw how it evolved over time.
And this is the Telar’s deepest secret: It took more than two decades before the Source started teaching them about ways to extend their lives, similar to the things Cynthia uses from the Array. The secret of immortality comes from the Link; a great white light came and blessed them. Umara knows Sita will have trouble with this part (more than she already has had, I guess), but if she survives the IIC, she’ll have no trouble believing it in the future. As they aged, very slowly, the Link grew in power. About one hundred years in, they had a great breakthrough; they were fasting and meditating on their largest pyramid and the Link grew stronger and stronger until they could look into realms Sita could not even imagine. They learned from beings like angels and elementals and gods, learned and went higher and higher until they thought they might one day see god — and then the came to them. Sita mocks this, but Umara gently berates her because Sita’s only alive in her own body because Umara could bring her back, something that, in part, came from the light, the glory and power of it never left her. Once it left, everyone in the Link and most of the people who could contact the Source were immortal.
Sita wants to know what went wrong, because something always goes wrong and also Umara’s the only one left of the Link. Umara’s sad now, and talks about how difficult it was for them to return to the physical world after the light gave them so much joy. The Link were leaders of the people, but how could they lead when all they could think about was returning to the light? It separated them from their people and both sides resented the other.
They were never able to make it back to the great white light and it made them frustrated. In that, Umara thinks they began to attract other beings that could make them promises. The Familiars. Umara knows now that they only came because the Link were selfish and self-absorbed, they didn’t pray and meditate for their people any longer.
The Familiars gave them powers, telekinesis, the ability to create walls of fire, etc. Which was useful when the non-immortal part of their people attacked them because they wanted the same gift. Everyone in the Link survived, but many in the Source died. Umara hid in their pyramid but could still hear the screams as her people burned to death. The Familiars liked to kill slow even then; she didn’t know at the time that they fed on the agony. This lasted three days, and then Umara’s father made himself king of all the land and created stern laws. They’d never had a king before, never had a caste system, but now they did, all the way up those in the Link being treated like gods. Umara hated it and begged her father to let them go back to their simple life where everyone was equal. He said it was impossible and he wouldn’t stop invoking the Familiars.
The Familiars started to make demands, like human sacrifices. Her father said no at that, but a member of the Link, Hatram, poisoned him and made himself King. Shortly after they started slowly burning a dozen people to death in honor of every full moon. Mothers, children, elders, didn’t matter.
Hatram raped Umara, because of course no story is complete without powerful women being raped, and ordered her death. This was a thousand years after he’d made himself king. Half of the Link worked together to kill him, the only way to stop him, but he learned of the plan and used the Familiars to plot a horrible vengeance. Umara’s friends helped her hide, and shortly after this, Hatram could no longer link with anyone. He couldn’t even invoke the Familiars. And then Umara killed him.
But she had his child, Haru. He’s not her brother, he’s her son, like Matt. Umara swears that Haru is nothing like Matt. Sita asks if she will be okay with killing Haru in the next couple weeks. Umara says yes. She slit his father’s throat. It is necessary.
Ugh, I love Umara so much. I wish we’d gotten more of her and Yaksha together.
Cynthia interrupts Sita’s remembering this scene that we need to know now and never before and brings Sita a package. Sita tells her that she’s ordered the permanent vaccine to be sent to the IIC with the man who invented it. Even though he’s Telar, she wants the IIC to show him every courtesy and help him manufacture as much of the vaccine as possible because they are going to start attacking the Telar that night.
IIC’s intelligence has the Telar producing the virus in bulk in Rio and Tokyo but not elsewhere, at least not on a large scale, though there might be movement on many small scales that they don’t know about. The president of the Red Cross works for the IIC, so they can use that to get the vaccine out.
Cynthia wants to know how the initiation went. Sita asks if the room is secure, and Cynthia says she can talk freely, only Cynthia is listening. Sure. Sita tells her that it was amazing, a descent into hell that left her with a splitting headache and Cynthia should be proud of herself. This is going well.
The kids are off feeding lines of code into a computer file that they keep secret from the rest of IIC. This startles Sita, and she asks if it has anything to do with that CII game, Cosmic Intuitive Illusion. Cynthia wants to know how she knows about it; all Sita will say is that she has a friend who’s obsessed with it. Cynthia guesses it is Paula Ramirez’s child.
The IIC’s best hackers have determined that the Cradle is building a massive online program that can move in and out of almost any computer system and adds lines of code to the CII game every day to make it harder to beat. None of the hackers have ever beaten the game and they don’t know what the game represents. However, hackers that spend a lot of time playing it become paranoid and delusional.
Cynthia didn’t tell Sita about this because she was trying to protect her. Sita can tell that is the truth.
Cynthia talked to Lark and her daughter once about it and was warned to back off. The program is heavily protected and very sophisticated. Some of her best people even call it extraterrestrial.
Sita calls that silly.
Are you — are you fucking kidding me? After everything you’ve seen recently, after everything you’ve seen in your long life, after that whole thing where you fucking turned into moonlight and basically went into space, you are going to call this silly?
PIKE. What the fuck happened to character growth?!
Sita decides that she wants to reassemble the Cradle in six hours. She also tells Cynthia that she can understand how Cynthia lost control of it, but that she should have never opened the door at all.
The package is Yaksha’s book. Sita was never able to find the parts that deal about the Telar, until she realised that the book starts and ends with blank pages. Are you — are you fucking kidding me? Pike, she would have already tried those pages. She’s not stupid. She’s supposed to be incredibly smart and clever and driven. You cannot, for an instant, expect me to believe that she sprayed her blood on all the other goddamn pages but the blank ones. WHAT THE HELL IS THIS SLOPPY WRITING, PIKE?!
A N Y W A Y
On the last blank page, Sita finds a quote from Krishna describing the Hydra. The offspring of Echidna (head of a beautiful woman, body of a serpent) and Typhon (a hundred horrible heads “that could touch the stars and change their courses in the heavens”). Okay, that is lovely.
The Hydra lived in the swamps near Lerna in Argolis. Body of a serpent, many heads (nine — which, uh, compared to his father seems like actually not that many heads), one head can’t be harmed by any weapon, heads grow back, etc. Hercules, the son of Zeus, volunteered to slay the Hydra and took his nephew, Iolaus, with him. Hercules started hacking off heads before he realised that wouldn’t work — I mean, surely you should have had that information going into this? He called for help from Iolaus, who brought a flaming torch and cauterized the open wounds, stopping the heads from growing back, until all that was left was the head that couldn’t be harmed by any weapon. So Hercules crushed it with a club? Which wasn’t a man-made weapon, I guess? Maybe he used a big hunk of wood with no shaping or a chunk of stone? And then tore it off with his bare hands, which makes more sense. Sort of. I mean, technically, isn’t Hercules part human and part god? So arguably, he was made of man in part and therefore his hands are also man-made weapons. I’m just saying.
Hercules and Iolaus then buried the head deep in the ground and covered it with a boulder so it would never be disturbed by people in the future. Or, you know, marked the place to draw treasure hunters and monster lovers to it. Tomato, tomato. (HEE.)
Sita finds this fascinating because the many-headed theme connected the Greek myth to her enemies. Are you — are you fucking kidding me, PIKE? She is supposed to be this genius, learned, experienced FIVE THOUSAND YEAR OLD VAMPIRE WHO DOESN’T FUCKING KNOW GREEK MYTHOLOGY AND COULD NOT POSSIBLY CONNECT THE MANY-HEADED MONSTER OF MYTH TO THE METAPHORICAL MANY-HEADED MONSTER OF PRESENT DAY?!
STINE STOP MAKING HER HOLD THE GODDAMN IDIOT BALL.
Okay. Okay. Okay.
Apparently, Hercules and Iolaus are dead ringers for Arjuna and Krishna. Hercules came dashing in with fiery arrows, Arjuna was the greatest archer of his time. Iolaus was Hercules’ charioteer and nephew. Krishna was Arjuna’s charioteer and cousin. Iolaus figured out how to destroy the Hydra, Krishna had to force Arjuna to fight despite Arjuna being the supreme warrior. Yes, truly, I see the parallels.
Sita decides that Krishna cast himself as Iolaus and Yaksha as Hercules. Krishna knew that Yaksha would contain the Telar but not be able to destroy them. But who does the head that can’t be killed belong to?
…sort of seems like you, Sita, if you count coming back from death as can’t be killed.
We finally get to the point where Sita is going to use the IIC to remove the Telar. She knows she’s walking a fine line and if she can’t separate her weapon from her target, the world will die. No pressure, though. She gives each kid in the Cradle a vial of Ruth and Hurley Marherr’s blood, two high members of the source.
I am curious as to why you’d do only two at a time, Sita, and give the Telar time to regroup after that first surprise hit. Maybe you can’t do all of them at once, but sure you could do more than two in quick succession on the same night. Sure, it took a lot out of you, but those kids seemed pretty chill after last time.
The Cradle has never been able to kill Telar and a distance and the kids have never successfully attacked the Source. Sita and the blood give them a big advantage. They join hands, close their eyes, hold their vials of blood. This time, all the kids join in Lark’s chant and that pressure in Sita’s skull returns. She thinks that means this kind of psychic work isn’t good for the brain and the kids won’t live very long if they keep it up. Sure, you just keep telling yourself that.
She feels her Familiar return. He knows her and she knows nothing about him. But she is, psychically at least, in Geneva at the Marherr home. Hurley is in a hot tub. Ruth is taking out the garbage and when she crushes a beetle, it’s clear that she hates bugs and that’s all the Cradle needs. They make a giant beetle that orders her to put chlorine in the hot tub filter or it will eat her. She does, and Sita sees the cleverness of the attack, an attack she thinks is led by Lark. Ruth is the weaker of mind, Hurley physically more vulnerable, so this is a neat two-pronged attack. The beetle then sends her running out to her husband. The fumes of the chlorine is frying his lungs and the chemicals in the water are burning off his skin and blinded him. Ruth tries to pull Hurley free, but he starts to drag her into the water. Then the beetle turns up and kicks her, sending her into the water so fast she inhales some and starts to choke. Then the plastic sheet comes to cover the water. Their skin is falling off and they’re vomiting blood. This is just icing on the bloody murder cake. The Cradle, or the Familiars, release its grip to savour the fear and pain. Sita can see the Familiars behind each of the kids and yet not her own. She can feel its hold on her getting stronger as they feed them.
This time, the work is very draining on the kids. When they come out of it, Jolie’s nose is bleeding and Lark is exhausted. Sita says that they should strike again in three hours. Lark wants them to wait at least a day before their next attack. Sita refuses so as not to give the Telar time to regroup any more than they already will. She’ll take charge this time. Lark is not super pleased, but it is what it is.
Okay, I suppose this is a good reason not to hit more than two at once, but at the same time, I never got the impression that they would know this before the first hit on the inner group, so why were they reluctant to do more than two? Ah well, again, it is what it is.
Charlie’s at Sita’s room when she gets back. He has trouble looking Sita in the eye now that she’s back in her own body and he twitches more than usual around her. He wants to know what to do first, and she tells him to give the vaccine to Dr Hayes, the world’s best experts on viruses. The IIC poached him the day before. Charlie is going to teach Dr Hayes and his staff any tricks to speed up the manufacture of the vaccine and then inoculate everyone in the building except the people under eighteen. He’s to keep that quiet. They’ll catch on eventually, but not immediately. She promises that Matt will take care of vaccinating them when he comes in; she’s going to call him in soon. She orders Charlie to stay away from the kids because they aren’t what they appear to be. And you’re Telar, dude. You know what this plan is about.
She finally asks how the virus kills in the end; it was designed to destroy the central nervous system. It migrates to the spinal cord and the brain stem and causes severe hemorrhaging. Sita describes it as causing people’s head to explode, thinking back to the Hydra myth; he says that’s pretty much it, at least internally. It takes somewhere between six and twelve hours to kill.
When Sita calls Matt, she finds him and Seymour playing CII. Seymour says it makes him feel odd now that he’s been playing it for longer periods of time. Depressed. And they’ve discovered that what you see and hear while playing isn’t what you actually get. They send her a piece of the game and she watches it. At first it’s like any other video battle scene, hero, weapons, fighting alien creatures. But Sita almost immediately starts to hear voices in the background, the words either sped up or slowed down to an extreme that means sita can’t tell what’s being said. Matt has the same problem with it, so he recorded it and played with the speed. In the middle of the battle, at high speed, Lark’s invocation is flowing in an endless loop. With it, at slow speed, is something demonic, power from pain, control through fear, inflict pain and become free of fear, control both and merge into the one, etc. All sorts of fun things.
It’s a subliminal feed.
The game gives clues in the right ear and instructions in the left ear, forcing players to listen in stereo, which is what made Matt suspicious. They do that so humans pick up binaural beats. Basically, the human ear can hear between 20 and 20,000 hertz. But if you play 300 hertz on the right and 310 on the left and the sounds are carefully synchronized, they cancel each other out and all that’s left is the difference, the 10 hertz. Which is too low for the human to hear, but the brain recognises the sound and absorbs what’s being said. Also, binaural beats cause the brain hemispheres to sync.
This puts players into a hypnotic state. The game also puts masked images in front of players, the main one being a person torturing another person, the image flashed for less than one hundredth of a second. There may be as many as 1000 images in a minute.
Sita catches them up on the Cradle adding code to the game every day. John apparently plays it to let them know he’s around; Seymour wonders if he’s taunting them. Matt’s worried that it’s brainwashing him. Sita thinks he can take care of himself and she’s more worried about how the Cradle is integrating another program into the internet. Matt and Sita both think that program might be spying on other computers or other people, and if Sita can find out where it’s located online, he’ll look at it.
Seymour’s now wondering if they should have used the Telar to take out the IIC since they have the vaccine and all, but Sita is certain that Haru would merely find another way to wipe out humanity.
Matt’s worried about her and asks if she needs help. Sita wants Matt and Umara there in four hours exactly, no earlier. She doesn’t tell him why, but we know that she wants to do the next attack before she brings Umara into the Cradle because Umara’s her ace in the hole and can probably only be used once.
Seymour throws a fit over Sita wanting to leave him and Shanti behind. He calls himself the smartest of the group, but it comes across as fairly self-deprecatingly, which means it’s not obnoxious as hell. He has a good point about Shanti, though, who gives natural protection from the Cradle.
Once Umara is alone with the phone, she and Sita talk about how hard this is on Sita, harder than she imagined, and how she’s worried that the Familiars are using her. Which is what they do, Umara points out, and says it is time to help protect Sita from them. Sita hates exposing Umara like this after she’s hidden for so many millennia, but there’s no real choice: Sita needs help, as loathe as she is to admit it. And in the end, Seymour gets his way: he and Shanti are joining the party. Paula and John are not; Sita wants to keep John away from the IIC even though, as Umara points out, he has more power than all of Sita’s team put together.
Sita’s back in the room with the Lens. This time, they hold the blood of four Telar this time, who work together in the USA often. She’s right, too, and they are in the same suite, even. She looks around the room to figure out where they are, and freaks out a little because they are only twenty miles away. Well isn’t that mighty convenient.
The four Telar form the Link and the mental fusion surrounds them like a fiery bubble; Sita can see the Familiars that support them. They are different than the ones in the Cradle, taller and more humanoid with broad wings and fearsome faces that radiate a red glow. Their power is ancient and strong and Sita knows they’ll have a difficult fight this time.
She warns Lark not to attack with her okay and, of course, he attacks immediately. The blast he sends is powerful; it has the energy of the Lens and the Cradle, but also the entire Array now. The bolt hits like a laser and for a second it seems like it will break through; Sita gets a useful glimpse at their security. But then the bubble hardens and a globe of burning silver launches itself from the bubble at the Lens. It hits like a physical torpedo. Half the kids in the Cradle below scream and the ones in the Lens are in great pain. They’re not even at the top level of the Source and they’re in trouble.
This time, when Sita tells Lark to back off, it hurts to send him the message, feels like someone hit her in the back of the skull with a baseball bat loaded with dynamite.
Sita gives the kids time to settle, and the Telar don’t attack like that again. Sita thinks it took a lot out of them to do it, in large part because Umara says they’re not used to using the Link to hurt others, not like the Lens does. They thought they were invulnerable for eons.
Sita talks through the sound system to the kids below them even though she remains in the Lens trance. She tells them there’s nothing to fear and she’s going to take command. She saw a clear picture of how the Telar are protected, including the fact that there are Telar guards outside the door. One of them is the granddaughter of the four in the room, so they can use the blood to pinpoint on her and then attack.
For once, Sita was being honest with the Cradle about how she thinks her plan will work. That guard is more afraid than the others, and her fear can be the door through which the Cradle enters her. They’re going to use her to knock on the door and start shooting if no one answers or if the guards try to stop her. It doesn’t really matter, that will be enough to break the Link.
But will it?
The full power of the Cradle pours through Sita and she realises the kids trust her more than Lark now because when he disobeyed her order, he got them hit with a lot of pain. Now they want to end those four Telar in particular.
It goes to plan: the guard, Darla, knocks, gets stopped, shoots half the guards dead and explodes the rest with shock wave grenades, and then blows open the hotel room door. The Link is broken, and the Telar there shoot Darla the second the door opens. Surely they could tell where she was through it and shoot her without giving her time to the open the door. Come on.
Sita guides the Cradle to the mind of one of the Telar women inside the room. They force her to turn her guns on the others; the others shoot her down first. Sita moves them to one of the men, but he resists the order long enough to call out the word “Tarana,” which shuts down their psychic laser.
Tarana, the creature that taught Cynthia a bunch of secret knowledge. Tarana, who apparently also works for the Telar? Or, more likely, the Telar work for it as well. For a few seconds, Sita doesn’t know what’s gone wrong or how, and then she’s standing back in the Lens room, the kids staring at her. They broke the Telar’s link, but the Telar still managed to break them using Tarana. Many of the kids have nosebleeds this time.
Sita is going to go after those Telar with some of Cynthia’s men. She wants the kids to follow the Telar, to track their movements, not attack them.
Lark’s nosebleed is particularly bad, and he’s lost his cocky grin. He’s used to controlling evil spirits, but things have gotten away from him. He can both talk and stay connected to the Cradle and will help her track the Telar.
Jolie begs her not to go, but Sita promises that it is better to kill them with her hands than waste their mental powers trying to take them down. After this group, there is only one more group to kill.
Thomas rushes off to get things together for the attack, leaving Cynthia and Sita to talk. Cynthia’s worried about what will happen when they go after Haru and his people. If he sets up a Link, and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t without Sita’s “secret weapon,” Cynthia doesn’t think they’ll be able to punch through it. But Sita does have a secret weapon.
Cynthia demands to go with her, even though Sita barely managed to escape her house in Missouri when just one Telar attacked her. So, uh, why do you think you’ll be able to take out all three? Oh, Sita.
The three Telar have left the hotel and are headed to the twin towers in the city, 44 stories tall. They’re unique in that they have flat roofs. Sita thinks the Telar must have sensed her behind the Cradle or they wouldn’t be so willing to run. You, uh, you don’t think they’d be willing to run anyway? You know the Cradle has killed Telar before.
Cynthia and Sita are talking about the Telar weapons and Cynthia’s confidence in the helicopters when one of them lights up with a dozen lasers focused on it. The hull temperature is driven up to over 400 degrees F and the fuel tank might explode soon. Cynthia doesn’t want to let them retreat, but Sita urges her to let them. Cynthia’s just giving permission when the helicopter explodes. Oy.
Cynthia’s helicopter veers off, and Sita’s helicopter flies low to stay away from the laser. While they were higher, Sita notices there were more people and weapons on the north tower but the south tower had a single helicopter and the buildings connect underground. It could be a trick. You think?
Cynthia’s doing reconnaissance, it seems, and tells Sita the Telar are entering the north tower. Sita thinks the Telar are probably listening to their discussions over the radio and are really planning on taking off from the south tower. Her pilot is reluctant to believe that, but she tells him to just fly over the south tower and let her jump out. He can come back for her if she’s wrong. You mean, after he’s been shot down, too? Sure.
Sita has to use some power on him to get him to follow her orders, but ends up armed with a rifle, lots of ammo, and a dozen grenades, then ends up having to steer the helicopter toward the tower when the lasers hit and blind the pilot temporarily. She’ll turn the helicopter right before she leaps out and he’ll have to take the helm then.
This reminds Sita of the last time she jumped out of a helicopter to escape the Telar, that time she had Shanti in her hands and Teri was with Seymour. Teri shattered her leg in that fall and her death was inevitable from then, though Sita put it off for awhile.
She leaps alone in the laser fire and lands rolling along the top of the south tower. The helicopter makes a quick drop to hide on the other side of the building, out of the range of the lasers, which immediately turn on Sita instead. The north roof has three helicopters and a dozen armed fighters, but they don’t open fire on Sita immediately, and she decides that means her theory was right, because they’re too afraid of hitting the one helicopter on the south tower because that’s where the Source member is headed.
Sita tries to keep the Telar from switching to the north tower now that she’s on the south by getting to the corner of the building to open fire on the north tower, but when she’s not in line of sight to the helicopter, they open fire on her. How she didn’t see this coming, I have no idea. Pike has completely given up on Sita the experienced genius, I guess. They’ve switched to regular machine guns, at least, instead of their lasers.
When the armour-piercing bullets start tearing into the concrete wall protecting her, Sita launches herself upright and kills half a dozen people on the north tower, which sends the rest ducking for cover and not firing on her.
She takes that moment to race to the helicopter on her side and disables it by removing a chip from the ignition system. She can replace it if she needs it later.
Sita enters the building and heads downstairs, searching for the heart signature of the Telar. There are enough floors that it strains Sita’s hearing to hear beneath the twentieth level, but luckily she hears people combing the stairway and only then because it’s a hollow chamber full of echoes. Sita knows they’re Telar but not whether they are the three she wants, and she doesn’t want to waste time on Telar foot soldiers. She listens for awhile without taking action, and eventually decides that it must be the ones she wants because they stick close together and there are two men and one woman. No possible way they are any other Telar then, of course.
Sita gets the elevator to her floor and then jams it in place using a trash can. The Telar seem confused by what she’s done, and they continue up the stairs anyway. Sita finds the stairwell they’re in and tries to quietly open the door, but the lower hinge screeches and the Telar freeze twenty-five floors below. Sita slips into the stairwell and listens for them; they are also holding still and listening.
Sita has grenades and does some estimating on how hard she must throw them to ensure they explode at the Telar, not above or below. The Telar go to a door at the last second, right before the explosion. This one throws hot shrapnel and Sita hears one of them get hit with metal and fall. The other two run for the main elevators.
Sita goes to the elevator she has waiting and pushes the button for the lobby. It’s a slow descent. She wants to reach the bottom ahead of them. Surely there is a faster way than taking the elevator, but sure, okay, I’m just going to roll with what looks like stupid decisions.
On the first floor, Sita shoots the two Telar guards waiting by the front door and then checks out the main elevator board. The two Source members stopped ten floors above her; she already has another elevator waiting. She bets they heard her kill the guards and now wonder if the roof is a better way to escape.
Sita gets into the waiting elevator, which is next to the one they’re using. She can hear them talking and wonders why they aren’t being silent, but then figures out that they are actually smart. They have two cell phones talking to each other, not normal cell phones because Sita would have been able to notice the difference, but fancy Telar cell phones, the sound perfect. The Telar never left the tenth floor. They tricked Sita.
I am delighted.
Sita rushes to the stairwell when she manages to get off the elevator two floors up, but they duck into the third floor. She figures out they will jump through an office window to escape her. She underestimated them and they’re going to get away. Unless she gets to the ground floor at the same time they do.
There are a lot of exclamation points throughout this, which seem really out of place.
Sita hears the Telar hit outside and she has maybe five seconds before they reach the north tower, but she hesitates before she jumps fourteen floors (which she knows she can survive). They don’t know she can’t see the ground on their side of the building because of the layout of the fourteenth floor, so why would they expose themselves running between the two buildings?
Then she realises that they are still on the tenth floor, they never moved, and they’re trying to get Sita to leave the building. They threw desks or something out the window to trick her. She does the same, and assumes they will fall for the trick even though she didn’t, even though she doesn’t know if they can look down and see that she didn’t actually jump.
Sita gets to the top floor and heads for the helipad. A helicopter is coming in and she shoots out the tail rotor and tail fin, sending it spiralling out of control, then approaches the two Telar. They tell her that they don’t support Haro and told them not to take Sita prisoner. It’s true, so Sita gives them a truth as well, that they ordered the creation of the virus as a part of the Source. They say that they never thought it would be used, and that it still hasn’t been released. And they can’t guarantee it won’t be released.
The man asks Sita to spare his daughter, Alia, because she opposed the virus from the start, she’s only a member of the Source because of him, and Haru hates her. Alia already wants out because she finally saw the spirits that Haru attached to them. The man knew about them. Alia did not.
Sita agrees to let Alia live, mostly because she needs one of them alive. Alia doesn’t want to leave her father, but he is gentle and calm with her. Alia begs Sita, and Sita tells her not to push her luck. She wants something from Alia for her life as it is. She wants Alia to hit Haru’s temple with a barrage of cruise missiles. Well, that’s one way to help attack from outside the Lens.
They talk about how impossible that will be, but Sita says when she contacts Alia, it will be because the Link has been broken and they’re open for attack. The man tells Alia the codes and numbers she needs to do what she needs to do. He whispers it in ancient Egyptian, but Sita hears and remembers every word anyway.
The man asks if she really met Krishna and whether he was who he said he was: Sita says she doesn’t know, but she thinks so, and he was more wonderful than anyone could dream. He thanks Sita for his daughter’s life. Just as Sita raises the rifle, a hammer cocks behind her. She spins and shoots Alia in the heart. The only way she can ease the man’s grief is shoot him, too, but she needs one of them alive, so sucks to be him.
She takes him into the helicopter she disabled, puts the chip back in, and they fly away.
Back at IIC, the whole gang, except for Paula and John, wait for Sita in her room. Cynthia’s with them, and before she leaves, she asks Sita about the Telar in the towers. Sita says she killed the three in the south tower; the IIC hasn’t been able to retrieve the bodies, but Sita is certain they are dead. Well, you should be certain one is dead. One is alive, as you well know, and that third might still be alive, too, since you never fucking checked either.
A Telar helicopter landed on the south tower a few minutes after Sita left it. Sita says it was probably looking for survivors. She also says she talked to the Telar man before she killed him. Cynthia wanted her to bring the bodies back, but Sita points out they have no physical confirmation that the couple from the previous attack are dead, either.
Cynthia wants to know why the others are there and is trying to pretend she doesn’t know any of them, but she does. It’s also clear to Sita that Cynthia doesn’t know Umara as Umara but as Mary, Freddy’s girlfriend, but Sita knows that disguise won’t last.
Sita tells her that Matt and Seymour will assist Charlie with the vaccine treatment but refuses to tell Cynthia about Shanti and Umara. They fight over whether Shanti can go near the Cradle because she damaged the effectiveness of the Array. They don’t come to any agreement before Sita finally gets Cynthia to leave so she can be with her friends, her allies.
Shanti thinks she should rest, but Umara says she can rest later because the next attack is the key. Haru will risk everything so they must as well. Sita tells them that she let Kram go after shooting his daughter because she needs physical weapons to rain down on Haru after they removed the psychic weapons. Umara doesn’t trust that Kram will help them against Haru, but there’s not much they can do about that now.
Umara tells the others that Lisa is dead, which breaks Shanti’s heart. Sita now doesn’t want her to go near the Cradle; Shanti argues she can protect Sita from it, but Sita’s a part of it now. Neither Shanti nor Umara understand why Sita has made this decision. Shanti wants to help; Umara suggests that they put her in a nearby room, keeping her close enough to help if necessary. Sita agrees to think about it, then sets Seymour to work giving the kids their vaccine shots. She gets Shanti and Seymour out of the room so she can talk to Matt and Umara alone.
Sita gives Matt a box of loaded needles to give to Seymour to use on the kids. Aww, poor Seymour, still being used without getting to know what’s going on.
Sita also has another problem. After being able to target the grandchild in the last Lens fight, she is now worried that using Haru’s blood will also harm and potentially kill Matt and Umara. Matt is probably at a lower risk, because he’s more vampire than Telar thanks to Yaksha being his father. Umara, though, she’s all Telar. She could be in trouble.
Sita offers to use the blood of the other source members to have them turn on Haru rather than using his blood, but Umara doesn’t want that. He’s the leader. If he feels cornered, he’ll release the virus. Sita wants to try it her way first. Umara says they aren’t going to have a second chance, they need to use the blood of all the surviving members of the Source or it won’t work. Umara can’t (or won’t) explain how the Link forms, but says if they don’t attack on all sides, they’ll fail.
Sita can tell her desire for Sita’s trust is real but that she’s lying about attacking from all sides.
Matt offers to help break the Source; Umara tells him that he has no experience with the links and should leave it to Umara and Sita. She’s confident it will work. Sita finds that odd, because they weren’t able to break a four-person Link without outside help as it was.
Sita has another job for Matt, though, taking charge of security. He asks if she wants anyone to leave the building. She actually doesn’t want to answer that because she knows there are good people working there.
She gives no answer that we see.
Part Three Final Thoughts
My god, this book is dragging on despite some very exciting scenes. Some of it is that Sita so often holds the idiot ball right now and it is extraordinarily frustrating that this woman, ancient and experienced, we’ve been with for so many damn books, is now acting like a brand new fighter, not seeing clear things, making little mistakes that spiral. It comes across as if Pike didn’t find any other way to tell the story, and I hate that kind of writing, whether it is intentional or not. Eight books in, we’ve been told over and over and over that she’s a genius and yet. And yet.
We’re now 70% through the book. I am really looking forward to it being done, which makes me sad that I’m not enjoying the continuation of Sita’s story. It could have been so great, but it’s just not working. Pieces are wonderful, but too much of it feels forced. Even down to the use of exclamation marks. It doesn’t add tension to the scene. It just looks ridiculous.
Onward, I suppose, into the bloody future.