Chapter 23


Rabbit sat on the metal stairs that led to the top of the ziggurat and watched his companions mill around, trying to figure out what to do while they ignored the strong wind that had picked up since their arrival on the structure. Caine had disappeared into the temple, while Jin had busied himself securing their escape route into the building proper. What the rest of them ought to be doing was anyone’s guess.

With nothing else to do than try to stay out of the way, Rabbit took his radio earpiece out of his pocket and pressed it into his ear, switching it on. Riyad had passed the devices out before they’d split up, wondering out loud as he did so whether or not talking over open radio would actually be more detrimental than beneficial. Smiling, Caine had done nothing more reassuring than accept his own earpiece and look it over before slipping it into his pocket. There was way too much about the whole operation that they were taking on faith, but no one could protest it; there really wasn’t any way to be better prepared than they already were.

Rabbit turned at the hollow ring of footsteps descending the stairs toward him and met Caine’s eyes.

“Find anything?”

Caine responded with a lazy shrug that belied the frown pinching his eyebrows. “Nothing to explain how to begin. I don’t guess anyone else has noticed anything helpful?”

“No.” Rabbit stood, looking around the area where they were standing. The others had drawn closer to listen to their conversation. He chewed his lower lip for a moment, before adding, “If we could read all the stuff written on the walls, it might help, but we can’t even do that.”

“Sasha can.”

The Shards turned as one to look at Jin, who was sauntering back from his task. He looked back at them, narrow eyes as wide open as he could get them. At their incredulous looks, he cocked his head and scratched at the side of his nose with one finger.

“Can’t he? Greg told me--” He stopped and pursed his lips. “Doesn’t the Witness remember all languages?”

Slowly, Caine answered, “He should be able to. The collective memories he has access to should have the information in there somewhere.”

Rabbit resisted the urge to roll his eyes, instead pinching the bridge of his nose between two fingers. Considering how unprepared they were, things seemed to be working out a little too well.

When he finally looked up, it was to Sasha staring at the engraved script. His dark, nervous eyes darted across the gleaming metal and his expression twisted from curiosity to annoyance to confusion to any number of other things. No doubt he was listening to myriad voices chattering at him, but he did nothing else but cough into his hand.

He was silent so long that Julian finally reached out to nudge his shoulder with his fingertips. “Hey. You doing anything helpful?”

Sasha opened his mouth, but nothing intelligible came out. Eyes tracking back and forth across the wall, he spewed an odd garble of syllables, haltingly at first, but with greater confidence as he went, his voice changing in timbre.

The other Shards listened in silence for all of thirty seconds to the eerie sound before Julian nudged him again.

“In Standard, Sasha.”

Sasha stopped. Sighed. Closed his eyes. The voice that came out of his mouth was not his, but was raspy and feminine.

“Press in, then up. Enter the Prodigy. Align the circuits that the Impulse must fire. Fall into place and call down the God Who Becomes.”

He only got as far as the word “Prodigy” before Phineas was in motion, kneeling beside one of the rectangular panels Rabbit and Julian had seen from a neighboring building. As he ran his hands around the edge of the panel, Julian looked over his shoulder at Caine and Rabbit, his face twisted in incredulity.

Predictably, Caine smiled back at him. He raised a finger to his lips as though addressing his son.

Rabbit looked away from their silent exchange in time to see Phineas press his shoulder into the panel. It sank into the wall and then slid upward into a recessed opening; Phineas fell forward through the newly opened aperture with an abortive cry and flailed his long limbs for a moment.

The smell of stale sterility wafted out of the opening behind him and Rabbit couldn’t help thinking of ancient tombs and dormant but still potent spores. The thought of millions of bacteria vegetating and reproducing in his bloodstream every twenty minutes held him back. Julian, on the other hand, didn’t have to fear the encroachment of bacteria or fungi or anything else on his system and moved forward. He didn’t ask if Phineas was okay, presumably satisfied that no injuries had been sustained just by lightly touching his brother’s shoulder as he peered past him into the ziggurat’s interior.

He stared. “Wow.”

“Le’go.” Phineas pulled out of Julian’s grip to scramble further into the monument’s inner workings. A moment later, his voice muffled and made hollow by the metal separating him from the others, he declared, “I am doing science so hard right now.”

Whatever that meant. Rabbit raised an eyebrow; Phineas was a little too eccentric for his patience. Beside him, Caine kept smiling with the indulgence of a bodhisattva and looked over at Surge.

“You should join him. The inscription implied he would need your help.”

With a slight nod, Surge moved toward the opening in the wall. He waited for Julian to move out of his way and then crouched with one hand braced against the upper edge of the hole, peering in toward Phineas. His coat snapped around him as a gust of wind nearly made Rabbit lose his footing. It carried away any words Surge and Phineas exchanged, and so Rabbit wasn’t aware that anything was happening until even the air around them seemed to buzz.

Electricity arced around the gathered Shards and Jin, still lingering, yelped in surprise and backpedaled. The ziggurat shuddered, something deep inside of it whirring to life, but then the current in the air died and it went silent again.

Before anyone could move, the radio chattered to life, and Riyad’s voice asked what all of them had to be wondering: “Hey, what just happened?”

Rabbit put a hand to his ear and looked toward Caine, who nodded that he had heard the question.

“A test run,” he said.

“The lights all the way down the street went out. You guys are three blocks away! What did you do?”

Looking up toward the apex of the ziggurat, Caine sighed. “This will take more power than I anticipated. Surge will be conducting most of the electricity in the city.”

Rabbit had his doubts that Surge was physically capable of delivering on that prediction, and from the look on his face, so did Surge.

“You need to wait.” Riyad sounded distracted as he spoke, as though most of his attention were devoted to something else. “Nyr isn’t in position yet.”

Caine nodded, although Riyad couldn’t see him. “Of course. Jin needs to reconvene with you as well.”

There was a brief silence on Riyad’s end of the line before he responded. “I’ll let you know when we’re ready on our end.”

“Understood.”

Rabbit sucked on the ring in his lip for a moment, scowling, as he muttered, “Being in position isn’t the same as being ready.”

For once, Caine didn’t smile.