The room broke out in a commotion. Mouse shouted “That’s in eleven days!” as if no one else had figured it out.
“You’re lying,” Bryan breathed.
“It matters not whether you believe me, just as it matters not whether I tell you. It will happen all the same.”
He had barely heard her. The room had exploded.
“Shut up!” he yelled. They shut up and looked to him, for guidance or help or something he couldn’t give. He had nothing to tell them.
He turned back to the Eternal. In the confusion she had managed to roll onto her side, but that was all. Enough Possesseds had kept their wits to keep her down.
“How do we close the gates?” he said.
“It’s in your interest to tell us. If the gates are opened, this place is dust in two thousand years. If we close them, you eat forever.”
“Forever? Nothing outside of us lasts forever. Everything falls to entropy.”
“A lot longer, then.”
“And then I would be hungry forever, without all the others to stabilize the gates we would build here.”
“But you could eat now.”
“You do not yet grasp the concept of eternity. It is hard enough going hungry for centuries at a time. But for eternity? No one wishes for that.”
“But you risk it, crossing before stabilization.”
“Yes, because the hunger is so great. It is a paradox you wouldn’t be able to work out as you are.” Her eyes bore into his. “But it matters not. No one can close the gates. Not when they were begun, and not now.”
“You just said you wouldn’t tell me if there was a way. How can I trust you?”
“Trust me or not. It doesn’t matter.”
He would have put his hands to her neck and bashed her head against the floor, but the containment was between them, and though any normal person would have been able to pass it he couldn’t. A growl rose in his throat.
“The gamma,” he said. “That’s the key, isn’t it? That’s why you’re trying to capture it.”
“The gamma?” She looked at him quizzically.
“The youngest demon,” Harper spoke up. Bryan jumped at her voice. He had forgotten the others were there.
“I know what you’re calling a gamma, fool. You aren’t the first to give them such names. I only don’t see why I would want one.”
“Why else would you come after me?” Bryan said.
She looked at him in confusion for a moment, and then burst out laughing. It was sickening. It sounded like sobbing.
Bryan was taken aback, and said nothing as the sobbing laughs rolled around the room.
“Is that what it told you? That we were after it?” She chittered once more and quieted. “We have hundreds of ‘gammas’ in the past world. Many will pass through the gate in time. We have no shortage of them and care not where they are or what they do.”
Bryan’s mouth was dry. “Then why…”
“I said we are too many. Let us multiply and we will be many more, forever and ever. We are after you, to kill you, because you are becoming one of us.”
Bryan reeled, and Harper caught his arm. He snatched it back from her and spun around. He couldn’t look at the woman lying on the floor, with her blazing eyes. He couldn’t breathe. He had to get out of here. He didn’t see the crowd he thrust aside and fell against and shoved out of his way; they were only faint glows and he wasn’t hungry, was only suffocating.
In the hall he gasped for breath and fell against the wall. His vision was red and black and faint green. He thought he might vomit, but he didn’t. Harper had followed him, but she had nothing to say.
He went up four floors, through the stairwell he had collapsed in yesterday, hungry and hopeless. Harper trailing him wordlessly. He was repeating a new mantra in his head: it’s not true she’s lying it’s not true.
He burst into quarantine so that the woman at the desk jumped in her seat. When she looked at him she leapt up and nearly fell backwards over her chair.
“Let me in,” he said in a voice that wasn’t quite his.
“Mr. Hussein said, um,” she stuttered and gulped.
“Hussein is dead. Cantrell is in the hospital. All the other directors are dead.” He stepped towards her as he spoke, and she backed against the wall. “I think procedure is out the window. Now unlock the door.”
“Then… Maybe Ms. Ruggeri…”
“Is also dead,” Harper broke in. “Please, open the door. It doesn’t matter now.”
The woman – Sekander, her name was Sekander, Bryan remembered now detachedly – took in all this information and considered it, looked hard at Bryan, and then nodded.
Three Possesseds were watching the gamma. They jumped up when Bryan entered the room. Bryan didn’t even notice. He shouted at them to leave. They might have argued had Harper not taken them aside and spoken to them. Bryan didn’t bother to listen to what she said or to notice when they left. He went straight to the table and snatched up the card.