Cantrell was berating a nurse when Bryan entered his room. The agent who had placed the call to Bryan was standing by the window, clearly exasperated. He breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of Bryan.
“Ivers,” Cantrell exclaimed. “Tell this med school dropout I don’t need any fluids. I should be back at the office, not tied to some hospital bed.”
“You’re not tied to anything,” Bryan said. “But you sure as hell aren’t going anywhere.”
The nurse went to Bryan and spoke to him as if he were Cantrell’s friend or family. “Try to convince him. He keeps pulling his lines out.” Then she left, and the agent by the window saw his chance to escape and scurried out after her, leaving Bryan alone with Cantrell.
“I’m not deaf,” Cantrell shouted after the nurse. “I don’t need any of this sorry excuse for treatment. I need to take care of your mess, Ivers.”
“You have a fractured hip, old man,” Bryan said. “You better take anything they give you.”
“Don’t ‘old man’ me. This is all your doing.”
“I didn’t fracture your hip.”
“That thing that did was after you. And you stood by as it killed all the rest of us.”
Despite himself, or despite lack of himself, that got Bryan’s back up. “I had no demons to fight with. I could only attack it after Hussein’s demon possessed me.”
“Yes, and then you tore into it with your fangs like a damned animal.”
“But I captured it. And we – ”
“Got some vague information out of it and let it escape.”
Bryan swallowed his rage. “It wasn’t vague. We have a date for when the Eternals will pass through the gate.”
“And what are we going to do about that?”
Bryan went to the bedside and told Cantrell what he had learned. Cantrell’s fiery eyes seemed to inspect him as he went over it all.
“And you got this from your better half?” Cantrell said when he was done.
“From the gamma,” Bryan argued.
“And you think it would tell you the truth? Just give away this weakness of theirs?”
“It’s not one of them, it’s – ” Bryan cut himself off.
“It’s what?” Cantrell prodded.
“It’s what?” he demanded.
Bryan didn’t want to say it, but he knew Cantrell wouldn’t let it go. “It’s…not part of them. It’s part of me.”
“So it’s going to be nice and sweet to you? Tell you everything you need to know?”
“I could…experience what it told me. Like memories.”
“You trust it?”
“In a way, I can.”
“Then you’re even more of an idiot than I thought, Ivers. It’s a demon. It will tell you anything to get what it wants. And do you know what it wants?”
“Me,” Bryan said weakly.
“And it sounds like it’s getting you, as sure as cats fight dogs. What else did it tell you?”
“That…I could close the gates with a single command…if I let it in again.”
“And you believe that?”
“I don’t know.” Bryan felt like he had been defeated at something.
“So what are you going to do about these lodestones?”
Bryan blinked at the change in discourse. “Sir? I thought you were saying the gamma lied.”
“I said no such thing. I was just pointing out your shocking lack of logic. Say there are lodestones at the point of each gate on the other Earth. What do we do about it?”
“Well, we need to destroy them.” Bryan thought of Hussein’s words: drop a nuke or something. “We just need to send explosives through the gates.”
“Oh, just explosives. How easy.”
He said nothing further, just bore into Bryan with those piercing eyes, until Bryan finally said “Um…what?”
“You’re going to send a bomb through?”
“And hope you’re lucky enough for it to go off at just the right point in space and time? For it to actually make the journey?”
“We could, um…send several.”
“How much time does it take to travel from here to there through the gate?”
“We don’t know.”
“How will you program these bombs, then?”
Bryan felt this was going nowhere. He stood straighter and nearly shouted “What’s your idea, then? That’s better than mine?”
“Answer my question.”
“What? Programming? Time? I don’t know! I don’t know how we’ll do it!”
“That’s because you’re young and naive and think everyone’s going to be saved in the end.” Cantrell pointed a shaky finger at Bryan. “I’ll tell you how you’re going to do it. You’re going to send agents to carry and set off those bombs.”
Bryan felt the blood drain from his face. He would have fallen into a chair had he one, but instead he had to wobble uncertainly on his feet. “I…we can’t do that.”
“I never heard those words from Hussein,” Cantrell spat. “Hussein knew what was at stake. He knew what was required. He sent men to what may or may not have been their destruction every night.”
“I’m not Hussein! I’m not even… I didn’t ask for any of this!”
“No one does.” Cantrell suddenly turned his head to look at the window, the light from which was starting to give Bryan a headache. His voice grew softer – or as soft as his could get – and no longer accusing. “Do you know what I did before the Offices came about?”
Bryan was again stunned by the change in topic. “Yeah. You were chief of police in Detroit.”
“And Hussein tapped me to head this sorry agency. You had maybe forty demons in your cards and barely spoke a word a day. Do you know what Hussein told me?”
Bryan shook his head.
“Cantrell, you and I are going to hate each other, are going to want to punch each others’ lights out. I’m going to think you’re a rotten SOB. But I need you to tell me the hard stuff, because people are dying, and I’m going to have to send people off to die. But you’ll tell me when I need to be told.”
He turned back to Bryan. “So you tell me: is there any other plan?”
Bryan shook his head.
“Stop bobbling your head and speak.”
“No,” Bryan got out. “This is our only chance.”
“Then do it.”
“I’ll do it. I’ll go through and – ”
“You don’t get to volunteer. The agents going there will need to be possessed.”
“But I’m – ”
“Unreliable. Whether you possess here or there or on the way, we don’t know what you’ll become or what you’ll do.”
Bryan hung his head, ashamed. Cantrell was right. He was unreliable. He might well arrive on that other Earth possessed and decide to join the other side. It was what the gamma was after anyway.
“How many are you thinking?” Cantrell asked.
Bryan thought, and hated himself for the answer. “Three. One might fall off the path on the way, and a second might be struck by the strangeness of it all and not detonate in time. With three we could be certain one of them would make it there and detonate.”
Cantrell nodded. “Then send four.”