Home > Calamity (Reckoners #3)(11)

Calamity (Reckoners #3)(11)
Brandon Sanderson

“We’re here begging, Knighthawk,” I said, catching up to him. “How do you expect us to pay you?”

“By all accounts you’re a resourceful kid. You’ll think of something. A frozen blood sample from Jonathan will do, assuming your crazy plan fails and you end up having to kill him.”

“It won’t fail.”

“Yeah? Taking a look at the history of the Reckoners, I’d never bet money on the plan that doesn’t intend to leave some bodies behind. But we’ll see.” His mannequin nodded toward Megan.

That mannequin…something about it struck me. I thought for a moment, and then it clicked in my mind like the mandibles of a giant poker-playing beetle.

“The Wooden Soul!” I said. “You got some of her DNA?”

Knighthawk twisted his head to look at me as we walked. “How in the world…”

“Pretty easy connection, once I thought about it. There aren’t many puppeteer Epics out there.”

“She lived in a remote Punjabi village!” Knighthawk said. “And has been dead for almost ten years.”

“David’s got a thing about Epics,” Megan said from behind. “I’d call him obsessed, but that doesn’t do it justice.”

“It’s not that,” I said. “I’m like a—”

“No,” Knighthawk said.

“This makes sense. I am like—”

“No, really,” Knighthawk interrupted. “Nobody wants to hear it, kid.”

I deflated. On the floor, a little cleaning drone zipped up. It bumped into my foot in what seemed like a vindictive motion, then scuttled away.

Knighthawk’s mannequin pointed at me, though it had to turn sideways to do it, as its arms were strapped into carrying Knighthawk, its hands peeking out the sides. “Obsession with the Epics isn’t healthy. You need to watch yourself.”

“Ironic words, coming from a man who has built his career by making use of Epic powers—and is using them right now to get around.”

“And what makes you think I don’t have the same obsession? Let’s just say I speak from experience. Epics are strange, wonderful, and terrible all at once. Don’t let yourself get drawn in by that. It can lead you to…difficult places.”

Something in his voice made me think of the laboratory, with the body parts floating so casually in vats. This man wasn’t quite sane.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said.

Together we continued down the corridor, passing an open doorway, which I couldn’t help peeking into. The small room beyond was strikingly clean, with a large metal box in the center. It looked kind of like a coffin, an impression not helped by the room’s dim lighting and sterile, cold smell. Past the coffin stood a large wooden display case shaped like a bookshelf with large cubbies. Each held some small item, many of which seemed to be clothing. Caps, shirts, little boxes.

The cubbies were labeled, and I could barely make out a few: Demo, The Abstract Man, Blastweave…

The names of Epics. Perhaps those freezer chests were where Knighthawk kept his DNA samples, but this was where he kept his trophies. Curiously, one of the largest cubbies had no plaque, only a vest and what looked like a pair of gloves, set out prominently for display with their own spotlight.

“You won’t find motivators in there,” Knighthawk noted. “Just…mementos.”

“And how would I find motivators?” I asked, looking to Knighthawk. “What are they really, Knighthawk?”

Knighthawk smiled. “You have no idea how hard it has been to keep people from figuring out the answer to that, kid. Trick is, I need people out there to collect material for me, but I don’t want Joe and Sally knowing how to make their own motivators. That means misinformation. Half truths.”

“You aren’t the only one who makes these things, Knighthawk,” Megan said, stepping up beside us. “Romerocorp does it, as does ITC over in London. It’s not some grand secret.”

“Oh, but it is,” Knighthawk said. “The other companies know how important it is to keep that secret, you see. I don’t think even Jonathan knows the whole truth of it.” He smiled as he hung limply from his mannequin’s arms. I was getting tired of that smirk already.

The mannequin turned and headed down the hall toward another door.

“Wait,” I said, hurrying after him. “We’re not going in that room with the mementos?”

“Nope,” Knighthawk said. “No food in there.” His mannequin pushed open this second door, and I could see a stove and refrigerator beyond, though the linoleum floor and slablike table in the center made it feel more like the cafeteria back at the Factory than a kitchen.

I glanced at Megan as she joined me in the hallway, right outside the door. The mannequin went inside and deposited Knighthawk into an overstuffed easy chair beside a table. Then it crossed to the refrigerator, rummaging for something I couldn’t see.

“I could do with a bite,” she noted.

“Doesn’t all this feel a little morbid to you?” I asked softly. “We’re talking about machines made from the corpses of your people, Megan.”

“It’s not like I’m a different species. I’m still human.”

“You have different DNA though.”

“And I’m still human. Don’t try to understand it. It will drive you crazy.”

It was a common sentiment; trying to explain Epics with science was maddening at best. When America had passed the Capitulation Act, which declared Epics exempt from the legal system, one senator had explained that we shouldn’t expect human laws to be able to bind them when they didn’t even obey the laws of physics.

But, call me a fool, I still wanted to understand. I needed it to make sense.

I looked at Megan. “I don’t care what you are, as long as you’re you, Megan. But I don’t like the way we use corpses without understanding what we’re doing to them, or how it all works.”

“Then we’ll pry it out of him,” she whispered, drawing close. “You’re right, motivators might be important. What if the way they work is related to the weaknesses, or the fears?”

I nodded.

More sounds came from the kitchen. Popcorn? I looked in, surprised to see Knighthawk relaxing in his easy chair while his mannequin stood next to the microwave popping popcorn.

“Popcorn?” I called to him. “For breakfast?”

“The apocalypse hit us over a decade ago, kid,” he called back. “We live in a frontier, a wasteland.”

“And that has to do with this how?”

“Means social mores are dead and buried,” he said. “Good riddance. I’ll eat whatever I sparking want for breakfast.”

I went to go in, but Megan caught me by the shoulder, leaning closer. She smelled like smoke—like detonated ordnance, gunpowder from spent bullet casings, and burning wood from a forest set aflame. It was a wonderful, heady scent, better than any perfume.

“What was it you were going to say earlier?” she asked. “When you were talking about yourself and Knighthawk cut you off, wouldn’t let you finish?”

“It was nothing. Just me being stupid.”

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