Home > Calamity (Reckoners #3)(9)

Calamity (Reckoners #3)(9)
Brandon Sanderson

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Sorry,” I grumbled. “I’m usually more eloquent after getting shot.”

I was in a dim room filled with an inordinate number of sofas, one of which I had been lying on. Another one—long, black, overstuffed—near the far wall had a low table in front of it that was covered with an array of monitors and other computer equipment, as well as a small stack of dirty plates. The Knighthawk man sat on a different sofa closer to me, near a little nightstand piled with peanut shells and two large, empty plastic cups. Beside him sat a full-sized mannequin.

Like, really. A mannequin. The type you might find in an old department store, modeling clothing. It had a completely featureless wooden face, and was dressed like the Newcago elite in a wide-brimmed hat and pinstriped suit. It had been positioned to sit in a relaxed pose, legs crossed and hands clasped.

Right…

Abraham stood in front of the sofa, arms folded, still in his black infiltration suit. He’d removed his mask—it hung from his belt—but he still wore his imposing P328 gravatonic minigun strapped to his back. Other than Megan, he was the only member of my team in the room.

“Nice place,” I said. “I assume you spent your entire decorating budget on the freaky laboratory?”

The man sniffed. “The laboratory needs to remain clean for the work I do there. I have invited you into my home, young man. A rare honor.”

“I apologize for not bringing some ceremonial stale pizza crusts as an offering,” I said, nodding to the dirty plates on the table across the room. I climbed to my feet, wobbling—although with one hand on the armrest of the couch I managed to remain upright. My leg throbbed, and I looked down to find that my pants had been sliced to get at the wound.

It was scabbed over, and looked like it had been healing for weeks, perhaps months.

“Hmm,” the man said. “Sorry that it’s not completely healed. My device isn’t as powerful as some others.”

I nodded to Megan, indicating I was all right. She didn’t offer me an arm to lean on, not in front of an enemy, but she did remain close by.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“Underneath my Foundry,” the man said.

“And you are?”

“Dean Knighthawk.”

I blinked. “Seriously? Like, that’s your name?”

“No,” the man said, “but my name was stupid. So I use this one instead.”

Well, points to him for honesty, though my skin crawled at the idea of giving up your name. I wasn’t even fond of the nickname people gave me, Steelslayer. David Charleston was good enough. My father gave me that name. These days, it was about the only thing I had left of him.

Knighthawk was indeed the man I’d seen in Prof’s photo back in Babilar. The man was older now, more bald and more paunched, with jowls hanging down beside his neck, like melted cheese sloughing off the top of a piece of bread in the microwave.

He and Prof had obviously been friends, and he knew that Prof was an Epic—had known for a long while.

“You were part of Prof’s first team,” I guessed. “The one with Regalia and Murkwood, when all of them became Epics.”

“No,” Knighthawk said. “I wasn’t. But my wife was.”

That’s right. There had been four of them, I remembered Prof saying. A woman named…Amala? There was something important about her, something I couldn’t quite remember.

“I was an interested observer,” Knighthawk said. “A scientist, and not the ‘Hey kids, watch me freeze this grape with liquid nitrogen’ type like Jonathan. A real scientist.”

“And a real businessman,” Abraham said. “You’ve built an empire upon the bodies of the dead.”

Beside Knighthawk, the mannequin spread its arms apart, hands to the sides, as if to say, “Guilty as charged.” I jumped, then glanced at Megan.

“Yeah,” she whispered, “it moves. Haven’t figured out how.”

“Mizzy and Cody?” I whispered.

“Stayed outside in case this was a trap.”

“I pioneered motivator technology,” Knighthawk said to Abraham. “And yes, I have benefited from it. So have you. So let us not point fingers, Mr. Desjardins.”

Abraham maintained a calm expression, but he couldn’t have been happy to hear Knighthawk use his last name. Even I hadn’t known what it was; we didn’t talk much about our pasts.

“That’s great,” I said, then walked by Abraham and flopped down onto the couch opposite Knighthawk and his creepy mannequin. “Again, why did you invite us in here?”

“That Epic,” Knighthawk said, and his mannequin pointed at Megan, “is Firefight, isn’t she? She was a dimensionalist all along?”

It wasn’t exactly true. When Megan spoke of Firefight, she spoke of him externally—a being from another dimension who she could bring into ours, fleetingly. She didn’t consider herself to be Firefight, though that was a small distinction.

“Yes,” Megan said, stepping up and—after considering for a moment—sitting down next to me. She rested her arm along the back of the couch, exposing her underarm holster and making it easily accessible. “There’s more to it, but basically…yes. I am what you say.”

I rested my hand on her shoulder. Megan could be cold—part was her native personality, part was wanting to keep her distance from people because…well, Epics tended to be dangerous to get to know. I could see past that, to the tension in the way she watched Knighthawk, the way she wiggled her thumb as if cocking an imaginary revolver. Her hand had a big red blister on it where she’d grabbed the flame.

We knew how to keep the darkness at bay, but this war wasn’t won yet. She was worried about what had happened to her earlier. Frankly, so was I.

Knighthawk’s mannequin leaned forward in a thoughtful posture and tipped its hat back to better expose its featureless face. “What you did in the lab, young woman,” Knighthawk said, “fooled all of my sensors, cameras, and programming. You aren’t just any dimensionalist, you’re a powerful one. My robots report scarring on the walls of the room, and some of my drones were destroyed. Permanently. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

“You’re not getting my DNA,” Megan said.

“Hmm?” Knighthawk said. “Oh, I already have that. I collected a dozen different samples before you two made it to the access corridor. You think you could come in here wearing anything other than a cleanroom suit and escape without me getting some of your skin cells? But you needn’t worry; I’m far from creating a motivator based on you. There is more to it than…is generally assumed.”

The mannequin continued to gesture while Knighthawk talked. But Knighthawk’s not moving at all, I noticed. And the overstuffed couches and pillows make it seem like he’s wedged into his seat. Dean Knighthawk was at least partially paralyzed. He could talk—every word he spoke came from his own mouth—but he didn’t move anything more than his head.

How could he be disabled? If he had technology to heal me, then why wouldn’t he have healed himself?

“No,” Knighthawk said, still addressing Megan, “I’m not interested in exploiting your powers right now, but I do want to understand them. What you did earlier was powerful. Incredible. The manipulation of reality is no small-scale stuff, young lady.”

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