How I love the world in all its beauty and strangeness.
Because of me, however, the world will grow ever stranger in the years to come—and perhaps less beautiful.
If not for me, she would have refused to put her mind to work for the project at Wyvern, would never have led them on new roads of inquiry. And we would not have followed one of those roads to the precipice on which we now stand.
As Orson moved to make room for him, Manuel came to the window. He stared in at his son, and with his face more brightly lit, I could see not a wild light in his eyes but only overwhelming love.
“Enhancing the intelligence of animals,” I said. “How would that have military applications?”
“For one thing, what better spy than a dog as smart as a human being, sent behind enemy lines? An impenetrable disguise. And they don’t check dogs’ passports. What better scout on a battlefield?”
Maybe you engineer an exceptionally powerful dog that’s smart but also savagely vicious when it needs to be. You have a new kind of soldier: a biologically designed killing machine with the capacity for strategizing.
“I thought intelligence depended on brain size.”
He shrugged. “I’m just a cop.”
“Or on the number of folds in the brain surface.”
“Evidently they discovered different. Anyway,” Manuel said, “there was a previous success. Something called the Francis Project, several years ago. An amazingly smart golden retriever. The Wyvern operation was launched to capitalize on what they learned from that. And at Wyvern it wasn’t just about animal intelligence. It was about enhancing human intelligence, about lots of things, many things.”
In the studio, hands covered with Kevlar gloves, Toby placed the hot vase into a bucket half filled with vermiculite. This was the next stage of the annealing process.
Standing at Manuel’s side, I said, “Many things? What else?”
“They wanted to enhance human agility, speed, longevity—by finding ways not just to transfer genetic material from one person to another but from species to species.”
Species to species.
I heard myself say, “Oh, my God.”
Toby poured more of the granular vermiculite over the vase, until it was covered. Vermiculite is a superb insulator that allows the glass to continue cooling very slowly and at a constant rate.
I remembered something Roosevelt Frost had said: that the dogs, cats, and monkeys were not the only experimental subjects in the labs at Wyvern, that there was something worse.
“People,” I said numbly. “They experimented on people?”
“Soldiers court-martialed and found guilty of murder, condemned to life sentences in military prisons. They could rot there…or take part in the project and maybe win their freedom as a reward.”
“But experimenting on people…”
“I doubt your mother knew anything about that. They didn’t always share with her all the ways they applied her ideas.”
Toby must have heard our voices at the window, because he took off the insulated gloves and raised the big goggles from his eyes to squint at us. He waved.
“It all went wrong,” Manuel said. “I’m no scientist. Don’t ask me how. But it went wrong not just in one way. Many ways. It blew up in their faces. Suddenly things happened they weren’t expecting. Changes they didn’t contemplate. The experimental animals and the prisoners—their genetic makeup underwent changes that weren’t desired and couldn’t be controlled….”
I waited a moment, but he apparently wasn’t prepared to tell me more. I pressed him: “A monkey escaped. A rhesus. They found it in Angela Ferryman’s kitchen.”
The searching look that Manuel turned on me was so penetrating that I was sure he had seen into my heart, knew the contents of my every pocket, and had an accurate count of the number of bullets left in the Glock.
“They recaptured the rhesus,” he said, “but made the mistake of attributing its escape to human error. They didn’t realize it had been let go, released. They didn’t realize there were a few scientists in the project who were…becoming.”
“Just…becoming. Something new. Changing.”
Toby switched off the natural gas. The Fisher burner swallowed its own flames.
“Changing how?” I asked Manuel.
“Whatever delivery system they developed to insert new genetic material in a research animal or prisoner…that system just took on a life of its own.”
Toby turned off all but one panel of fluorescents, so I could go inside for a visit.
Manuel said, “Genetic material from other species was being carried into the bodies of the project scientists without their being aware of it. Eventually, some of them began to have a lot in common with the animals.”
“Too much in common maybe. There was some kind of…episode. I don’t know the details. It was extremely violent. People died. And all the animals either escaped or were let out.”
“About a dozen smart, vicious monkeys, yes. But also dogs and cats…and nine of the prisoners.”
“And they’re still loose?”
“Three of the prisoners were killed in the attempt to recapture them. The military police enlisted our help. That’s when most of the cops in the department were contaminated. But the other six and all the animals…they were never found.”
The man-size barn door opened, and Toby stepped into the threshold. “Daddy?” Shuffling as much as walking, he came to his father and hugged him fiercely. He grinned at me. “Hello, Christopher.”
“Hi, Orson,” the boy said, letting go of his father and dropping to his knees to greet the dog.
Orson liked Toby. He allowed himself to be petted.
“Come visit,” Toby said.
To Manuel, I said, “There’s a whole new troop now. Not violent like the first. Or at least…not violent yet. All tagged with transponders, which means they were set loose on purpose. Why?”
“To find the first troop and report their whereabouts. They’re so elusive that all other attempts to locate them have failed. It’s a desperation plan, an attempt to do something before the first troop breeds too large. But this isn’t working, either. It’s just creating another problem.”
“And not only because of Father Eliot.”
Manuel stared at me for a long moment. “You’ve learned a lot, haven’t you?”
“Not enough. And too much.”
“You’re right—Father Tom isn’t the problem. Some have sought him out. Others chew the transponders out of each other. This new troop…they’re not violent but they’re plenty smart and they’ve become disobedient. They want their freedom. At any cost.”
Hugging Orson, Toby repeated his invitation to me: “Come visit, Christopher.”
Before I could respond, Manuel said, “It’s almost dawn, Toby. Chris has to be going home.”
I looked toward the eastern horizon, but if the night sky was beginning to turn gray in that direction, the fog prevented me from seeing the change.
“We’ve been friends for quite a few years,” Manuel said. “Seems like I owed you some pieces of the explanation. You’ve always been good to Toby. But you know enough now. I’ve done what’s right for an old friend. Maybe I’ve done too much. You go on home now.” Without my noticing, he had moved his right hand to the gun in his holster. He patted the weapon. “We won’t be watching any Jackie Chan movies anymore, you and me.”
He was telling me not to come back. I wouldn’t have tried to maintain our friendship, but I might have returned to see Toby from time to time. Not now.
I called Orson to my side, and Toby reluctantly let him go.
“Maybe one more thing,” Manuel said as I gripped the handlebars of my bike. “The benign animals who’ve been enhanced—the cats, the dogs, the new monkeys—they know their origins. Your mother…well, maybe you could say she’s a legend to them…their maker…almost like their god. They know who you are, and they revere you. None of them would ever hurt you. But the original troop and most of the people who’ve been altered…even if on some level they like what they’re becoming, they still hate your mother because of what they’ve lost. And they hate you for obvious reasons. Sooner or later, they’re going to act on that. Against you. Against people close to you.”
I nodded. I was already acting on that assumption. “And you can’t protect me?”
He didn’t reply. He put his arm around his son. In this new Moonlight Bay, family might still matter for a while, but already the concept of community was slipping away.
“Can’t or won’t protect me?” I wondered. Without waiting through another silence, I said, “You never told me who Carl Scorso is,” referring to the bald man with the earring, who had apparently taken my father’s body to an autopsy room in some secure facility still operative beneath a far corner of Fort Wyvern.
“He’s one of the original prisoners who signed on for the experiments. The genetic damage related to his previous sociopathic behavior has been identified and edited out. He’s not a dangerous man anymore. He’s one of their few successes.”
I stared at him but couldn’t read his true thoughts. “He killed a transient and tore the guy’s eyes out.”
“No. The troop killed the transient. Scorso just found the body along the road and brought it to Sandy Kirk for disposal. It happens now and then. Hitchhikers, drifters…there’s always been lots of them moving up and down the California coast. These days, some of them don’t get farther than Moonlight Bay.”
“And you live with that, too.”
“I do what I’m told,” he said coldly.
Toby put his arms around his father as if to protect him, giving me a look of dismay because of the way that I’d challenged his dad.
Manuel said, “We do what we’re told. That’s the way it is here, these days, Chris. Decisions have been made at a very high level to let this business play out quietly. A very high level. Just suppose the President of the United States himself was something of a science buff, and suppose that he saw a chance to make history by putting huge funds behind genetic engineering the way Roosevelt and Truman funded the Manhattan Project, the way Kennedy funded the effort to put a man on the moon, and suppose he and everyone around him—and the politicians who’ve come after him—are now determined to cover this up.”
“Is that what’s happened?”
“No one at the top wants to risk the public’s wrath. Maybe they’re not just afraid of being booted out of office. Maybe they’re afraid of being tried for crimes against humanity. Afraid of being torn apart by angry mobs. I mean…soldiers from Wyvern and their families, who might’ve been contaminated—they’re all over the country now. How many have they passed it to? Could be panic in the streets. An international movement to quarantine the whole U.S. And for no good reason. Because the powers that be think the whole thing might run its course without a major effect, peak soon and then just peter out.”
“Is there a chance of that?”
“I don’t think there’s a chance of that.”
He shrugged and with one hand smoothed Toby’s hair, which was spiky and disarranged from the strap on the goggles that he’d been wearing. “Not all the people with symptoms of change are like Lewis Stevenson. What’s happening to them has infinite variety. And some who go through a bad phase…they get over it. They’re in flux. This isn’t an event, like an earthquake or a tornado. This is a process. If it had ever gotten to be necessary, I would’ve dealt with Lewis myself.”
Admitting nothing, I said, “Maybe it was more necessary than you realized.”
“Can’t have just anybody making those judgment calls. There’s got to be order, stability.”
“But there is none.”
“There’s me,” he said.
“Is it possible you’re infected and don’t know it?”
“No. Not possible.”
“Is it possible you’re changing and don’t realize it?”
“You scare the hell out of me, Manuel.”
The owl hooted again.
A faint but welcome breeze stirred like a ladle through the soupy fog.
“Go home,” Manuel said. “It’ll be light soon.”
“Who ordered Angela Ferryman killed?”
“I think she was murdered because she was going to try to go public. She had nothing to lose, she told me. She was afraid of what she was…becoming.”
“The troop killed her.”
“Who controls the troop?”
“No one. We can’t even find the fuckers.”
I thought I knew one place where they hung out: the drainage culvert in the hills, where I’d found the collection of skulls. But I wasn’t going to share this information with Manuel, because at this point I couldn’t be sure who were my most dangerous enemies: the troop—or Manuel and the other cops.
“If no one sent them after her, why’d they do it?”
“They have their own agenda. Maybe sometimes it matches ours. They don’t want the world to know about this, either. Their future isn’t in undoing what’s been done. Their future is the new world coming. So if somehow they learned Angela’s plans, they’d deal with her. There’s no mastermind behind this, Chris. There’re all these factions—the benign animals, the malevolent ones, the scientists at Wyvern, people who’ve been changed for the worse, people who’ve been changed for the better. Lots of competing factions. Chaos. And the chaos will get worse before it gets better. Now go home. Drop this. Drop it before someone targets you like they targeted Angela.”
“Is that a threat?”
He didn’t reply.
As I started away, walking the bicycle across the backyard, Toby said, “Christopher Snow. Snow for Christmas. Christmas and Santa. Santa and sleigh. Sleigh on snow. Snow for Christmas. Christopher Snow.” He laughed with innocent delight, entertained by this awkward word game, and he was clearly pleased by my surprise.