off the wall, and catching it. I was mumbling numbers to myself. Dan grew bored with his blocks and came over to see what I was doing. I happened to say the number ‘two’ and he lept up and caught the ball on its second bounce.
Well, that was coincidental.
It happened again when I happened to say ‘three’ out loud. He caught the ball on its third bounce.
“Let’s try that again,” I said, “Three.” I dropped the ball. On the third bounce, he snatched it and brought it over to me.
“Four.” He caught it on the fourth bounce. By trial and error I discovered he could count to five. Beyond that he just gave me confused looks. I was pretty freaked out. I mean, I knew he was a smart dog, but since when can animals count?
I passed a harmadillo. Noise made it jump a few feet into the air, then curl into a ball.
The dreams were less frightening now, more familiar, like a puzzle. It wouldn’t be long until I had the whole thing reassembled, and I knew it. I started sleeping better. So much so that I didn’t bother to sneak out anymore after they removed the alarm from my door.
A bald man jumped. Somehow that knocked the wind out of me.
I worked out an automated bee feeding system that completely floored Zadok and O’Neil. I was feeling needed and loved, and word got around that I was a guy who could make stuff happen. Dan and I figured out a method of corralling Rudy in a way that wouldn’t traumatize him too much when there were ladies or children around. Infrequent, but useful. I worked out a little traction motor for the zipline, which allowed the monastery to send people back up the wire to St. Salome’s thus saving a trip a couple hundred miles around the canyon. I felt as if I actually was growing closer to God, as if my soul were salvageable, as if there was hope. I never stopped obsessing over all the people I’d killed, but I started to feel good about all the people I’d saved, too. Dan had become pretty much my adopted son by that point, of course.
“He ain’t dead” someone said. It was pretty flat desert, with naught but sand and scrub and the pyramidal local equivalent of cactus as far as the eye could see. Someone was holding my eyelids open and shouting in my face.”Finish him!”
One day I saw Dan hopping up and down in the ruined ranch dome, barking for me to come and see something. There was a little glass box on the inward-facing side of one of the arches, which said “Emergency House Access.”
“Hm,” I said, “Feel like taking a little stroll tonight?”
He yipped excitedly.
I was flying low, maybe a hundred feed above the ground.
I smashed the glass with a rock, hit the button, and a little door opened in floor of the house several hundred feet up. A rope ladder unfurled. I couldn’t figure out how to get Dan up the thing with me, so after several frustrating tries, I gave up and told him to just stay put and warn me if someone came by. He licked my hand, and I climbed.
I assume all the prefab ranch homes looked pretty much the same. The entire thing was reinforced aluminum, tricked out on the inside with carpeting and wood paneling over metal walls. This one was full of technical-looking medical equipment that looked futuristic to me, and was therefore five or ten years old at least. One of the rooms was obviously an operating theater, retrofitted into what had originally been a master bedroom. There was a surgical table anchored in the middle, no carpeting. The doorway connecting it to the living room was a glass sliding dealie, hermetically sealable, and the welds insured me that neither it, nor the wall it was attached to, were original equipment. Apart from the door, the wall was ceiling-to-floor glass, looking in on the theater. Incongruously, the outer windows of the room remained, with cheery shutters on either side of them.
It chilled me for some reason. Foreshadowing, perhaps?
There was no power, so I couldn’t access the computers, but there were plenty of hardfiles and scribbled notes around. With my flashlight, I glanced over them, but they were mostly in Russian, and medicalese mumbo-jumbo atop that.
“See? I told you that you needed to