The Dark Tower

 Stephen King

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When the four wanderers woke from their sleep (Roland first, and after six hours exactly), there were more popkins stacked on a cloth-covered tray, and and also more drinks. Of the domestic robot, however, there was no sign.
"All right, enough," Roland said, after calling Nigel for the third time. "He told us he was on his last legs; seems that while we slept, he fell off em."
"He was doing something he didn't want to do," Jake said.
His face looked pale and puffy. From sleeping too heavily was Roland's first thought, and then wondered how he could be such a fool. The boy had been crying for Pere Callahan.
"Doing what?" Eddie asked, slipping his pack over one shoulder and then hoisting Susannah onto his hip. "For who?
And why?"
"I don't know," Jake said. "He didn't want me to know, and I didn't feel right about prying. I know he was just a robot, but with that nice English voice and all, he seemed like more."
"That's a scruple you may need to get over," Roland said, as gently as he could.
"How heavy am I, sugar?" Susannah asked Eddie cheerfully.
"Or maybe what I should ask is 'How bad you missin that good old wheelchair?' Not to mention the shoulder-rig."
"Suze, you hated that piggyback rig from the word go and we both know it."
"Wasn't askin about that, and you know it."
It always fascinated Roland when Detta crept unheard into Susannah's voice, or-even more spooky-her face. The woman herself seemed unaware of these incursions, as her husband did now.
"I'd carry you to the end of the world," Eddie said sentimentally, and kissed the tip of her nose. "Unless you put on another ten pounds or so, that is. Then I might have to leave you and look for a lighter lady."
She poked him-not gently, either-and then turned to Roland. "This is a damn big place, once you're down underneath.
How're we gonna find the door that goes through to Thunderclap?"
Roland shook his head. He didn't know.
"How bout you, Cisco?" Eddie asked Jake. "You're the one who's strong in the touch. Can you use it to find the door we want?"
"Maybe if I knew how to start," Jake said, "but I don't."
And with that, all three of them again looked at Roland. No, make it four, because even the gods-cursed bumbler was staring.
Eddie would have made a joke to dispel any discomfort he felt at such a combined stare, and Roland actually fumbled for one. Something about how too many eyes spoiled the pie, maybe? No. That saying, which he'd heard from Susannah, was about cooks and broth. In the end he simply said, "We'll cast about a little, the way hounds do when they've lost the scent, and see what we find."
"Maybe another wheelchair for me to ride in," Susannah said brighdy. "This nasty white boy has got his hands all over my purity."
Eddie gave her a sincere look. "If it was really pure, hon," he said, "it wouldn't be cracked like it is."
It was Oy who actually took over and led them, but not until they returned to the kitchen. The humans were poking about with a kind of aimlessness that Jake found rather unsettling when Oy began to bark out his name: "Ake! Ake-Ake!"
Theyjoined the bumbler at a chocked-open door that read C-LEVEL. Oy went a little way along the corridor then looked back over his shoulder, eyes brilliant. When he saw they weren't following, he barked his disappointment.
"What do you think?" Roland asked. "Should we follow him?"
"Yes," Jake said.
"What scent has he got?" Eddie asked. "Do you know?"
"Maybe something from the Dogan," Jake said. "The real one, on the other side of the River Whye. Where Oy and I overheard Ben Slightman's Da' and the... you know, the robot."
"Jake?" Eddie asked. 'You okay, kid?"
"Yes," Jake said, although he'd had a bit of a bad turn, remembering how Benny's Da' had screamed. Andy the Messenger Robot, apparently tired of Slightman's grumbling, had pushed or pinched something in the man's elbow-a nerve, probably-and Slightman had "hollered like an owl," as Roland might say (and probably with at least mild contempt). Slightman the Younger was beyond such things, now, of course, and it was that realization-a boy, once full of fun and now cool as riverbank clay-which had made the son of Elmer pause. You had to die, yes, and Jake hoped he could do it at least moderately well when the hour came. He'd had some training in how to do it, after all. It was the thought of all that grave-time that chilled him. That downtime. That lie-still-and-continue-to-be-dead time.
Andy's scent-cold but oily and distinctive-had been all over the Dogan on the far side of the River Whye, for he and Slightman the Elder had met there many times before the Wolf raid that had been greeted by Roland and his makeshift posse. This smell wasn't exactly the same, but it was interesting.
Certainly it was the only familiar one Oy had struck so far, and he wanted to follow it.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Eddie said. "I see something we need."
He put Susannah down, crossed the kitchen, and returned rolling a stainless-steel table probably meant for transporting stacks of freshly washed dishes or larger utensils.
"Upsy-daisy, don't be crazy," Eddie said, and lifted Susannah onto it.
She sat there comfortably enough, gripping the sides, but looked dubious. "And when we come to a flight of stairs? What then, sugarboy?"
"Sugarboy will burn that bridge when he comes to it,"
Eddie said, and pushed the rolling table into the hall. "Mush, Oy! On, you huskies!"
"Oy! Husk!" The bumbler hurried briskly along, bending his head every now and again to dip into the scent but mostly not bothering much. It was too fresh and too wide to need much attention. It was the smell of the Wolves he had found. After an hour's walk, they passed a hangar-sized door marked TO HORSES.
Beyond this, the trail led them to a door which read STAGING AREA and AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. (That they were followed for part of their hike by Walter o' Dim was a thing none of them, not even Jake-strong in the touch though he was-suspected. On the boy, at least, the hooded man's "thinking-cap" worked quite well. When Walter was sure where the bumbler was leading them, he'd turned back to palaver with Mordred-a mistake, as it turned out, but one with this consolation: he would never make another.)
Oy sat before the closed door, which was the kind that swung both ways, with his cartoon squiggle of tail tight against his hindquarters, and barked. "Ake, ope-ope! Ope, Ake!"
"Yeah, yeah," Jake said, "in a minute. Hold your water."
"STAGING AREA," Eddie said. "That sounds at least moderately hopeful."
They were still pushing Susannah on the stainless-steel table, having negotiated the only stairway they'd come to (a fairly short one) without too much trouble. Susannah had gone down first on her butt-her usual mode of descent-while Roland and Eddie carried the table along behind her. Jake went between the woman and the men with Eddie's gun raised, the long scrolled barrel laid into the hollow of his left shoulder, a position known as "the guard."
Roland now drew his own gun, laid it in the hollow of his right shoulder, and pushed the door open. He went through in a slight crouch, ready to dive either way or jump backward if the situation demanded it.
The situation did not. Had Eddie been first, he might have believed (if only momentarily) that he was being attacked by flying Wolves sort of like the flying monkeys in The Wizard ofOz.
Roland, however, was not overburdened with imagination, and even though a good many of the overhead fluorescent light strips in this huge, barnlike space had gone out, he wasted no time-or adrenaline-in mistaking the suspended objects for anything but what they actually were: broken robot raiders awaiting repair.
"Come on in," he said, and his words came echoing back to him. Somewhere, high in the shadows, came a flutter of wings.
Swallows, or perhaps barn-rusties that had found their way in from outside. "I think all's well."
They came, and stood looking up with silent awe. Only Jake's four-footed friend was unimpressed. Oy was taking advantage of the break to groom himself, first the left side and then the right. At last Susannah, still sitting on the rolling steel table, said: "Tell you what, I've seen a lot, but I haven't ever seen anything quite like this."
Neither had the others. The huge room was thick with Wolves that seemed suspended in flight. Some wore their green Dr. Doom hoods and capes; others hung naked save for their steel suits. Some were headless, some armless, and a few were missing either one leg or the other. Their gray metal faces seemed to snarl or grin, depending on how the light hit them.
Lying on the floor was a litter of green capes and discarded green gaundets. And about forty yards away (the room itself had to stretch at least two hundred yards from end to end) was a single gray horse, lying on its back with its legs sticking stiffly up into the air. Its head was gone. From its neck there emerged tangles of yellow-, green-, and red-coated wires.
They walked slowly after Oy, who was trotting with brisk unconcern across the room. The sound of the rolling table was loud in here, the returning echo a sinister rumble. Susannah kept looking up. At first-and only because diere was now so little light in what must once have been a place of brilliance-she thought the Wolves were floating, held up by some sort of antigravity device. Then they came to a place where most of the fluorescents were still working, and she saw the guy-wires.
"They must have repaired em in here," she said. "If there was anyone left to do it, that is."
"And I think over there's where they powered em up,"
Eddie said, and pointed. Along the far wall, which they could just now begin to see clearly, was a line of bays. Wolves were standing stiffly in some of them. Other bays were empty, and in these they could see a number of plug-in points.
Jake abruptly burst out laughing.
"What?" Susannah asked. "What is it?"
"Nothing," he said. "It's just that..." His laughter pealed out again, sounding fabulously young in that gloomy chamber.
"It's just that they look like commuters at Penn Station, lined up at the pay telephones to call home or the office."
Eddie and Susannah considered this for a moment, and then they also burst out laughing. So, Roland thought, Jake's seeing must have been true. After all they'd been through, this did not surprise him. What made him glad was to hear the boy's laughter. It was right that Jake should cry for the Pere, who had been his friend, but it was good that he could still laugh.
Very good, indeed.
The door they wanted was to the left of the utility bays. They all recognized the cloud-and-lightning sigul on it at once from the note "R.F." had left them on the back of a sheet of the Oz Daily Buzz, but the door itself was very different from the ones they had encountered so far; except for the cloud and lightning-bolt, it was strictly utilitarian. Although it had been painted green they could see it was steel, not ironwood or the heavier ghostwood.
Surrounding it was a gray frame, also steel, with thighthick insulated power-cords coming out of each side. These ran into one of the walls. From behind that wall came a rough rumbling sound which Eddie thought he recognized.
"Roland," he said in a low voice. "Do you remember the Portal of the Beam we came to, way back at the start? Even before Jake joined our happy band, this was."
Roland nodded. "Where we shot the Little Guardians.
Shardik's retinue. Those of it that still survived."
Eddie nodded. "I put my ear against that door and listened.
"All is silent in the halls of the dead," I thought. "These are the halls of the dead, where the spiders spin and the great circuits fall quiet, one by one."
He had actually spoken this aloud, but Roland wasn't surprised Eddie didn't remember doing so; he'd been hypnotized or close to it.
"We were on the outside, then," Eddie said. "Now we're on the inside." He pointed at the door into Thunderclap, then with one finger traced the course of the fat cables. "The machinery sending power through these doesn't sound very healthy. If we're going to use this thing, I think we ought to right away. It could shut down for good anytime, and then what?"
"Have to call Triple-A Travel," Susannah said dreamily.
"I don't think so. We'd be basted... what do you call it,
"Basted in a hot oast. 'These are the rooms of ruin.' You said that, too. Do you recall?"
"I said it? Right out loud?"
"Aye." Roland led them to the door. He reached out, touched the knob, then pulled his hand back.
"Hot?" Jake asked.
Roland shook his head.
"Electrified?" Susannah asked.
The gunslinger shook his head again.
"Then go on and go for it," Eddie said. "Let's boogie."
They crowded close behind Roland. Eddie was once more holding Susannah on his hip and Jake had picked Oy up. The bumbler was panting through his usual cheery grin and inside their gold rings his eyes were as bright as polished onyx.
"What do we do-" if it's lockedwas how Jake meant to finish, but before he could, Roland turned the knob with his right hand (he had his remaining gun in the left) and pulled the door open. Behind the wall, the machinery cycled up a notch, the sound of it growing almost desperate. Jake thought he could smell something hot: burning insulation, maybe. He was just telling himself to stop imagining things when a number of overhead fans started up. They were as loud as taxiing fighter airplanes in a World War II movie, and they all jumped. Susannah actually put a hand on her head, as if to shield it from falling objects.
"Come on," Roland snapped. "Quick." He stepped through without a backward look. During the brief moment when he was halfway through, he seemed to be broken into two pieces.
Beyond the gunslinger, Jake could see a vast and gloomy room, much bigger than the Staging Area. And silvery crisscrossing lines that looked like dashes of pure light.
"Go on, Jake," Susannah said. 'You next."
Jake took a deep breath and stepped through. There was no riptide, such as they'd experienced in the Cave of Voices, and no jangling chimes. No sense of going todash, not even for a moment. Instead there was a horrid feeling of being turned inside-out, and he was attacked by the most violent nausea he had ever known. He stepped downward, and his knee buckled.
A moment later he was on both knees. Oy spilled out of his arms. Jake barely noticed. He began to retch. Roland was on all fours next to him, doing the same. From somewhere came steady low chugging sounds, the persistent ding-ding-ding-ding of a bell, and an echoing amplified voice.
Jake turned his head, meaning to tell Roland that now he understood why they sent robot raiders through their damned door, and then he vomited again. The remains of his last meal ran steaming across cracked concrete.
All at once Susannah was crying "No! No!" in a distraught voice. Then "Put me down! Eddie, put me down before I-"
Her voice was interrupted by harsh yarking sounds. Eddie managed to deposit her on the cracked concrete before turning his head andjoining the Upchuck Chorus.
Oy fell on his side, hacked hoarsely, then got back on his feet. He looked dazed and disoriented... or maybe Jake was only attributing to the bumbler the way he felt himself.
The nausea was beginning to fade a little when he heard clacking, echoing footfalls. Three men were hurrying toward them, all dressed in jeans, blue chambray shirts, and odd, homemade-looking footwear. One of them, an elderly gent with a mop of untidy white hair, was ahead of the other two. All three had their hands in the air.
"Gunslingers!" cried the man with the white hair. "Are you gunslingers? If you are, don't shoot! We're on your side!"
Roland, who looked in no condition to shoot anyone (Not that I'd want to test that, Jake thought), tried to get up, almost made it, then went back to one knee and made another strangled retching sound. The man with the white hair seized one of his wrists and hauled him up without ceremony.
"The sickness is bad," the old man said, "no one knows it any better than I. Fortunately it passes rapidly. You have to come with us right away. I know how little you feel like it but you see, there's an alarm in the ki'-dam's study and-"
He stopped. His eyes, almost as blue as Roland's, were widening. Even in the gloom Jake could see the old guy's face losing its color. His friends had caught up with him, but he seemed not to notice. It was Jake Chambers he was looking at.
"Bobby?" he said in a voice that was not much more than a whisper. "My God, is it Bobby Garfield?"