Saving the Cult (if not the World), Chapter Thirty-Four

Saving the Cult (If not the World) "It's time." Manfield Lee knew he was good at sounding authoritative even when he didn't know what he was talking about - he'd turned a fortune into a megafortune doing just that, after all, not to mention running the Organization - but right now, he DID know what he was talking about. After all, it was just a date, wasn't it? And if the date turned out to be wrong, well, then he knew exactly what to blame it on, and that blame would fall on the scholars and the psychics, not on him. The other thing Manfield Lee knew how to do was to place the blame in very specific ways that were not him.

Officer Dean looked as if she hadn’t slept. “The power plant isn’t saying a damn thing.  We asked them every way we could, we got a warrant, we have all the lawyers on it, they’re not saying anything. They’d rather risk the city being melted than admit culpability.”  She huffed, but there was no heat in it. “We cleared a path for you and your — your bus.  So tell the driver to go as fast as he feels as safe, just follow the flare line.”

While Lina, Jackson, and her father collected this information, Dylan and Ethan were herding those of Lina’s “volunteers” who’d returned — almost all of them, she thought.

“God,” she whispered.  “All these people, Jackson.”

“Chin up.  Confidence.”  He squeezed her hand.  Her father patted her shoulder.

“He’s right.  Look confident.  Be proud.  Be sure.  Even if you’re faking it — especially if you’re faking it.  Not only will it help you, it’ll send that impression to everyone else, and they’ll send it back to you.”

Lina lifted her head and smiled, trying to look proud.  “All right.  How-”

“Little less manic,” her father offered quietly  “Tell them what the plan is.  Run over it in your head first, so you’re not tripping over your words.”

Lina ran over what she knew, tossed out half of it, brought it down to the simplest part, and stepped up on to a truck bed to talk to people.  “All right, everyone.  We don’t know which direction the power plant is going to blow this time, so we’re going to go to the plant itself.  We’re going to create a ring as close to the plant as we can get while not right up against it, and we’re going to put up a force-field like we did last night, to keep the wave from knocking down buildings like it did yesterday.  Anyone who doesn’t want to come, that’s all right.  But if you’re coming, we need to get back on the bus right now, and we need to hurry.”

She held her breath.

She was amazed to see every single person moving to the bus, getting on the bus.  All of them.

“They know -” She whispered to Jackson.  “They know, I mean, they know it’s dangerous, right?”

“They know last night would’ve been deadly, except you were there,” he countered at a whisper that matched hers. “They know that you saved them, and they have faith you can save them again.”

“You realize that’s terrifying.”

He snorted. “Yeah.  Well, welcome to being a hero.”

She leaned into him a little bit as he relayed the police officer’s message to the bus driver.  And then they were all sitting down and holding on, as the bus driver took that message as an invitation to go 75 mph down city streets.

It didn’t help her nerves at all.  It probably made then half again as worse.

But then, in the back, someone started singing.  It wasn’t a hymn, just a pop-radio song from fifteen years ago, if her mother’s tastes were any indication, but it meant everyone started singing, and since it turned out that everyone over the age of 30 knew the song, that meant almost the whole bus was singing.

That helped.  That, and the collective yelp as the bus went over a speed bump so fast it made air, and the way everyone cheered when they passed the city’s famous ice cream place.

Still standing.  That was interesting.  Lina wished she’d been watching.  “Jackson,” she murmured, “on the way back – on the way back, we have to see where the damage started, what the patterns are.  Okay?”

He squeezed her hand.  Something in his expression told her he was either wondering if there would be a way back or pleased with her optimism.  “Okay,” he agreed, like none of that at all was on his mind.

There wasn’t a lot more time for thought.  She sketched out two patterns, didn’t quite bring herself to ask Jackson what he thought, and then they were there.

“Dylan-” Jackson tried one more time.  And then, straight at Lina.  “This could kill him.”

“This could kill everyone,” Dylan answered very quietly.  “Jackson, man, let me do this.  Let me do something good, okay?”

They unloaded from the bus; Lina caught both their hands and squeezed them.  Then she let go of Jackson’s hand and squeezed Ethan’s.  Then she let go of Dylan’s hand and squeezed Jackson’s.

She probably would have kept going in circles if they hadn’t been interrupted; a power plant official and three Very Large Men – at least, that’s how she read the woman in the suit and the men in the lab coats – came hurrying up to them.  “You can’t be here!”

And just like that, there was no more time to worry about Dylan, about herself, about their very small and very strange group.  Lina lifted her chin and tried to be a lot older than she was and a lot more assured.

She knew they were going to have to involve The Fathers, but she started with a very small force-field right between her and the woman. “If you’d told me where it was going to blow this time, I wouldn’t have to be here.  But since you didn’t, here we are.”


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