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.Asa and Jen didn’t want to move; they didn’t want to break the old woman’s concentration.“Yes!” she put her teacup down and smiled—almost laughed.“They are going to attack the Academy first!”“First? Who?” Asa asked.“The Multipliers.” In the excitement of discovery, Mama looked momentarily younger.“They are growing in this, this Hive thing, right? Maybe on one of the earlier missions, when Multipliers were allowed to go out and help with Academy work with the graduates, one ran off.Or, in Africa when the Multipliers broke out, maybe the graduates thought they caught all of them, but hadn’t.I don’t know.But anyways, if the Hive thing exists, you have to assume that there is some kind of critical figure.Sure, maybe they have a quarter million now, but they can’t continue growing underground, and not expect to be found out.And when they are found, what is going to happen? The Academy will shut them down.I know it sounds crazy, but the graduates are very formidable when they are on a mission.”Asa’s head tilted as he listened.Not seeing, Mama went on: “And this Hive-thing, they may have numbers, but what kinds of technologies do they have? Even with a quarter million, they couldn’t take over the world right now; I really don’t think so.But…” she shrugged, “if they were able to take over the Academy; to use its weaponry, the facilities, now that’s a different story.“Just think,” Mama said, “where do you think the Hive is hiding? Maybe a small town in a third world country? Maybe some of them are underground? Maybe they are spread out.They are probably excellent at not being noticed; they probably do their best to stay indoors with their shades drawn, wherever they are; Mexico, Peru, the U.S., Australia, Somalia.But their plan is a ticking time bomb.Just think; all it would take is for one of them, just one, to have a suspicious police force break into their home, find that the residents aren’t entirely human, and then the whole operation is over with.”Asa interrupted now: “What do you mean?”Mama’s bushy white eyebrows drew together.“If some police officer finds a human with black gums, he’s going to tell the leaders above him.Word will be communicated out through telephone conversations and e-mails; the news will spread like a virus.When the Academy got word, they would step in, and the Multipliers don’t want that.That’s why this Hive thing has taken such pains to stay hidden; that’s why no one has heard about it before.”“So they want to get out of these hiding places? Is that what you’re saying?” Jen asked.“Yes! I think that they’re not only trying to get out of these hiding places, I think that they’re trying to get into the Academy.If they could take over the Academy, they could grow so much more.These mountains and the Town can hold well over a million people, easily.They’ll want this place, and they’ll try to take it.The question is when.It scares me to wonder if Volkner was feeding them information.They are probably very well informed about this organization.And there might be other traitors too; Multipliers, graduates, humans working for Alfatrex.Anyone could be helping the Hive.”Asa thought of Harold Kensing; who had he been working for, if not the Hive? It made sense.Who else would threaten to kill a police officers family if they don’t kill Asa?“So what do we do?” Jen asked.The clocks ticked on the wall for a moment.“What do you mean?”“How do we stop them?”Mama’s face fell and she suddenly looked old again.The roll of intellectual discovery had slowed.“I don’t know.”The three of them fell into silence again.The fire crackled and the cuckoos along the wall ticked off the time as they went deeper into the night.At first, Asa suspected that Mama might be pondering what to say next, but after several minutes she began to snore.Asa’s frame found a comfortable niche in the corner of the couch and he wondered when Conway would come home.They had nothing to do now but wait.The wolves continued to howl outside and Asa was glad to be locked in doors.He thought of the other predators out there; Joney, Michael, and Edna are probably cooking a deer over a fire right now, licking their lips with black tongues.And who knows how many other Multipliers are waiting in the wild? Will Robert King send out a search party to comb through the forests? These aren’t benign Multipliers; they’ve already bitten Brumi, and if the past is a way to predict the future, they will bite more students.Asa’s body was exhausted.His joints were sore from the terribly long run earlier in the day, and his head still ached from the hallucinogenic drug that Lilly had sprayed him with.His back hurt from where he had been slammed down by a pterodactyl.Slowly, his eyelids fluttered down and then he shot them back open, sitting up.I must not sleep.Mama was snoring on her chair, and Jen was curled up on the other side of the couch.Asa relaxed.Conway can wake me up when he gets home, if I do take a small nap.He leaned back against the soft cushions and rested his head on the fabric.Within ten seconds his eyes were shut and his breathing was slowing down as he fell into a deep sleep.21Beautiful Months and the Multipliers’ Nighttime Visit to Asa PalmerWhen Asa awoke, he saw golden beams of sunlight shining through the windows onto the floor.He stirred, and found that his arm was around Jen as she slept next to him on the couch.He stood slowly, trying not to wake her.Confused, he saw that he was still in Conway’s cabin.On the tree stump coffee table was a silver cassette player with a sticky note on it that said:Press play,MamaAsa did so and was greeted with Mama’s African accented, croaky voice: “Good morning, Asa.I would have written you a note, but with my eyes I sometimes write over what I’ve already written and the meaning gets all jumbled.Conway called last night.He’d been sent on a mission.He didn’t say where, but he’ll be gone for a while.There’s some eggs, bagels, cheese, and all sorts of stuff in the refrigerator.Help yourself.I would have made breakfast for you, but Ozzie and I had to clock in at The Shop before seven this morning.Stay as long as you want.You and Jen won’t have class today ‘cause many students are still in the Task.Have a good day, Asa.I want to see you soon.” And then Mama’s voice cut off and the tape kept reeling.Asa and Jen had breakfast on the small, dark wood table and then cleaned their dishes and put everything away.They made sure to leave the cabin cleaner than they found it and then went off to spend the day together.March came, cold and sleeting, and led to April, which Asa enjoyed.Flowers began to bloom throughout the fields and valleys tucked away in the mountains, and brown grizzlies came out of hibernation and roamed over the land.The snowy summits began to partially melt away under the sun, making clean, crisp streams that ran down the mountainsides into the steaming Moat.The frightening portion of April began at the end of the month, when Multipliers banged on the door of Asa’s dwelling, demanding to see Teddy Jujune.The time leading up to this event was the best Asa had had in over a year.The period wasn’t without unfairness and sorrow—this was present in any stint at the Academy—the twisted moral foundations of the place made it so.Asa learned that a dozen students had refused to compete in the Task in the Tropics; all of these had been killed [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]