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JAKE HAD NO CLEAR memory of the time which followed, and that was probably merciful. He had left his world over a year before nine hundred people would commit suicide together in a small South American country called Guyana, but he knew about the periodic death-rushes of the lemmings, and what was happening in the disintegrating undercity of the Grays was like that.
There were explosions, some on their level but most far below them; acrid smoke occasionally drifted from the ventilator grilles, but most of the air-purifiers were still working and they whipped the worst of it away before it could gather in choking clouds. They saw no fires. Yet the Grays were reacting as if the time of the apocalypse had come. Most only fled, their faces blank O's of panic, but many had committed suicide in the halls and interconnected rooms through which the steel sphere led Roland and Jake. Some had shot themselves; many more had slashed their throats or wrists; a few appeared to have swallowed poison. On all the faces of the dead was the same expression of overmastering terror. Jake could only vaguely understand what had driven them to this. Roland had a better idea of what had happened to them-to their minds-when the long-dead city first came to life around them and then seemed to commence tearing itself apart. And it was Roland who understood that Blaine was doing it on purpose. That Blaine was driving them to it.
They ducked around a man hanging from an overhead heating-duct and pounded down a flight of steel stairs behind the floating steel ball.
"Jake!" Roland shouted. "You never let me in at all, did you?"
Jake shook his head.
"I didn't think so. It was Blaine."
They reached the bottom of the stairs and hurried along a narrow corridor toward a hatch with the words ABSOLUTELY NO ADMITTANCE printed on it in the spiked letters of the High Speech.
"Is it Blaine?" Jake asked.
"Yes-that's as good a name as any."
"What about the other v-"
"Hush!" Roland said grimly.
The steel ball paused in front of the hatchway. The wheel spun and the hatch popped ajar. Roland pulled it open, and they stepped into a huge underground room which stretched away in three directions as far as they could see. It was filled with seemingly endless aisles of control panels and electronic equipment. Most of the panels were still dark and dead, but as Jake and Roland stood inside the door, looking about with wide eyes, they could see pilot-lights coming on and hear machinery cycling up.
"The Tick-Tock Man said there were thousands of computers," Jake said. "I guess he was right. My God, look!"
Roland did not understand the word Jake had used and so said nothing. He only watched as row after row of panels lit up. A cloud of sparks and a momentary tongue of green fire jumped from one of the consoles as some ancient piece of equipment malfunctioned.
Most of the machinery, however, appeared to be up and running just fine. Needles which hadn't moved
IF ONE OF YOU TELLS A RIDDLE I CANNOT SOLVE, I WILL SPARE YOUR LIVES AND TAKE YOU TO TOPEKA, WHERE YOU WILL LEAVE THE MONO AND CONTINUE YOUR QUEST FOR THE DARK TOWER. HAVE I UNDERSTOOD THE TERMS AND LIMITS OF YOUR PROPOSAL CORRECTLY, ROLAND, SON OF STEVEN?"
"VERY WELL, ROLAND OF GILEAD.
"VERY WELL, EDDIE OF NEW YORK.
"VERY WELL, SUSANNAH OF NEW YORK.
"VERY WELL, JAKE OF NEW YORK.
"VERY WELL, OY OF MID-WORLD."
Oy looked up briefly at the sound of his name.
"YOU ARE KA-TET; ONE MADE FROM MANY. SO AM I. WHOSE KA-TET IS THE STRONGER IS SOMETHING WE MUST NOW PROVE."
There was a moment of silence, broken only by the steady hard throb of the slo-trans turbines, bearing them on across the waste lands, bearing them on toward Topeka, the place where Mid-World ended and End-World began.
"SO," cried the voice of Blaine. "CAST YOUR NETS, WANDERERS! TRY ME WITH YOUR QUESTIONS, AND LET THE CONTEST BEGIN."
from The Waste Lands: The Dark Tower III by Stephen King, copyright © 1991, 2003 Stephen King, published by Viking Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.