“All right,” Cardinal Varano says. “Tell me what happened.”
Sal is seated in the wood-lined hearing room of the Societas Librorum Occultorum. Menchú had shown her this room once, when she first arrived. She’d thought it looked like a courtroom then. It looks even more like a courtroom now. There is the cardinal, seated at the head of the room behind what looks for all the world like a judge’s bench. There is an expanse of floor between him and the rest of the people in the room, the kind of space that lawyers should be stalking, though there are no lawyers here, and for the first time in Sal’s life, that makes it worse.
Someone needs to witness this, she thinks.
The rest of them are seated behind a long wooden table. The monsignors of all three teams of the Society: Fox for Team One, Usher for Team Two, Angiuli for Team Three. There is Archivist Asanti, and a few of each of the team’s members. They’re at a hearing. Inquest is the official word. To determine cause of death. But Sal feels more like they’re at a tribunal. Maybe they’re at a kangaroo court.
“Let’s begin with you, Team Three,” Cardinal Varano says.
Monsignor Angiuli turns to Sal with helpless eyes. Sal’s never seen him before today. She’s learned some things about him from Menchú, but so far their conversation right before the hearing is the only contact she’s had with him. He’s a kindly old man not prone to oversight, and he’s given Menchú a very long leash in the past few years. He’s barely read any of the reports Menchú has filed with him.
Sal looks at the cardinal.
“I’ve never done one of these before,” she says. “Should I stand?”
Varano frowns. “If you want to.” Sal may or may not have detected a vague note of disappointment, like a mean grandfather would have. She’s messed up, she thinks, either because she wasn’t standing already or because she admitted she didn’t know the rules, or maybe both-and three other things she doesn’t even know about yet.
She puts it out of her mind and stays in her chair. Before she speaks, she looks up at the stained-glass ceiling high above them. She wants more light, but it’s a cloudy day, and the light won’t come.
Cardinal Varano talks slowly, making it plain that he’s condescending to speak to her in English.
“You are aware,” he says, “that these types of proceedings are highly unusual. They are generally unnecessary. But given the many ways that this particular case almost escaped us, and the way it led to such destruction, injury, and loss of life among our own personnel, it is very important that we understand what went wrong, and what it means for Society operations in the future.”
Without Sal’s permission, a few bad memories flit across her brain. Grace knocked through the air, through the wall of a building. The look on Menchú’s face just before the dust cloud overtook him. Someone impaled on a long tooth. Someone else diving into the ground, and the earth closing around him.
A mother and son, crying.
“I understand,” Sal says.
The cardinal gives a very hoarse laugh, devoid of any mirth whatsoever.
The sky was enormous. Team Three had just gotten off the interstate and the van was now speeding down a county road, just a straight shot across the flattest land Sal had ever seen. The tallest things for miles were the telephone poles, in a jagged line running next to the road. In the van, Sal craned her neck to look out the window. She thought she would feel some sense of freedom, of exhilaration. The open road, the open sky, like in a bad country song. But she didn’t feel any of that. She just felt exposed. Vulnerable.
“Jesus,” Liam said. “There is nothing out here.”
“You said that already,” Grace said. “Four times.”
“There’s still nothing here,” Liam said.
The Orb, Asanti had told them, had gone off in a flash, like something had exploded inside it, before it clacked out the coordinates. It was unusual. Unusually intense. What does that mean? Menchú had asked. Asanti shrugged. I don’t know, she had responded, tell me when you find out.
Then it had been a nineteen-hour trip from Rome, with layovers in London and Dallas. By the time they were on the final leg to Tulsa, even Liam had run out of things to talk about. They got into the van without saying more than three words to each other. And now here they were. The road was loud under the van’s tires. The wind battered the windshield.
“There really is—” Liam said.
“Don’t,” Grace said. “Just don’t.”
They pulled into the town of Tanner City twenty minutes later. Or what was left of it. Twenty-two hours before, Liam told them, at about one in the morning, a tornado had touched down in a farmer’s field a mile away. It grew to be almost half a mile wide and cut a ragged slash through the town. There was little warning, and thirty-three people died. The next morning, some parts of town were filled with debris from other parts of town. One house had been speared by a tree that the twister had uprooted,...