They were walking in the garden between the dormitory buildings, the mummies keeping a discrete distance from the living when something white and fast blurred across Gary's vision and collided with his temple, making his eyes shiver in their sockets. His brain squirmed in his head as he sent out a dozen commands at once, drawing in clumps of soldiers to cover his blind spot, sending Noseless clambering up the stairs of the broch to get a clear view, rushing Faceless out to where the wall of the enclosure wasn't quite finished.
It was with his own eyes, however, that he solved the mystery. Looking down, still shaken by the blow, he saw the missile that had struck him so violently. It was a softball, soiled and dented from long use. Looking up again he saw a girl standing stock still a few dozen yards away, her eyes very wide. She wore a catcher's glove and her nose was running unheeded. Her bright energy thrummed inside her with the adrenaline coursing through her veins.
Gary knelt down before the terrified eight year-old and tried to smile. Considering the state of his teeth maybe that wasn't the best idea. The girl trembled visibly, waves of fear rippling through her gooseflesh.
"Come here, baby. I'm not going to bite." Not this one, anyway. She had plenty more years ahead of her as a breeder before she would be culled. If she was a threat he might have to eat her father or something as an object lesson.
At his side he could feel Marisol barely able to control herself. She wanted to hurt him, he knew. Violence had been done to his person and she felt as if she should take it as a sign to begin a violent rebellion against her captivity. He also knew she wasn't that stupid. The others who stood around him in a wide circle looked ready to run away at the slightest provocation. There would be no mutiny today.
"Did you throw this?" he asked, holding up the softball. It took both of his hands to keep a grip on it. "Did you throw it at me on purpose? Don't worry, I'm not angry. Did you throw it on purpose?"
Perhaps too quickly the girl's head swiveled right and left in negation. Gary smiled again.
"Playing ball is fun but we have to be careful," he said. "Maybe you remember how there used to be doctors and hospitals but they're gone now. If one of us gets hurt or sick there's nobody to look after them. Do you - "
He stopped in mid-thought. His death-numbed senses had picked up something, something distant and faint, a kind of rumbling that he felt more than heard. Like an over-loaded tractor trailer rumbling by on a highway blocks away. Gary queried the taibhsears hanging from the broch's walls and his own scouts out in the park. There was a generalized sense of agitation from the crowd of dead outside but no real information to be had.
A living man came out of the crowd and hurried the little girl away. Her education would have to wait until Gary knew what was going on.
"What was that?" Marisol demanded. The living around them shook their heads in confusion. Gary wasn't just losing it, then. There had definitely been a sound. He touched Noseless's mind and had him study the dead trees of Central Park, the tombstone tenements beyond. There - a puff of brown and grey smoke rolling over some trees on the western edge of the park. Over by the American Museum of Natural History, almost directly across the park from the Met where Mael had reanimated. Gary reached across the eididh and sent a wave of his dead soldiers moving in that direction. Those closest to the museum were engulfed in a wave of dust that dissipated quickly. They staggered onto the museum grounds and tripped over fallen pieces of stone and brick. That wasn't altogether surprising - the dead had demolished a good half of the Natural History Museum in their quest for bricks with which to build Mael's tower. Maybe the rest of the building was just collapsing.
A honking, shrilling blare rolled across the park. The dead nearest the Natural History Museum covered their ears in defense against the noise. The sound rose and fell and flared out into a high-pitched shriek that made Gary's skull hurt. When it finally stopped he ordered his dead to get closer, to surround the museum. That had been a man-made sound. Feedback on a speaker system, perhaps.
Or from a bullhorn. "Hello! Mr. Asshole Xaaraan!"
That word wasn't English but it sounded familiar. Oh yes, of course. One of the Somali girls had used it to describe him. She'd had a bayonet impaling his chest at the time.
"Hello, dead man, are you out there!"
There was still dust in the air near the Natural History Museum. It vibrated every time the girl spoke. Gary possessed the throats of his army.
"Yesssss," he made them hiss with rotten vocal chords. "I'mmmmm heeerrreee."
A figured appeared on the roof of the Natural History Museum, on top of the glass-walled Hayden Planetarium. Noseless could just make her out with his cloudy eyes - plaid skirt, blazer, headscarf. The girl soldier raised the bullhorn to her mouth again and her words blasted across Central Park, bouncing off the hardened mud, ricocheting off the twisted iron streetlamps. "You said you would take me as your payment for the drugs. I have come."
Ayaan - it was Ayaan, the bitch who shot him. Gary felt his dessicated salivary glands swell with excitement. He hadn't really expected Dekalb to accept his offer. He urged his dead scouts forward, into the broken province of the museum. Inside in the shadowy space hot dust roiled in great clouds that reduced visibility. Piles of broken rubble clogged the corridors and broad exhibit spaces. Ayaan must have demolished all the stairwells - there was no way up to the roof anymore, as far as Gary could tell. The only part of the museum that hadn't been damaged was the planetarium itself, a metal clad sphere suspended inside a self-contained structure of tempered glass. There was no way inside the glass cube without going through the main body of the museum, and the glass was shatterproof.
Gary pulled his troops out of the ruined building and had them swarm around the sides. They reached up across the glass but could find no handholds, nothing at all to help them climb up. Ayaan had picked an incredibly defensible location to make her last stand. There was no way up - but she was also cut off from escape.
"Here I am!" she said, her words chased by rubbery echoes. "Come and get me!"
Clearly she didn't intend to go down easy. Alright, Gary thought. Alright. This might be fun. He urged his army forward, the great surging mass of them. They moved silently like a wind passing through tall grass but their footfalls made the ground shake. Gary thrilled with the power he commanded, only to have his ego shaken a moment later.
From behind ventilation hoods and elevator shaft heads the rest of Ayaan's company emerged, a dozen, two dozen girls with heavy packs on their backs and assault rifles in their hands. Some of them held large cardboard boxes. These girls ran to the edge of the planetarium roof and upturned their loads over the heads of the encroaching ghoul army.
The boxes had been full of live hand grenades. They fell like fruit from an orchard in a thunderstorm, tumbling through fifty feet of air to bounce around the feet of Gary's soldiers. They went off in rhythmic fountains of pale smoke that hid the army from Noseless's view and made Gary wince as he felt the distant pain of each dead man to be blown apart.
"Goddamnit," Gary howled. He headed back to the broch, calling the mummies to follow him. It looked like Dekalb still had some surprises for him after all.