Sit down, Jackie-me-lad. We’ve eaten, and I’ve whiskey enough. I know you’ve no family on the base, but Mrs. Wesson felt called to discuss the matter with me so I’ll be your Irish uncle today, never you mind that you’re dating my daughter. I hear Sam’s to apologize for speaking so, and that’s well and good. It’s the thing he won’t speak of that I’ll tell you tonight.
This was before you were born, wee Kyna girl, but a handful of years after we discovered Gabriel Lee had turned traitor. Sam was Chosen by then. He’s got the same gifts you have, Jack, which is why he’s so hard on you now. Because he blames himself for Tom.
See, when Michael’s da went rogue, Angus and Sarah decided that we needed watchers inside the base as well as out. And they asked Sam to be among those. He’d grown up closest to Michael, and he blamed himself for not knowing what to do, and Angus thought that would be motivation enough. The man can spot talent, aye well, but there’s no substitute for experience and Sam had all of maybe twenty years when it went down, and only Chosen for the last three of those.
You’ve heard me speak of Tom, who came up with the idea for the patches after the Divorce Day Storm. He always had the ideas, did Tommy. If you were in a bind, any bind, you could come to him and he’d get you out of that corner. Had a knack, too, not really a full gift but he could see things a little better than intuition. So when he led, people followed.
We didn’t know, then, about the worms. We’d faced the damn squidge, what Her people call ichthyans, in so many forms. Bats for sure, nestlings, slugs… all that. But not the worms. So when Tom picked one up, nobody knew to check.
Sam didn’t know. You have to remember that, lad. Because he’ll tell you he should have, and maybe he’s right but maybe not.
He’d been getting better and better at finding nests, Tom. Somehow. We didn’t question it, he was always like that. He’d have a notion and it would just work. It’s a bit of what our Kyna’s got, and why some of those movies you like so much won’t be shown on base.
So that day we followed him into the tunnels was no big deal. Kyna, Jack would know but I’m not sure I’ve told you, Chicago’s a digger’s dream. You can get to most of the Loop without ever poking your head up, in the winter. Tommy said he was sure that’s where they’d be dormant for the cold season, and we could go there without ever hardly raising a hand and clean out enough to give ourselves an easy summer.
Only of course it wasn’t like that. The worms had got him. That’s what you were learning to spot today in school, lad. The behaviors, the … the smell of it. How to tell if something’s wrong when nothing looks it. And Sam shouted at you why? Sure, and for relaxing your guard between exercises. He thinks now that if he’d remembered that lesson, if he’d known back then, he could have spotted the evil in Tommy before they ever went into the tunnels.
I don’t know for certain-sure what went down with their team; Simon’s da Herger and I were back to back at that point and squidgebats were everywhere, every form of nightmare shrieking down on our heads. All I know is that Michael, Sam, and Tom turned left where we went right, went east toward the river instead of west toward the stairs up to Wacker. So we had daylight and cold on our side, refuge to get into against the worst of it. They wouldn’t have. And I know I heard voices, distorted by the tunnels. And I know when they came out, Michael was half-carrying Sam. I know you don’t think much of Michael, and you’re not wrong in that, but he wouldn’t leave his team that day, even though I could hear him begging Sam to go.
When we went back, Angus led the way. All the oldtimers came with fire and we burned those nests back to bare stone. Found Tom’s body in a side shaft. Didn’t much look like the squidge got him, except a little around the edges. But Sam was never the same again.