The Passage Page 116

"We go north," Alicia announced. "All eyes."

There had been no discussion about who would come; the only surprise was Greer. As the four of them had been mounting up to leave, he had come forward on his horse and joined their number without a word of explanation, passing his command to Eustace. Michael wondered if this meant Greer would be in charge, but as soon as they were clear of the ridge, the major turned to Alicia from atop his horse and said, simply, "This is your show, Lieutenant. Are we clear, everyone?" They all said they were, and that was that.

They rode on. As night was falling, Michael heard, from up ahead, the bright notes of the river. They emerged from the woods onto its southern bank and turned east, using it to guide them through the thickening dark. They had closed up to a single line now, Alicia up front, Greer taking the rear. From time to time one of the horses would stumble or Alicia would pull up, signaling for them to hold and listening intently, scanning the dark shape of the trees. Then they'd press on again. No one had spoken for hours. There was no moon at all.

Then, as a sliver of light lifted from the hills, the valley opened around them. To the east they could discern the shape of the mountain, pressed against a starry sky, and up ahead, some kind of structure, a brooding black shape that, as they approached, revealed itself as a bridge, standing astride the ice-choked river on concrete piers. Alicia dismounted and knelt to the ground.

"Two sets of footprints," she said, gesturing with her rifle. "Over the bridge, from the far side."

They began to climb.

It was not much later that they found the horse. With a tight nod, Greer confirmed that it was his, the gelding Peter and Amy had taken. They all dismounted and stood around the dead animal. Its throat was ripped open in a bright splash, its body stiff and shriveled where it lay on its side in the snow. Somehow it had gotten across the river, probably fording it at a shallow spot; they could see the prints of its last, terrified gallop, coming from the west.

Sara knelt and touched the animal's side.

"He's still warm," she said.

No one said anything. Dawn would come soon. To the east, the sky had begun to pale.


They were criminals.

By the time Peter put down the last file, rubbing his bleary eyes, the night was nearly done. Amy had long since fallen asleep, curled on the bed beneath a blanket; Lacey had moved a chair from the kitchen to sit beside her. From time to time, as he'd turned the pages, rising to put one file back in the box and remove the next, piecing the story together as best he could, he'd heard Amy muttering softly in her sleep behind the curtain.

For a while, after Amy had gone to bed, Lacey had sat with him at the table, explaining the things he couldn't make sense of on his own. The files were thick, full of information that referred to a world he didn't know, had never seen or lived in. But still, over the hours, with Lacey's help, the story had emerged in his mind. There were photographs, too: grown men with puffy, lived-in faces, their eyes glazed and unfocused. Some were holding a board of writing to their chests, or wearing it like a necklace. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, one board read. Louisiana State Department of Corrections, said another. Kentucky and Florida and Wyoming and Delaware. Some of the boards had no words on them, only numbers; some of the men had no boards at all. They were black and white and brown, heavy or slight; somehow, in the looks of numb surrender on their faces, they were all the same. He read:

SUBJECT 12. Carter, Anthony L. Born September 12, 1985, Baytown, TX. Sentenced to death for capital murder, Harris County, TX, 2013.

SUBJECT 11. Reinhardt, William J. Born April 9, 1987, Jefferson City, MO. Sentenced to death for three counts of capital murder and aggravated sexual assault, Miami-Dade County, FL, 2012.

SUBJECT 10. Martinez, Julio A. Born May 3, 1991, El Paso, TX. Sentenced to death for the capital murder of a peace officer, Laramie County, WY, 2011.

SUBJECT 9. Lambright, Horace D. Born October 19, 1992, Oglala, SD. Sentenced to death for two counts of capital murder and aggravated sexual assault, Maricopa County, AZ, 2014.

SUBJECT 8. Echols, Martin S. Born June 15, 1984, Everett, WA. Sentenced to death for capital murder and armed robbery, Cameron Parish, LA, 2012.

SUBJECT 7. Sosa, Rupert I. Born August 22, 1989, Tulsa, OK. Sentenced to death for one count of vehicular homicide with depraved indifference, Lake County, IN, 2009.

SUBJECT 6. Winston, David D. Born April 1, 1994, Bloomington, MN. Sentenced to death for one count of capital murder and three counts of aggravated sexual assault, New Castle County, DE, 2014.

SUBJECT 5. Turrell, Thaddeus R. Born December 26, 1990, New Orleans, LA. Sentenced to death for the capital murder of a Homeland Security officer, New Orleans Federal Housing District, 2014.

SUBJECT 4. Baffes, John T. Born February 12, 1992, Orlando, FL. Sentenced to death for one count of capital murder and one count of second-degree murder with depraved indifference, Pasco County, FL, 2010.

SUBJECT 3. Chavez, Victor Y. Born July 5, 1995, Niagara Falls, NY. Sentenced to death for one count of capital murder and two counts of aggravated sexual assault with a minor, Elko County, NV, 2012.

SUBJECT 2. Morrison, Joseph P. Born January 9, 1992, Black Creek, Ky. Sentenced to death for one count of capital murder, Lewis County, Ky, 2013.

And, finally:

SUBJECT 1. Babcock, Giles J. Born October 29, 1994. Desert Wells, NV. Sentenced to death for one count of capital murder, Nye County, NV, 2013.

Babcock, he thought. Desert Wells.

They always go home.

Amy's file was thinner than the others. "SUBJECT 13, AMY NLN," the label read, "Convent of the Sisters of Mercy, Memphis, TN." Height and weight and hair color and a string of numbers that Peter surmised were medical data of the kind Michael had found on the chip in her neck. Affixed to this page was a photograph of a little girl, no more than six years old, just as Michael had predicted. All knees and elbows, sitting on a wooden chair, dark hair falling around her face. Peter had never before seen a photograph of someone he'd actually known, and for a moment his mind struggled to comprehend the notion that this image was the same person who was sleeping in the next room. But there was no question; her eyes were Amy's eyes. See? her eyes seemed to say. Who did you think I was?

He came to the file for Wolgast, Bradford J. There was no photograph; a rusty stain on the top page showed where one had once been clipped. But even without it, Peter was able to form a picture in his mind of this man who, if what Lacey said was true, had brought each of the Twelve to the compound, and Amy as well. A tall, sturdy man with deep-set eyes and graying hair, with large hands good for work. A mild face but troubled, something moving under the surface, barely contained. According to the file, Wolgast had been married and had had a child; the girl, whose name was Eva, was listed as deceased. Peter wondered if that was the reason he had decided, in the end, to help Amy. His instincts told him it was.

It was the contents of the last file, though, that told him the most. A report by someone named Cole to a Colonel Sykes, U.S. Army Division of Special Weapons, concerning the work of a Dr. Jonas Lear and something called "Project NOAH"; and a second document, dated five years later, ordering the transfer of twelve human test subjects from Telluride, Colorado, to White Sands, New Mexico, for "operational combat testing." It took Peter a while to put the pieces together, or mostly. But he knew what combat was.

All those years, he thought, waiting for the Army to return, and it was the Army that had done it.

As he put down the final file, he heard Lacey rising. She passed through the curtain and stopped in the doorway.

"So. You have read."

At the sound of her voice, a sudden exhaustion washed over him. Lacey restoked the fire and sat at the table across from him. He gestured over the piles of paper on the table.

"He really did this? The doctor."

"Yes." She nodded. "There were others, but yes."

"Did he ever say why?"

Behind her, the fresh logs caught with a soft whump, blazing the room with light. "I think because he could. That is the reason for most things people do. He was not a bad man, Peter. It was not entirely his fault, though he believed it was. Many times I asked him, Do you think the world could be unmade by men alone? Of course it could not. But he never quite believed me." She tipped her head toward the files on the table. "He left these for you, you know."

"Me? How could he have left them for me?"

"For whoever came back. So they would know what happened here."

He sat quietly, uncertain what to say. Alicia had been right about one thing: all his life, since the day he had come out of the Sanctuary, he had wondered why the world was what it was. But learning the truth had solved nothing.

Amy's stuffed rabbit was still on the table; he took it in his hand. "Do you think she remembers it?"

"What they did to her? I do not know. Perhaps she does."

"No, I meant before. Being a girl." He searched for the words. "Being human."

"I think that she has always been human."

He waited for Lacey to say more, and when she didn't, he put the rabbit aside.

"What's it like, living forever?"

She gave a sudden laugh. "I do not think that I will live forever."

"But he gave you the virus. You're like her. Like Amy."

"There is no one like Amy, Peter." She shrugged. "But if you are asking what it has been like for me all these years, since Jonas died, I will say that it has been very lonely. It surprises me how much."

"You miss him, don't you?"

He instantly regretted saying this; a look of sadness swept over her face, like the shadow of a bird crossing a field.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"

But she shook her head. "No, it is perfectly all right that you should ask. It is difficult to talk about him like this, after so long. But the answer is yes. I do miss him. I should think it a wonderful thing to be missed, the way that I miss him."

For a while they sat in silence, bathed in the glow of the fire. Peter wondered if Alicia was thinking about him, where she was now. He had no idea if he would see her, or any of them, again.

"I don't know ... what I'm doing, Lacey," he said finally. "I don't know what to do with any of this."

"You found your way here. That is something. That is a beginning."

"What about Amy?"

"What about her, Peter?"

But he wasn't sure what he was asking. The question was what it was: What of Amy?

"I thought ... " He sighed and drew his gaze away, toward the room where Amy slept. "Listen to me. I don't know what I thought."

"That you could defeat them? That you would find the answer here?"

"Yes." He returned his eyes to Lacey. "I didn't even know I was thinking it, until just now. But yes."

Lacey appeared to be studying him, though what she was looking for, Peter couldn't say. He wondered if he was as crazy as he sounded. Probably he was.

"Tell me, Peter. Do you know the story of Noah? Not Project NOAH. Noah the man."

The name was nothing he knew. "I don't think so."

"It is an old story. A true story. I think it will be some help to you." Lacey rose a little in her chair, her face suddenly animated. "So. A man named Noah was asked by God to build a ship, a great ship. This was long ago. Why would I build a ship, Noah asked. It is a sunny day, I have other things to do. Because this world has grown wicked, God said to him, and it is my intention to send a flood of water to destroy it, and drown every living thing. But you, Noah, are a man righteous in your generation, and I will save you and your family if you do as I command, building this ship to carry yourselves and every species of animal, two of every kind. And do you know what Noah did, Peter?"

"He built the ship?"

Her eyes widened. "Of course he did! But not right away. That, you see, is the interesting part of the story. If Noah had simply done as he was told, the story wouldn't mean anything at all. No. He was afraid that people would make fun of him. He was afraid he would build the ship and the flood wouldn't come and he would look like a fool. God was testing him, you see, to find out if there was anyone who made the world worth saving. He wanted to see if Noah was up to the job. And in the end, he was. He built the ship, and the heavens opened, and the world was washed away. For a long time, Noah and his family floated on the waters. It seemed they had been forgotten, that a terrible joke had been played on them. But after many days, God remembered Noah, and sent him a dove to lead them to dry land, and the world was reborn." She gave her hands a quiet clap of satisfaction. "There. You see?"

He didn't, not at all. It reminded him of the fables Teacher had read to them in circle, stories of talking animals that always ended in a lesson. Pleasant to listen to, and maybe not wrong, but in the end too easy, something for children.

"You do not believe me? That is all right. One day you will."

"It's not that I don't believe you," Peter managed. "I'm sorry. It's just that ... it's only a story."

"Perhaps." She shrugged. "And perhaps someday someone will say those very words about you, Peter. What do you say to that?"

He didn't know. It was late, or early; the night was almost gone. Despite all he had learned, he felt more puzzled than when it had begun.

"So, for the sake of argument," he said, "if I'm supposed to be Noah, then who's Amy?"

Lacey's face was incredulous. She seemed about to laugh. "Peter, I am surprised at you. Perhaps I did not tell it right."

"No, you told it fine," he assured her. "I just don't know."

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