The Passage Page 122

How had he come to be here? Had he set out in search of them and been taken up along the way, or was it the reverse? Was it Mausami or the baby he had wanted? Had he come to seek revenge? To say goodbye?

What was home to Galen Strauss?

Alicia and Peter rolled the corpse onto a tarp and dragged it away from the house. They had intended to burn it, but Mausami objected. He might have been a viral, she said, but he was my husband once. He didn't deserve what happened to him. He should be buried with the others. At least let's give him that.

So that was what they did.

It was late afternoon on their second day at the farmstead when they laid Galen to rest. All had gathered in the yard except for Theo, who was still confined to bed and would, in fact, remain there for many more days. Sara suggested that they each tell a story of something they remembered about Galen-a struggle at the start, since he was not someone any of them except for Maus had known all that well or even much liked. But eventually they managed it, relating some incident in which Galen had done or said something funny or loyal or kind, while Greer and Amy looked on, witnesses to the ritual. By the time they were done Peter realized that something significant had occurred, an acknowledgment that, once made, could not be unmade. The body they had buried might have been a viral, but the person they had buried was a man.

The last to speak was Mausami. She was holding baby Caleb, who had fallen asleep. She cleared her throat, and Peter saw that her eyes were damp with tears.

"I just want to say that he was a lot braver than people thought he was. The truth was, he could barely see at all. He didn't want anybody to know how bad it was, but I could tell. He was just too proud to admit it. I'm sorry I deceived him like I did. I know he wanted to be a father, and maybe that's why he came here. I guess it's strange to say, but I think he would have been a good one. I wish he'd had that chance."

She fell silent, shifting the baby to her shoulder and using her free hand to wipe her eyes. "That's all," she said. "Thanks for doing this, everyone. If it's okay, I'd like a minute by myself."

The group dispersed, leaving Maus alone. Peter ascended the stairs to the bedroom and found his brother awake and sitting up, his splinted leg stretched before him. In addition to the broken leg, Sara thought he had at least three cracked ribs. All things considered, he was lucky to be alive.

Peter moved to the window with its view of the yard below. Maus was still standing by the grave, facing away. The baby had awakened and begun to fuss; Maus was rotating back and forth on her hips, one hand cupping the back of Caleb's head where it lay over her shoulder, trying to settle him.

"Is she still out there?" Theo asked.

Peter turned to his brother, whose face was pointed at the ceiling now.

"It's okay if she is," Theo said. "I was just ... wondering."

"Yes, she's still out there."

Theo said nothing more, his expression unreadable.

"How's the leg?" Peter ventured.

"Like shit." Theo ran his tongue along his fractured teeth. "It's these teeth that bug me the most, though. Like there's nothing where something should be. I can't get used to it."

Peter let his eyes drift out the window again; the space where Maus had stood was empty. From below he heard the sound of the kitchen door closing, then opening again, and Greer stepped out, carrying a rifle. He stood a moment, then crossed the yard to the woodpile by the barn, balanced the rifle against the wall, took up the axe, and began to split logs.

"Look," Theo said. "I know I let you down, staying behind."

Peter turned to face his brother once more. From elsewhere in the house now, he could hear the voices of the others, gathering in the kitchen.

"It's okay," he said. With all that had happened, Peter had put this disappointment aside, long ago. "Maus needed you. I would have done the same thing."

But his brother shook his head. "Just let me talk a minute. I know it took a lot of courage, what you did. I wouldn't want you to think I didn't notice. But that's not what I'm talking about, not really. Courage is easy, when the alternative is getting killed. It's hope that's hard. You saw something out there that no one else could, and you followed it. That's something I could never do. I tried, believe me, if only because Dad seemed to want me to so badly. But it just wasn't in me. And you know what's funny? It actually made me glad when I figured that out."

He sounded almost angry, Peter thought. And yet a lightness had come into his brother's face as he'd spoken.

"When?" Peter asked.

"When what?"

"When did you figure it out?"

Theo's eyes flicked upward. "The truth? I think I always knew, at least about myself. But it was that first night at the power station when I saw, really saw, what you had in you. Not just going outside the way you did, because I'm sure that was Lish's idea. It was the look on your face, like you'd seen your whole life out there. I chewed you out, sure. It was stupid and it could have gotten us all killed. But mostly I felt relieved. I knew I didn't have to pretend anymore." He sighed and shook his head. "I never wanted to be Dad, Peter. I always thought the Long Rides were crazy, even before he rode away and never came back. I couldn't see the sense in any of it. But now I look at you, and Amy, and I know that making sense isn't the point. Nothing about any of this makes sense. What you did, you did on faith. I don't envy you, and I know I'm going to worry about you every day of my life. But I am proud of you." He paused. "Want to know something else?"

Peter was too astounded to answer. All he could manage was a nod.

"I think it really was a ghost that saved us. Ask Maus, she'll tell you. I don't know what it is, but something's different here. I thought I was dead. I thought we were all dead. I didn't just think it, I knew it. The same way I know this. It's like the place itself is watching over us, taking care of us. Telling us that as long as we're here, we'll be safe." His eyes met Peter's with a haunted look. "You don't have to believe me."

"I didn't say I didn't."

Theo laughed, grimacing through the pain of his bandaged ribs. "That's good," he said, flopping his head back down to the pillow. "Because I believe in you, brother."

For the time being, they were going nowhere. Sara said that Theo's leg would need at least sixty days before he could even think of walking, and Mausami was still very weak, enervated by her long and painful labor. Of all of them, baby Caleb was the only one who seemed completely well. Just a few days old, and yet his eyes were bright and open, looking about. He had sweet smiles for everyone, but for Amy most of all. Whenever he heard her voice, or even so much as felt her presence as she entered a room, he would utter a sharp and happy cry, flailing his arms and legs.

"I think he likes you," Maus said one day in the kitchen, as she struggled to nurse. "You can hold him if you want."

While Peter and Sara watched, Amy sat at the table and Mausami gently placed Caleb in her arms. One of his hands had come free from the swaddling. Amy bent her face toward him, allowing him to grab her nose with his tiny fingers. "A baby," she said, smiling.

Maus gave a wry laugh. "That's what he is, all right." She pressed a palm against her chest, her aching br**sts, and groaned. "Boy, is he ever."

"I've never seen one." Amy gazed into his face. Every bit of him was so new it was as if he were drenched in some miraculous, life-giving liquid. "Hello, baby."

The house was too small to accommodate everyone, and Caleb needed quiet; they carried the extra mattresses out and moved into one of the empty houses across the trace. How long since there had been such activity here? Since more than one house had seen people living in it? By the river, great brambles of bitter raspberries appeared, sweetening in the sun; the water jumped with fish. Each day Alicia returned from the hunt, dust-dressed and smiling, game swinging from a lanyard slung across her back: long-eared jacks, fat partridges, something that looked like a cross between a squirrel and a groundhog and tasted like venison. She carried neither gun nor bow; all she used was a blade. "No one's ever going to go hungry as long as I'm around," she said.

It was, in its way, a happy time, an easy time-food plentiful, the days mild and lengthening, the nights quiet and apparently safe, under a blanket of stars. And yet, for Peter, a cloud of anxiety hung over all. In part he knew this was just his awareness of how temporary everything was, and the problems presented by their imminent departure-the logistics of food and fuel and weapons and the space to carry it all. They had only one Humvee, hardly large enough to accommodate everyone, especially a woman with a baby. There was also the question of what they would find at the Colony when they returned. Would the lights still be on? Would Sanjay have them arrested? A concern that might have seemed distant even a few weeks ago, nothing worth worrying over, but seemed so no longer.

Ultimately, however, it was not these questions that oppressed him. It was the virus. Ten remaining vials in their shiny metal container, resting in his pack where he had stored it in the closet of the house where he slept with Greer and Michael. The major was right; there could be no other reason why Lacey had given it to him. Already it had saved Alicia-more than saved her. This was the weapon Lacey had spoken of, more powerful than guns or blades or crossbows, more powerful even than the bomb she had used to kill Babcock. But stored in its metal box, it was doing nothing.

Greer was wrong about one thing, though. The decision wasn't Peter's to make alone; he needed everyone else to agree. The farmstead would be as good a place as any for what he intended. They would have to tie him up, of course; they could use a room in one of the empty houses. Greer could take care of him, if things went badly. Peter had seen that well enough.

He called them together one night. They gathered in the evening around a fire in the yard, all except Mausami, who was resting upstairs, and Amy, who was looking after baby Caleb. He had planned it this way; he didn't want Amy to know. Not because she would object; he doubted that she would. But still he wanted to protect her from this decision and what it might mean. Theo had managed to hobble out on a pair of crutches that Hollis had fashioned from scrap wood; in another few days, the splints would be coming off. Peter had brought his pack with him, the vials inside. If everyone agreed, he saw no reason to delay. They sat on the ring of stones around the fire pit, and Peter explained what he wanted to do.

Michael was the first to speak. "I agree," he said. "I think we should try it."

"Well, I think it's crazy," Sara cut in. She raised her face to the others. "Don't you see what this is? No one will say it, but I will. It's evil. How many millions died because of what's in that box? I can't believe we're even talking about this. I say put it in the fire."

"You may be right, Sara," Peter said. "But I don't think we can afford to do nothing. Babcock and the Many may be dead, but the rest of the Twelve are still out there. We've seen what Lish can do, what Amy can do. The virus came to us for a reason, the same way Amy came to us. We can't turn our backs on that now."

"It could kill you, Peter. Or worse."

"I'm willing to take that risk. And it didn't kill Lish."

Sara turned to Hollis. "Tell him. Please, tell him how completely insane this is."

But Hollis shook his head. "I'm sorry. I think I'm with Peter on this."

"You can't mean that."

"He's right. There has to be a reason."

"Why can't the fact that we're all alive be the reason?"

He reached for her hand. "It's not enough, Sara. So we're alive. What then? I want to have a life with you. A real life. No lights or walls, no standing the Watch. Maybe that's for someone else, someday. Probably it is. But I can't say no to what Peter's asking, not while there's a chance. And deep down, I don't think you can either."

"So we'll fight them anyway. We'll find the rest of the Twelve and fight them. As ourselves, as people."

"And we will. I promise you. That will never change."

Sara fell silent; Peter felt an understanding pass between them. By the time Hollis broke his gaze away, Peter knew what his friend was going to say.

"If this works, I'll go next."

Peter glanced at Sara. But he saw no more arguments there; she had accepted this.

"You don't have to do that, Hollis."

The big man shook his head. "I'm not doing it for you. If you want me to agree, that's how it has to be. Take it or leave it."

Peter turned to Greer, who nodded. Then he directed his eyes to his brother. Theo was sitting on a log on the far side of the circle, his splinted leg stretched out before him.

"Flyers, Peter. What do I know? I told you, this is your show."

"No, it isn't. It's everyone's."

Theo paused. "Just so I understand you. You want to deliberately infect yourself with the virus, and you want me to say, Sure, go right ahead. And Hollis here wants to do the same thing, assuming you don't die or kill all of us in the process."

Peter felt the starkness of these terms; for the first time he wondered if he had the nerve. Theo's question was, Peter realized, a test.

"Yes, that's exactly what I'm asking you."

Theo nodded. "Then okay."

"That's it? Just okay?"

"I love you, brother. If I thought I could talk you out of this, I would. But I know I can't. I told you I was going to worry about you. I might as well start now."

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