The Passage Page 123

Peter turned at last to Alicia. She had removed her glasses, revealing the thrumming orange glow of her eyes, magnified to a sparkling intensity by the light of the fire. It was her consent he needed most of all; without it, he had nothing.

"Yes," she said, nodding. "I'm sorry to say it, but yes."

There was no reason to wait. Too much time to consider the ramifications, Peter knew, and his courage could dissolve. He led them to the empty house he had prepared-the last one, at the far end of the trace. It was little more than a shell; nearly all of the interior walls had been removed, leaving the joists exposed. The windows were already boarded up, another reason Peter had selected it-that and the fact that it was farthest away. Hollis took up the ropes Peter had moved from the barn; Michael and Greer carried a mattress from one of the adjacent houses. Somebody had brought the lantern. While Hollis tied the ropes to the joists, Peter stripped to the waist and lay down on his back. He was suddenly very nervous, his awareness of everything around him almost painfully vivid, his heart beating very quickly in his chest. He raised his eyes to Greer. A silent bargain, struck between them: if it comes to that, don't hesitate.

Hollis finished tying the ropes to his arms and legs, leaving Peter spread-eagled on the floor. The mattress smelled like mice. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.

"Sara, do it now."

She was cradling the box with the virus; in her other hand was one of the syringes, still sealed in plastic. Peter could see that her hands were trembling.

"You can do this."

She passed the box to Michael. "Please," she begged.

"What am I supposed to do with this?" He held the box away from his body, trying to give it back. "You're the nurse."

Peter felt a blast of exasperation. Any longer, and his resolve would fail him. "Will somebody, please, just get this done."

"I'll do it," Alicia said.

She took the box from Michael, and opened it.

"Peter ... "

"What is it now? Flyers, Lish."

She turned it in her hands to show them. "This box is empty."

Amy, he thought. Amy, what have you done?

They found her kneeling by the fire pit as she was dropping the last vial into the flames. Baby Caleb lay against her shoulder, wrapped in a blanket. A sizzling pop flew up as the liquid inside the last vial expanded to a boil, shattering the glass.

Peter crouched on the ground beside her. He was too stunned even to feel angry. He didn't know what he felt at all. "Why, Amy?"

She did not look at him but kept her eyes focused on the fire, as if to verify that the virus was really gone. With the fingers of her free hand she was gently stroking the baby's cap of dark hair.

"Sara was right," she said finally. "It was the only way to make sure."

She lifted her eyes from the flames. And when Peter saw what lay inside them, he understood what she had done-that she had chosen to take this burden from him, from them all, and that this was a mercy.

"I'm sorry, Peter," Amy said. "But it would have made you like me. And I couldn't let that happen."

They did not speak of that night again-of the virus, or the flames, or what Amy had done. Sometimes, in odd moments when he recalled these events, Peter felt, strangely, as if it had been a dream; or if not a dream, then something like a dream, with a dream's texture of inevitability. And he came to believe that the destruction of the virus was not, in the end, the catastrophe he had feared but, rather, one more step on the road they would travel together, and that what lay ahead was something he could not know, nor needed to know. Like Amy herself, it was something he would take on faith.

The morning of their departure, Peter stood on the porch with Michael and Theo, watching the sun come up. His brother's splints had come off at last; he could walk, but with a pronounced limp, and he tired quickly. Below them, Hollis and Sara were loading up the Humvee with the last of the gear. Amy was still inside with Maus, who was nursing Caleb one last time before they set out.

"You know," Theo said, "I have the feeling that if we ever came back here, it would be just as it is now. Like it's apart from everything. Like no time ever really passes here."

"Maybe you will," Peter said.

Theo fell silent, letting his gaze travel over the dusty street.

"Oh, hell, brother," he said, shaking his head. "I don't know. It's nice to think it, though."

Amy and Mausami emerged from the house. Everyone gathered around the Humvee. Another departure, another goodbye. There were hugs, good wishes, tears. Sara climbed behind the wheel, Hollis beside her, Theo and Mausami in the back with their gear. Also in the cargo compartment of the Humvee were the documents Lacey had given to Peter. Just deliver them, Peter had said, to whoever's in charge.

Amy reached inside to give baby Caleb one last embrace. As Sara turned the engine over, Greer stepped to the open driver's window.

"Remember what I said. From the fuel depot, straight south on Highway 191. You should be able to pick up Route 60 in Eagar. That's the Roswell Road, takes you straight to the garrison. There's fortified bunkers about every hundred kilometers. I marked them on Hollis's map, but look for the red crosses, you can't miss them. Nothing fancy, but it should get you through. Gas, ammo, whatever you need."

Sara nodded. "Got it."

"And whatever you do, stay away from Albuquerque-the place is crawling. Hollis? All eyes."

In the passenger seat, the big man nodded. "All eyes, Major."

Greer stepped back, making space for Peter to approach.

"Well," Sara said, "I guess this is it."

"I guess so."

"Take care of Michael, all right?" She snuffled and wiped her eyes. "He needs ... looking after."

"You can count on it." He reached in to shake Hollis's hand, wished him good luck, then lifted his voice to the rear of the Humvee. "Theo? Maus? All set back there?"

"Ready as we'll ever be, brother. We'll see you in Kerrville."

Peter backed away. Sara put the Humvee in gear, swung the vehicle in a wide circle, and pulled slowly down the street. The five of them-Peter, Alicia, Michael, Greer, and Amy-stood in silence, watching it go. A boiling plume of dust, the sound of its motor fading, then gone.

"Well," Peter said finally, "the day's not getting any younger."

"Is that a joke?" Michael said.

Peter shrugged. "I guess it was."

They retrieved their packs and hoisted them onto their backs. As Peter took his rifle from the floor, he spied Amy still standing at the edge of the porch, her eyes tracing the drifting cloud of the Humvee's departure.

"Amy? What is it?"

She turned to face him. "It's nothing," she said. "I think they'll be all right." She smiled. "Sara is a good driver."

There were no more words to say; the moment of departure was at hand. The morning sun had lifted over the valley. If everything went well, they would reach California by midsummer.

They began to walk.


At a shimmering distance, they saw them: a vast field of turning blades, spinning in the wind.

The turbines.

They had kept to the deserts, the hot, dry places, sheltering where they could, and where they could not, building a fire and waiting out the nights. Once, and only once, did they see any virals alive. A pod of three. This was in Arizona, a place the map called "Painted Desert." The creatures were dozing in the shade beneath a bridge, hanging from the girders. Amy had felt them as they approached. Let me, Alicia said.

Alicia had taken them all. Three of them, on the blade. They found her in the culvert, pulling her knife from the chest of the last one; they had already begun to smoke. Easy, she said. They didn't even seem to know what she was. Perhaps they simply thought she was another viral.

There were others. Bodies, the barest remains. The form of a blackened rib cage, the crumbling, ashlike bones of a hand or skull; the suggestive imprint on a square of asphalt, like something burned in a pan. Usually they came upon these remnants in the few towns they passed through. Most were lying not far from the buildings where they had slept and then departed, when they had laid themselves down in the sun to die.

Peter and the others had skirted Las Vegas, choosing a route far to the south; they believed the city would be empty, but better to be safe than sorry. By then it was the height of summer, the shadeless days long and brutal. They decided to bypass the bunker, taking the shortest possible route, and make straight for home.

Now they were here. They fanned out as they moved toward the power station. The fence, they saw, stood open. At the hatch, Michael got to work, unbolting the plate that covered the mechanism and manually turning the tumblers with the end of his blade.

Peter entered first. A bright metallic tinkling underfoot: he bent to look. Rifle cartridges.

The walls of the stairwell were shot to pieces. Chunks of concrete cluttered the stairs. The light had been blasted away. Alicia stepped forward, into the cool and gloom, pulling off her glasses; the darkness was no problem for her. Peter and the others waited as she descended to the control room, following the point of her rifle. They heard her whistle the all clear.

By the time they reached the bottom, Lish had found a lantern and lit the wick. The room was a mess. The long central table had been overturned, evidently to serve as a defense. The floor was littered with more cartridges and spent magazines. But the control panel itself looked all right, its meters glowing with current. They moved through the rear to the storage rooms and barracks.

No one. No bodies.

"Amy," Peter said, "do you know what happened here?"

Like all of them, she was looking in mute astonishment at the extent of the destruction.

"Nothing? You don't feel anything?"

She shook her head. "I think ... people did this."

The shelf that had hidden the guns had been pulled away; the guns on the roof were gone as well. What were they seeing? A battle, but who had been fighting whom? Hundreds of rounds had been fired in the hallway and the control room, more in the barracks, an overturned mess. Where were the bodies? Where was the blood?

"Well, there's power," Michael declared, sitting at the control panel. His hair flowed to his shoulders now. His skin was bronzed by the sun, wind-bit and peeling at his cheekbones. He was typing into the keypad, reading the numbers that flew down the screen. "Diagnostics are good. There should be plenty of juice going up the mountain. Unless ... " He paused, patting his lips with a finger; he began to type furiously again, rose briskly to check the meters above his head, and sat down once more. He tapped the screen with the back of a long fingernail. "Here."

"Michael, just tell us," Peter said.

"It's the system backup log. Every night when the batteries get down below forty percent, they send a signal to the station, asking for more current. It's all completely automated, nothing you'd ever see happening. The first time it happened was six years ago, then just about every night ever since. Until now. Until, let's see, three hundred and twenty-three cycles ago."


"Days, Peter."

"Michael, I don't know what that means."

"It means either somebody figured out how to fix those batteries, which I seriously doubt, or they're not drawing any current."

Alicia frowned. "That doesn't make any sense. Why wouldn't they?"

Michael hesitated; Peter could see the truth in his face.

"Because somebody turned the lights off," he said.

They spent a restless night in the bunker and set out in the morning. By half-day they had made their way through Banning and begun to ascend. When they stopped to rest beneath the shade of a tall pine, Alicia turned to Peter.

"Just in case Michael's wrong and we're arrested, I want you to know I'm going to say I was the one who killed those men. I'll take whatever's coming to me, but I'm not going to let them have you. And they're not touching Amy or the Circuit."

This was more or less as he had expected. "Lish, you don't have to do that. And I doubt Sanjay will do anything at this point."

"Maybe not. But just so we're clear. I'm not asking, either. Be ready. Greer? Understood?"

The major nodded.

But this warning was for naught. They knew it by the time they reached the final switchback in the road, above Upper Field. They could see the Wall now, rising through the trees, the catwalks unoccupied, no sign of the Watch. An eerie stillness hung over all. The gates stood open and unmanned.

The Colony was empty.

• • •

They found two bodies.

The first was Gloria Patal. She had hanged herself in the Big Room of the Sanctuary, among the empty cribs and cots. She had used a tall stepladder, ascending to affix the rope to one of the rafters, near the door. The ladder now lay on its side beneath her pointed feet, freezing the moment when she had put the noose around her neck and pushed off, sending the ladder swooning to the floor.

The other body was Auntie's. It was Peter who found her, sitting in a kitchen chair in the small clearing outside her house. She had been dead many months, he knew, and yet very little seemed to have altered in her appearance. But when he touched her hand where it lay in her lap, he felt only the cold stiffness of death. Her head was tipped backward; her face wore a peaceful expression, as if she had simply fallen asleep. She had gone outside, he knew, when darkness had come and the lights did not go on. She had carried a chair into the yard, to sit and watch the stars.

"Peter." Alicia touched his arm as he crouched beside the body. "Peter, what do you want to do?"

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