The Passage Page 61

Below them the trainees had begun their morning drills. One of the youngest, the little Darrell boy, misfired, burying his arrow in the fence behind the target with a thunk. The others began to laugh.

"I'm sorry about your brother." Sanjay turned to face him, drawing Peter's attention back away from the pits. He was a physically slight man, though the impression he gave was one of compactness. He kept his face clean-shaven, his hair, wisped with gray, trimmed tightly to his scalp. Small white teeth and deep-set eyes darkened by a heavy, wool-like brow. "Theo was a good man. It shouldn't have happened."

Peter didn't reply. What was there to say?

"I've been thinking about what you told me," Sanjay continued. "To be honest, not all of it makes complete sense. This thing with Zander. And what you were doing at the library."

Peter felt the quick shiver of his lie. They had all agreed to hold to the original story and not tell anyone about the guns, at least for the time being. But this had quickly proved itself a far more complex undertaking than Peter had anticipated. Without the guns, their story was full of holes-what they were doing on the roof of the power station, how they'd rescued Caleb, Zander's death, their presence in the library.

"We told you everything," Peter said. "Zander must have gotten bitten somehow. We thought it might have happened at the library, so we went to check it out."

"But why would Theo take a risk like that? Or was it Alicia's idea?"

"Why would you think that?"

Sanjay paused, clearing his throat. "I know she is your friend, Peter, and I do not doubt her skills. But she's reckless. Always quick with the hunt."

"It wasn't her fault. It wasn't anyone's. It was just bad luck. We decided as a group."

Sanjay paused once more, casting a meditative gaze over the pits. Peter said nothing, hoping his silence would bring about an end to the conversation.

"Still, I find it hard to understand. Out of character for your brother, to take a chance like that. I suppose we'll never know." Sanjay gave his head a preoccupied shake and turned to face Peter again, his expression softening. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't be interrogating you like this. I'm sure you're tired. But as long as I have you here, there's something else I need to speak with you about. It concerns the Household. Your brother's spot."

Just the thought made Peter suddenly weary. But the duty was his to perform. "Let me know what you want me to do."

"That is the thing I want to talk to you about, Peter. Your father erred, I believe, in passing his seat to your brother. His seat rightfully belonged to Dana. She was, and is, the oldest Jaxon."

"But she turned it down."

"That's true. But confidentially, I will tell you that we have not always been ... comfortable with the way this came about. Dana was upset. Her father, as you recall, had just been killed. Many of us think she would have been glad to serve if your father hadn't pressured her to stand aside."

What was Sanjay saying? That the job was Dana's? "I don't know what you're talking about. Theo never said a word to me about it."

"Well, I doubt that he would have." Sanjay let a silent moment pass. "Your father and I did not always see eye to eye. I'm sure you know this. I opposed the Long Rides from the start. But your father never could quite let go of the idea, even after he'd lost so many men. It was his intention that your brother should revive the rides. That is why he wanted Theo on the Household."

The trainees had moved out of the pits now, jogging down the path to begin their laps around the perimeter. What was it Theo had said, that night in the control room? That Sanjay was good at what he did? All of which only served to make Peter, at that moment, fiercely protective of a job that minutes ago he would have gladly given away to the first person he saw.

"I don't know, Sanjay."

"You don't have to know, Peter. The Household has met. We are all in agreement. The seat is rightfully Dana's."

"And she wants it?"

"When I explained everything to her, yes." Sanjay put a hand on Peter's shoulder-a gesture meant to be consoling, Peter supposed, though it wasn't, not at all. "Please don't take it badly. It's not a reflection on you. We were willing to overlook this irregularity because everyone held Theo in such high regard."

Just like that, Peter thought, the waters had closed over his brother. Theo's shirts were still folded in the drawers, his spare boots sitting under the bed, and it was as if he'd never even existed.

Sanjay lifted his face past the pits. "Well. Here's Soo."

Peter turned to see Soo Ramirez striding toward them from the gate; with her was Jimmy Molyneau. A tall, sandy-haired woman in her early forties, Soo had risen to the rank of First Captain after Willem's death-a supremely competent woman with a temper that could flare at a moment's notice, producing outbursts that made even the most hardened Watcher cower in fear.

"Peter, I've been looking for you. Take a few days off the Wall if you want. Let me know when you're going to do the etching; I'd like to say a few words."

"I was just thinking the same thing," Sanjay interjected. "Let us know. And by all means, take a few days. There's no hurry."

Soo's arrival at precisely this moment was no accident, Peter realized; he was being handled.

"Okay," Peter managed. "I guess I will."

"I really liked your brother," Jimmy offered then, evidently thinking his presence warranted some comment. "Karen, too."

"Thanks. I'm hearing that a lot."

The remark came off as too bitter; Peter regretted it immediately, seeing the look on Jimmy's hawk-nosed face. Jimmy had been Theo's friend, too-a Second Captain, just as Theo was-and knew what it meant to lose a brother. Connor Molyneau had been killed five years ago on a smokehunt to clear out a pod in Upper Field. After Soo, Jimmy was the oldest of the officers, in his midthirties with a wife and two girls; he could have stood down years ago without an ill thought from anyone but had chosen to stay on. Sometimes his wife, Karen, would bring him hot meals on the Wall, a gesture that embarrassed him and earned him no end of jokes from the Watch, even as everyone could tell he liked it.

"Sorry, Jimmy."

He shrugged. "Forget it. I've been there, believe me."

"He's saying it because it's true, Peter. Your brother was someone very important to all of us." With this final declaration, Sanjay lifted his chin officiously in Soo's direction. "Captain, if you have a minute?"

Soo nodded, her eyes still fixed on Peter's face. "I mean it," she said, and touched him again, gripping his arm just above the elbow. "Take whatever time you need."

Peter waited a few minutes to put some distance between himself and the three of them. He felt peculiarly agitated, alert but without focus. What had transpired was only talk, nothing, in the end, that should have surprised him all that much: the expected, awkward condolences he knew so well, and then the news that he wouldn't have to be Household after all-a fact he should have welcomed, wanting nothing whatsoever to do with the daily duties of running things in the first place. And yet Peter had felt a deeper current running under the surface of the conversation. He had the distinct impression of being maneuvered, of everybody knowing something he didn't.

Hoisting his pack over one shoulder-the thing was practically empty, why had he bothered?-he decided not to go to the barracks straight off and instead moved down the path in the opposite direction.

The Dark Night Stone sat at the far end of the plaza: a pear-shaped granite boulder twice the height of a man, grayish white with jewel-like flecks of pink quartzite, in the surface of which were engraved the names of the missing and the dead. This was why he had come. One hundred and sixty-two names: it had taken months to etch them all. Two whole families of Levines and Darrells. The entire Boyes clan, nine all told. A host of Greenbergs and Patals and Chous and Molyneaus and Strausses and Fishers and two Donadios-Lish's parents, John and Angel. The first Jaxons to be named on the stone were Darla and Taylor Jaxon, Peter's grandparents, who'd died in the rubble of their house under the north wall. It was easy for Peter to think of them as old since they'd been dead for fifteen years, the entirety of their lives consigned to a time before his living memory, a region of existence that Peter simply thought of as "ago." But, in fact, Taylor hadn't been much older than forty, and Darla, Taylor's second wife, just thirty-six at the time of the quake.

The Stone had originally been meant for the victims of Dark Night, but since then it had seemed only natural to keep with this custom, to record the dead and lost. Zander's name, Peter saw, had already been inscribed. It did not stand alone: it came below his father and his sister and the woman to whom, Peter recalled, Zander had been married, years ago. It seemed so out of character for Zander to even speak to anyone, let alone be married, that Peter had forgotten all about her. The woman, whose name was Janelle, had died in childbirth with their baby, just a few months after Dark Night. The child hadn't been named yet, so there was nothing to write, and his brief stay on earth had gone unrecorded.

"If you want, I can do the engraving for Theo."

Peter swiveled to find Caleb standing behind him, wearing the bright yellow sneakers. They were far too large on him, giving the impression of something webbed, like the paddled feet of a duck. Looking at them, Peter felt a jab of guilt. Caleb's huge, ridiculous sneakers: they were evidence-the only evidence, really-of the whole misbegotten episode at the mall. But somehow Peter also knew that Theo would have taken one look at Caleb's sneakers and laughed. He would have gotten the joke before Peter had even realized it was a joke.

"Did you do Zander's name?"

Caleb shrugged. "I'm pretty good with the chisel. Nobody else around to take care of it, I guess. He should have tried to make more friends." The boy paused, glancing past Peter's shoulder. For a second, his eyes seemed to be actually misting over. "It's a good thing you shot him like you did. Zander really hated the virals. He thought the worst thing in the world would be to be taken up. I'm glad he didn't have to be one of them for long."

Peter decided it then. He wouldn't write Theo's name in the Stone, and no one else would either. Not until he was sure.

"Where are you bunking these days?" he asked Caleb.

"The barracks. Where else?"

Peter lifted one shoulder to indicate the knapsack. "Mind if I join you?"

"It's your appetite."

It was only later, after Peter had unpacked his belongings and lain down at last on the caved-in, too soft mattress that he realized what Caleb's eyes had sought out, past Peter's shoulder, on the Stone. Not Zander's name but above it, a group of three: Richard and Marilyn Jones, and, beneath that, Nancy Jones, Caleb's older sister. His father, a wrench, had been killed in a fall from the lights during the first frantic hours of Dark Night; his mother and sister had died in the Sanctuary, crushed by the collapsing roof. Caleb had been just a few weeks old.

That was when he realized why Alicia had taken him up to the roof of the power station. It had nothing to do with the stars. Caleb Jones was an orphan of Dark Night, as she was. No one to stand for him but her.

She'd taken Peter to the roof to wait for Caleb Jones.


Michael Fisher, First Engineer of Light and Power, was sitting in the Lighthouse, listening to a ghost.

That's what Michael was calling it, the ghost signal. Peeking from the haze of noise at the top of the audible spectrum-where nothing, as far as he could tell, should be. A fragment of a fragment, there and not there. The radio operator's manual he'd found in the storage shed listed the frequency as unassigned.

"I could have told you that," said Elton.

They'd heard it the third day after the supply party's return. Michael still couldn't believe Theo was gone. Alicia had assured him that it wasn't his fault, the motherboard had nothing to do with Theo's death, but still Michael felt responsible, part of a chain of events that had led to the loss of his friend. And the motherboard-the worst part was, Michael had practically forgotten all about it. The day after Theo and the others had departed for the station, Michael had successfully cannibalized an old battery flow control for what he needed. Not a Pion, but enough extra processing power to squeeze out any signal at the top end of the spectrum.

And even if he hadn't, what was one more processor? Nothing for Theo to die for.

But this signal: 1,432 megahertz. Faint as a whisper, but it was saying something. It nagged at him, its meaning always seeming to dart away from his vision whenever he looked at it. It was digital, a repeating string, and it came and went mysteriously, or so it had appeared, until he'd realized-okay, Elton had realized-that it was coming every ninety minutes, whereupon it would transmit for exactly 242 seconds, then go silent again.

He should have figured that out on his own. There really was no excuse.

And it was growing stronger. Hour by hour, with each cycle, though more so at night. It was like the damn thing was moving straight up the mountain. He'd stopped looking for anything else; he just sat at the panel and counted off the minutes, waiting for the signal to return.

It wasn't anything natural, not at ninety-minute cycles. It wasn't a satellite. It wasn't anything from the battery stack. It wasn't a lot of things. Michael didn't know what it was.

Elton was in a mood, too. The ain't-it-great-to-be-blind Elton that Michael had gotten accustomed to after so many years in the Lighthouse-that Elton was nowhere to be found. In his place sat this dandruffy grump who barely uttered hello. He'd clamp the phones to his head, listening to the signal when it came, pursing his lips and shaking his head, maybe say a thing or two about needing more sleep than he was getting. He could barely be bothered to power up the lights at Second Bell; Michael could have let enough gas build up to blast them all to the moon, and he had the feeling that Elton wouldn't have said word one about it.

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