The Passage Page 77

Also awake was Michael Fisher. In the main, Michael viewed sleep as a waste of time. It was just another case of the body's unreasonable demands upon the mind, and his dreams, when he cared to remember them, all seemed to be lightly retooled versions of his waking state-full of circuits and breakers and relays, a thousand problems to be solved, and he would awaken feeling less restored than rudely shot forward in time, with no discernible accomplishments to show for these lost hours.

But that was not the case tonight. Tonight, Michael Fisher was as awake as he'd ever been in his life. The contents of the chip, having disgorged itself into the mainframe-a veritable flood of data-was nothing less than a rewriting of the world. It was this new understanding that had inspired the risk Michael was now taking, running an antenna up to the top of the Wall. He'd started on the roof of the Lighthouse, connecting a twenty-meter spool of eight-gauge uninsulated copper wire to the antenna they'd stuffed up the chimney, months ago. Two more spools had gotten him to the base of the Wall. That was it for the copper he could spare. For the remainder he had decided to use an insulated high-voltage cable he would have to strip by hand. The trick now would be getting it up to the top of the Wall without being seen by the Watch. Having retrieved two more spools from the shed, he stood in the pocket of shadow underneath one of the supporting struts, weighing his options. The closest ladder, twenty meters to his left, led straight up to Platform Nine; there was no way he could climb this unnoticed. There was a second ladder situated midway between Platforms Eight and Seven, which would be ideal-except for the runners, who sometimes used it as a shortcut between Seven and Ten, it had very little traffic-but he didn't have enough cable to reach that far.

That left only one option. Take a spool up the far ladder, move down the catwalk until he was suspended over the cutout, anchor the end of the wire, drop it to the ground below, and descend once more to connect the second wire to the first. All without anyone seeing him.

Michael knelt in the dirt, removed his wire cutters from the old canvas rucksack he used as a toolbag, and set to work, pulling the cable from its spool and stripping the plastic conduit away. At the same time he was listening for the clanging footsteps above his head that would signify a runner going through. By the time the wire was stripped and spooled back up, he'd heard the runners move through twice; he was reasonably certain he'd have a few minutes before the next one came. Depositing everything into the rucksack, he hurried to the ladder, took a deep breath, and began to ascend.

Heights had always been a problem for Michael-he didn't like so much as standing on a chair-a fact that, in his determined state, he had failed to figure in his calculations, and by the time he reached the top of the ladder, an ascent of twenty meters that felt like ten times that many, he was beginning to doubt the wisdom of the entire enterprise. His heart was galloping with panic; his limbs had turned to gelatin. Getting down the catwalk, an open grate suspended above a maw of space, would mandate every ounce of will he possessed. His eyes had begun to sting with sweat as he pulled himself up from the final rung, sliding belly-first onto the grate. Under the glare of the lights, and without the customary reference points of ground and sky to orient him, everything seemed larger and closer, possessing a bulging vividness. But at least no one had noticed him. He cautiously lifted his face: a hundred meters to his left, Platform Eight appeared to be empty, no Watcher on station. Why that should be, Michael didn't know, but he took it as an encouraging sign. If he acted quickly, he could be back in the Lighthouse before anyone was the wiser.

He began to move down the catwalk, and by the time he was in position, he had begun to feel better-a lot better. His fear had receded, replaced by an invigorated sense of possibility. This was going to work. Platform Eight was still empty; whoever was supposed to be there would probably catch hell, but its vacancy gave Michael the opening he needed. He knelt on the catwalk and pulled the coil of wire from his rucksack. Constructed of a titanium alloy, the catwalk would make a serviceable conductor in its own right, adding its attractive electromagnetic properties to the wire's; in essence, Michael was turning the whole perimeter into a giant antenna. He used a wrench to loosen one of the bolts that attached the catwalk's decking to its frame, curled the stripped wire into the gap, and tightened down the bolt. Then he dropped the spool to the ground below, listening for the soft thud of its impact.

Amy, he thought. Who would have thought the Girl from Nowhere would have a name like Amy?

What Michael didn't know was that Firing Platform Eight was empty because the Watcher on station, Dana Curtis, First Family and Household, was already lying dead at the base of the Wall. Jimmy had killed her right after he'd killed Soo Ramirez. Whom he honestly hadn't meant to kill; he'd only wanted to tell her something. Goodbye? I'm sorry? I always loved you? But one thing had led to another in the strangely inevitable manner of that night, the Night of Blades and Stars, and now all three of them were gone.

Galen Strauss, approaching from the opposite direction, witnessed these events as if through the fat end of a telescope: a distant splash of color and movement, far beyond the range of his vision. If it had been anybody else on Platform Ten that night, someone whose eyesight was more robust, who was not going blind from acute glaucoma as Galen Strauss was, a clearer picture of events might have emerged. As it was, what occurred on Firing Platform Nine would never be known by anyone except those directly involved; and even they did not understand it.

What happened was this:

The Watcher Soo Ramirez, her thoughts still bobbing in the currents of Belle of the Ball and, in particular, a scene set in a moving coach during a thunderstorm so vividly rendered that she could practically recall it word for word (As the heavens opened, Talbot seized Charlene in his powerful arms, his mouth falling on hers with a searing force, his fingers finding the silken curve of her breast, waves of ardor roiling through her ....), turned to see Jimmy hoisting himself onto the platform; and her first impression, punching through her feelings of conflicted irritation (she resented the interruption; he was late) was that something wasn't right. He doesn't look like himself, she thought. This isn't the Jimmy I know. He stood a moment, his body oddly slack, his eyes squinting with perplexity into the lights; he looked like a man who had come to make an announcement, only to have forgotten his lines. Soo thought maybe she knew what this unspoken declaration was-she'd had a feeling for some time that Jimmy considered the two of them as more than friends-and under different circumstances, she might have been glad to hear this from him. But not now. Not tonight, on Firing Platform Nine.

"It's her eyes," he said faintly; he seemed to be speaking to himself. "At least I thought it was her eyes."

Soo stepped toward him. His face was turned away, as if he couldn't bring himself to look at her. "Jimmy? Whose eyes?"

But he didn't answer her. One hand reached down to the hem of his jersey and proceeded to tug at it, like a nervous boy fumbling with his clothes. "Can't you feel it, Soo?"

"Jimmy, what are you talking about?"

He had begun to blink. Fat, jeweled tears were spilling down his cheeks. "They're all so f**king sad."

Something was happening to him, Soo knew, something bad. In a burst of motion he yanked his jersey over his head and flung it over the edge of the platform. His chest was glazed with sweat that shone in the lights.

"It's these clothes," he growled. "I can't stand these clothes."

She'd left her cross resting against the rampart. She turned to reach for it but she'd waited too long, Jimmy had her from behind, his hands were sliding under her arms, wrapping the back of her neck, and with a sudden twisting motion something snapped at the base of her throat; and just like that her body was gone, her body had drifted away, her body was no more. She tried to cry out but no sound came; flecks of light were drifting in her vision, like shards of silver. (Oh Talbot, Charlene moaned as he moved against her, his manhood a sweet invasion she could no longer deny, oh Talbot yes, let us end this absurd game ... ) She was aware that someone else was coming toward her; she heard a sound of footsteps on the catwalk where she now lay helpless; and then the shot of a cross and muffled, breathy cry. She was in the air now, Jimmy was lifting her up; he was going to throw her over the Wall. She wished she'd lived a different life, but this was the one she had, she didn't want to leave it yet, and then she was falling, down and down and down.

She was still alive when she hit the ground. Time had slowed, reversed, started again. The spots were shining in her eyes; in her mouth, a taste of blood. Above her she saw Jimmy standing at the edge of the nets, na**d and gleaming, and then he, too, was gone.

And in the last instant before all thought left her, she heard the voice of the runner Kip Darrell crying from the rampart high above: "Sign, we have sign! Holy shit, they're everywhere!"

But he spoke these words into the darkness. The lights had all gone out.


The meeting was called for half-day, under a sky bulging with rain that would not fall. All souls had gathered at the Sunspot, where the long table had been carried out from the Sanctuary. Seated before the assembly were just two men: Walter Fisher and Ian Patal. Walter looked his usual, disheveled self, a wreckage of greasy hair and rheumy eyes and stained clothing he had probably worn for a season; that he was now serving as acting Head of the Household, or what remained of it, was, Peter thought, one of the day's more unpromising facts.

Ian looked far better off, but even he, after the night's events, seemed halting and uncertain, at pains even to bring the meeting to order. It was unclear to Peter what, precisely, his role was-was he sitting as a Patal or as First Captain?-but this seemed a small concern, far too technical to worry about. For now, Ian was in charge.

Standing at the edge beside Alicia, Peter scanned the crowd. Auntie was nowhere to be seen, but that did not surprise him. It had been many years since she'd attended an open meeting of the Household. Also among the missing faces he sought were Michael, who had returned to the Lighthouse, and Sara, still in the Infirmary; he saw Gloria, standing close to the front, but not Sanjay, whose whereabouts, along with Old Chou's, were the source of much of the talk around him, a hum of worry from people who simply had no idea what was happening to them. And it was worry that he heard, at least so far. Outright panic had yet to set in, but Peter saw this as only a matter of time; night would come again.

The other faces he saw, wishing he hadn't, belonged to those who had lost someone, a spouse or child or parent, in the attack. Among this group were Cort Ramirez and Russell Curtis, Dana's husband, who was standing with his daughters, Ellie and Kat, all of them looking benumbed; Karen Molyneau with her two girls, Alice and Avery, their faces washed by grief; Milo and Penny Darrell, whose son Kip, a runner, had been just fifteen years old, the youngest killed; Hodd and Lisa Greenberg, Sunny's parents; Addy Phillips and Tracey Strauss, who looked like she had aged ten years overnight, all vitality drained from her; Constance Chou, Old Chou's young wife, who was fiercely clutching their daughter, Darla, to her side-as if she, too, might slip away from her. It was this grieving body of survivors-for they stood as one, the scope of their loss both forming a cohesive bond among them while also separating them from the others, like a magnetic force that both attracted and repelled-to whom Ian seemed to aim his words when the crowd fell quiet long enough to bring the meeting to order.

Ian began with a recitation of the facts, which Peter already knew, or mostly. Shortly after half-night, for reasons unexplained, the lights had failed. This had apparently been caused by a power surge, which had flipped the main breaker. The only person in the Lighthouse at the time of the incident had been Elton, sleeping in the back; the engineer on duty, Michael Fisher, had briefly stepped out to manually reset one of the vents on the battery stack, leaving the panel unmanned. In this, Ian assured the crowd, Michael was not to blame; leaving the Lighthouse to vent the stack was entirely proper and there was no way Michael could have foreseen the surge that would cause the breaker to flip. All told, the lights had been out for less than three minutes-the time it had taken for Michael to race back to the Lighthouse and reset the system-but in that brief interval, the Wall had been breached. The last report was of a large pod massing at the fireline. By the time power was restored, three souls had been taken: Jimmy Molyneau, Soo Ramirez, and Dana Jaxon. All had been sighted at the base of the Wall, their bodies being dragged away.

That was the first wave of the attack. Ian was clearly at pains to maintain his composure as he related what had next occurred. Though the first, large pod had dispersed, a second, smaller pod of three had approached from the south, mounting an assault on the Wall near Platform Six-the same platform where, sixteen days before, the large female with the distinctive shock of hair had been killed by Arlo Wilson. The split seam that had allowed her ascent had since been repaired, so the three had found no purchase; but that, apparently, was not their intention. By now the Watch was in disarray, all hands moving toward Platform Six; under a storm of arrows and cross bolts, the three virals had tried, again and again, to ascend; while meanwhile, at the unmanned Platform Nine, a third pod-perhaps a part of the second, which had split in two; perhaps a wholly different pod in its own right-had managed to make its way over the Wall.

They'd come straight down the catwalk.

It was a melee. There was no other word. Three more Watchers had been killed before the pod had been repelled: Gar Phillips and Aidan Strauss and Kip Darrell, the runner who had first reported the massing pod at the fireline. A fourth, Sunny Greenberg, who had left her post at the lockup to join the fight, was unaccounted for and presumed lost. Also among the missing-and here Ian paused with a deeply troubled look-was Old Chou. Constance had awakened in the early-morning hours to find him gone; nobody had seen him since. So it seemed likely, though there was no direct evidence of this, that he had left his house in the dead of night to go to the Wall, where among the others he'd been taken. No virals had been killed at all.

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