The Passage Page 85

"Hey! Look at this!" Caleb called.

They followed his voice around to the far side. Tipped onto its side was the shell of some kind of small aircraft.

"It's a helicopter," said Michael.

Caleb was standing on top of the fuselage. Before Peter could speak, Caleb had pulled the door open, like a hatch, and dropped down inside it.

"Hightop," Alicia called, "be careful!"

"It's okay! It's empty!" They heard him rummaging around the interior; a moment later, his head popped through the hatch. "Nothing here, just a couple of slims." He chinned himself up. He slid down the fuselage and showed them what he'd found. "They were wearing these."

A pair of necklaces, tarnished from exposure. To each was attached a silver disk. Peter used some of his water to rinse the tags clean.

Sullivan, Joseph D. O+ 098879254 USMC Rom. Cath. Gomez, Manuel R. AB- 859720152 USMC No pref.

"USMC-that's Marine Corps," Hollis said. "You should put these back where you found them, Caleb."

Caleb snatched the necklaces from Peter's hand, clutching them protectively against his chest. "No way. I'm keeping these. I found them, fair and square."

"Hightop, they were soldiers."

Caleb's voice was suddenly shrill. "So what? They never came back, did they? The soldiers were supposed to come back for us, and they never did."

For a moment, no one spoke. "That's what this place is, isn't it?" Sara said. "Auntie used to tell stories about it. How the First Ones came from the cities, to ride the buses up the mountain."

Peter had heard these stories, too. He'd always thought of them as just that, stories. But Sara was right; that's what this place was. More than the buses themselves, or the fallen helicopter with its dead soldiers inside, the stillness told him so. It was more than the simple absence of sound; it was the silence of something stopped.

A feeling jarred him then, a prickling alertness. Something was wrong.

"Where's Amy?"

They fanned out through the lines of buses, calling her name. By the time Michael found her, Peter was completely frantic. He had never considered that she might wander off like this.

Michael was standing beside one of the sunken buses, peering through an open window.

"What's she doing?" Sara said.

"I think she's just sitting there," said Michael.

Peter clambered up and pulled himself inside. The wind had pushed the sand to the rear of the vehicle; the first few lines of benches were exposed. Amy was sitting on the bench directly behind the driver's seat, holding her pack on her lap. She had removed her glasses and hat.

"Amy, it'll be dark soon. We have to go."

But the girl made no move to leave. She appeared to be waiting for something. She glanced around, her eyes pulled into a squint, as if noticing for the first time that the bus was empty, a ruin. Then she rose, drawing her pack onto her shoulders, and climbed out through the window.

The bunker was just where Hollis had promised.

He led them to a spot where the third mountain stood between the other two, turned east again, and in half a click he stopped. "This is it," he announced.

They were facing a wall of rock. Behind them, the setting sun cut a final sliver of light across the horizon.

"I don't see anything," Alicia said.

"You're not supposed to."

Hollis slung his rifle and began to scramble up the wall. Peter watched him with a hand over his eyes against the reflected glare. Ten meters up he disappeared.

"Where did he go?" Michael said.

The face of the mountain began to move. A pair of doors, Peter realized, made to blend with the surface as camouflage: they backed into the face of the hillside, revealing a dark cavern and the figure of Hollis standing before them.

It took Peter a moment to absorb the full dimensions of what he was seeing: a vast vault, carved from the mountain itself. Rows of shelving extended into its dark recesses, stacked with pallets of crates that reached high above their heads. A forklift was parked near the entrance, where Hollis had opened a metal panel in the wall. As the group moved inside, he flipped a switch and the room suddenly thrummed with light, issuing from a network of glowing ropes on the walls and ceiling. Peter heard the airy hum of mechanical ventilation coming on.

"Hollis, these are fiber optics," Michael said, his voice lit with amazement. "What's the power source?"

Hollis flipped a second switch. A yellow warning beacon sprang to life, swiveling with a mad urgency over the doors. With a clunk of gears engaging, the doors began to slide from their pockets, dragging blades of shadow across the floor.

"You can't see them the way we came," Hollis explained, lifting his voice over the racket, "but there's a solar array on the south face of the mountain. That's how Demo found the place."

A hard bang as the doors closed, the echo ricocheting deep within. They were sealed away now, in safety.

"The stack won't hold much of a charge anymore, but you can run straight off the panels for a few hours. There are some portable generators too. There's a fuel depot just a short walk north of here. Gas, diesel, kerosene. If you bleed it off right it's still usable. There's more than we could ever use."

Peter advanced into the room. Whoever had constructed this place, he thought, they had built it to last. The room reminded him of the library, only the books were crates, and the crates contained not words but weapons. The leftovers of the last, lost war, boxed and stored for the war to come.

He moved to the nearest shelf, where Alicia was standing with Amy. Since the incident at the buses, the girl had stayed close, never venturing more than a few meters away. Alicia had pulled the base of her sleeve over her wrist to wipe away a layer of dust from the side of one of the crates.

"What's an RPG?" Peter asked.

"I have no idea," Alicia said. She turned, smiling, to look at him. "But I think I want one."


From the Journal of Sara Fisher ("The Book of Sara")

Presented at the Third Global Conference on the North American Quarantine Period

Center for the Study of Human Cultures and Conflicts

University of New South Wales, Indo-Australian Republic

April 16-21, 1003 A.V.

[Excerpt begins.]

Day 4

So I guess I'll just begin. Hello. My name is Sara Fisher, First Family. I am writing to you from an army bunker somewhere north of the town of Twentynine Palms, California. I am one of eight souls traveling from the San Jacinto Mountains to the town of Telluride, Colorado. It's strange to say these things to a person I don't even know, who may not even be alive when I'm writing this. But Peter says someone should keep a record of what happens to us. Maybe someday, he said, someone will want to know.

We have been at the bunker two days. All things considered it's pretty comfortable, with electricity and plumbing and even a shower that works if you don't mind cold water (I don't). Not counting the barracks, the bunker has three main chambers: one that seems to contain mostly weapons ("the storeroom"), another with vehicles ("the garage"), and a third, smaller room with food and clothing and medical supplies (we don't have a name for it yet, we just call it the third room). This was where I found the notebooks and the pencils. Hollis says there's enough stuff here to outfit a small army, and I don't doubt it.

Michael and Caleb are going to try to fix one of the Humvees, which is a kind of car. Peter thinks two of them should be able to carry the eight of us with supplies and enough extra fuel, though Michael says he doesn't know if he can salvage more than one from the parts we have. Alicia is helping them, though from the looks of it she doesn't do much more than hand them the tools they ask for. It's nice to see her not bossing everyone around for a change.

All of this belonged to the Army, who are all dead now. I think I should say that. Also that the reason we are here is the girl, named Amy, who is a hundred years old, according to Michael. Though if you met her you might not know this. You'd think she was just a girl. There was something in her neck, a kind of radio, which told us she comes from Colorado, in a place called the CQZ. This is a long story, and I'm not quite sure how to tell it. She can't talk, but we think there may be more people out there like her, because Michael heard them on the radio. And that is why we are going to Colorado.

Everybody here has a job to do, and mine is to help Hollis and Peter figure out what's in the crates on the shelves. Peter says that as long as we're waiting on the Humvee we might as well make use of the time, in case we need to come back here someday. Plus, we might find things we can use now, such as the walkie-talkies. Michael thinks he can make a couple of them work if there are any batteries that will still take a charge. Off the storeroom there's a kind of alcove we call the office, full of desks and computers that don't work anymore and shelves stacked with binders and manuals, and that was where we found the inventory lists, pages and pages of them, with everything from rifles and mortars to pairs of pants and bars of soap. (I hope we find the soap soon.) Each item is followed by a bunch of numbers and letters, which match the numbers and letters on the shelves, though not always. Sometimes you open a crate and think it will be blankets or batteries and what you've got is shovels or more guns. Amy is helping us, and though she still hasn't said anything, today I realized she could read the lists as well as anyone. I don't know why this surprised me, but it did.

Day 6

Michael and Caleb are still working on the Humvees. Michael says there's two he can probably fix, but he's still not sure. He says the problem is anything rubber-a lot of it is cracked and falling apart. But I have never seen Michael so happy, and everyone thinks he will figure it out.

Yesterday I took inventory of the medical supplies. A lot of it is no good, but there are some things I think I can use, real bandages and splints and even a blood pressure cuff. I took Maus's pressure and it was 120/80 and I told her to remind me to take it every day and be sure to drink a lot of water. She said she would, but it makes her have to pee about every five minutes.

This morning Hollis took all of us out to the desert to show us how to shoot and throw a grenade. There's so much ammo he said it was okay to use and everyone ought to know. So for a while we all shot off rifles at piles of rocks and threw grenades into the sand, and now my ears are ringing with the sound of it. Hollis thinks the area south of us is full of mines and says no one should go there. I think he was speaking mostly to Alicia because she's been taking the horse to hunt in the early mornings before it gets too hot, though so far she hasn't got anything except a couple of jacks, which we cooked last night. Peter found a deck of cards in the barracks and after dinner we all played go-to, even Amy, who won more hands than anyone, even though no one explained the rules to her. I guess she figured out just by watching.

Real leather boots! We're all wearing them now except for Caleb, who still has his sneakers. They're way too big but he says he doesn't mind, he likes the way they look, and he thinks they're lucky, since he hasn't died since he put them on. Maybe we'll find a crate of lucky sneakers?

Day 7

Still no progress on the Humvees. Everyone is beginning to worry we'll have to walk out of here.

Apart from the boots, the best thing we've found so far are the light sticks. These are plastic tubes you snap over your knee and give them a hard shake and light comes out, a pale glowing green. Last night Caleb broke one open and put the glowing stuff all over his face and said, "Look at me, I'm a smoke now!" Peter said that wasn't funny but I thought it was, and most of us laughed anyway. I'm glad Caleb is here.

Tomorrow I'm going to boil water and take a real bath, and give Amy a haircut while I'm at it, at least do something about those tangles. Maybe I can get her to take a bath, too.

Day 9

Michael said today they were going to try to start one of the Humvees so we all gathered around while they hooked it up to one of the generators, but when they tried to turn the engine over there was a loud bang and smoke and Michael said they'll have to start from scratch. It was probably bad gas, he says, but I could tell he didn't really know. To make matters worse, the toilets backed up in the barracks and Hollis said, How is it the United States Army can make food that lasts a hundred years but they can't make a decent toilet?

Hollis asked me to give him a haircut too and I have to say, with a little cleaning up he doesn't look half bad. Maybe I can get him to shave off the beard, but I think it means too much to him, with Arlo gone. Poor Arlo. Poor Hollis.

Day 11

The horse was killed today. It was completely my fault. During the day we've been keeping her staked outside in the shade where there's some brush and weeds to graze on. I decided to walk her a bit but then something spooked her and she got away. Hollis and I ran after her but of course we couldn't catch her and then we saw her out in the field where the mines were and before I could say anything there was a terrible boom, and when the dust cleared she was lying on the ground. I was going to go after her but Hollis stopped me, and I said, We can't leave her like that, and he said, No we can't, and he went back to the barracks to get his rifle and that was what he did. Both of us were crying and after I asked him if he'd had a name for her and he said yes, her name was Sweetheart.

We've been here just nine days but it feels like much longer and I have begun to wonder if we are ever leaving this place.

Day 12

The horse's body was taken away in the night. So now we know there are smokes around. Peter has decided to close the doors an hour before sunset just to be safe. I'm a little worried about Mausami. In just the last few days she's started to show. Probably no one else would notice, but I can tell. What everybody knows but isn't saying is that Theo is probably dead. She's tough but I'm sure this is all very hard for her as the days drag by. I wouldn't want to have a baby out here.

Prev Next