The Passage Page 100

Peter: "Lish, whatever you're going to do, do it now!"

How Alicia managed it, Peter would never fully comprehend. When he asked her about it later, Alicia only shrugged. It wasn't anything she'd thought about, she told him; she had simply followed her instincts. In fact, there would come a time, not much later, when Peter would learn to expect such things from her-extraordinary things, unbelievable things. But that night, in the howling space between the Humvee and the train, what Alicia did seemed simply miraculous, beyond knowing. Nor could any of them have known what Amy, in the engine's aft compartment, was about to do, or what lay between the engine and the first boxcar. Not even Michael knew about that. Perhaps Olson did; perhaps that was why he'd told Peter to take his daughter to the engine, that she'd be safe there. Or so Peter reasoned in the aftermath. But Olson never said anything about this, and under the circumstances, in the brief time they had left with him, none of them would have the heart to ask.

As the first viral launched itself toward the Humvee, Alicia reached out, snatching Sara's wrist off the steering wheel, and pulled. Sara swung out on Alicia's arm in a wide arc, separating from the vehicle as it swerved away. For a horrible instant her eyes met Peter's as her feet skimmed the ground-the eyes of a woman who was going to die and knew it. But then Alicia pulled again, hard, drawing her upward, Sara's free hand found the ladder, and the two of them were climbing; Sara and Alicia were up and rolling into the cab.

Which was when it happened. An earsplitting boom, like thunder: the engine lurched violently forward, free of its weight; everything in the cab was suddenly airborne. Peter, standing by the open hatch, was slapped off his feet and hurled backward, his body slamming into the bulkhead. He thought: Amy. Where was Amy? And as he tumbled to the floor he heard a new sound, louder than the first, and he knew what this sound was: a deafening roar and a screech of metal, as the cars behind them jumped the rails, jackknifing into the air and careering like an avalanche of iron across the desert floor, everyone inside them dead, dead, dead.

They came to a stop at half-day. The end of the line, Michael said, powering down. The maps Billie had shown them indicated that the rails petered out at the town of Caliente. They were lucky the train had taken them this far. How far? Peter asked. Four hundred kilometers, give or take, said Michael. See that mountain ridge? He was pointing through the slitted windshield. That's Utah.

They disembarked. They were in some kind of railyard, with tracks all around, littered with abandoned cars-engines, tankers, flatbeds. The land here was less dry; there was tall grass growing, and cottonwoods, and a gentle breeze was blowing, cooling the air. Water was running nearby; they could hear the sound of birds.

"I just don't get it," Alicia said, breaking the stillness. "Where did they hope to get to?"

Peter had slept in the train, once it was clear no virals were pursuing them, and awakened at dawn to find himself curled on the floor beside Theo and Maus. Michael had stayed up through the night, but the ordeal of the last few days had eventually caught up with everyone. As for Olson: perhaps he'd slept, though Peter doubted it. The man had spoken to no one and was now sitting on the ground outside the engine, staring into space. When Peter had told him about Mira, he hadn't asked for any details, just nodded and said, "Thank you for letting me know."

"Anywhere," Peter answered after a moment. He wasn't sure what he was feeling. The events of the night before-the whole four days at the Haven-felt like a feverish dream. "I think they just wanted to get ... anywhere."

Amy had stepped away from the group, into the field. For a moment they watched her, moving through the windblown grass.

"Do you think she understands what she did?" Alicia asked.

It was Amy who had blown the coupler. The switch was located in the rear of the engine compartment by the head-end unit. Probably it had been connected to a drum of diesel fuel or kerosene, Michael surmised, with some kind of igniter. That would have been enough to do it. A fail-safe, in case the cars were overrun. It made sense, Michael said, when you thought about it.

Peter supposed it did. But none of them could explain how Amy had known what to do, nor what had led her to actually throw the switch. Her actions seemed, like everything else about her, beyond ordinary understanding. And yet it was because of her, once again, that they were all alive.

Peter watched her for a long moment. In the waist-high grass she appeared almost to float, her hands held out from her sides, grazing the feathered tips. Many days had passed since he'd thought of what had happened in the Infirmary; but watching her now as she moved through the grass, he was washed by the memory of that strange night. He wondered what she had told Babcock when she had stood before him. It was as if she were part of two worlds, one that he could see and one that he could not; and it was within this other, hidden world that the meaning of their voyage lay.

"A lot of people died last night," Alicia said.

Peter drew a breath. Despite the sun, he felt suddenly cold. He was still watching Amy, but in his mind he saw Mira-the girl's body pressed to the roof of the train, the viral's hand reaching for her, pulling her away. The empty space where she had been and the sound of her screams as she fell.

"I think they'd been dead a long time," he said. "One thing's for sure, we can't stay here. Let's see what we've got."

They inventoried their supplies, spreading them out on the ground by the engine. It didn't amount to much: half a dozen shotguns, a couple of pistols with a few rounds each, one automatic rifle, two spare clips for the rifle plus twenty-five shells for the shotguns, six blades, eight gallons of water in jugs plus more in the train's holding tank, a few hundred gallons of diesel fuel but no vehicle to put it in, a couple of plastic tarps, three tins of sulfur matches, the med kit, a kerosene lantern, Sara's journal-she had removed it from her pack when they'd left the hut and stashed it inside her jersey-and no food at all. Hollis said there was probably game out there; they shouldn't waste their ammo, but they could set some snares. Maybe they'd find something edible in Caliente.

Theo was sleeping on the floor of the engine compartment. He'd managed to give them a rough accounting of events as best he could recall them-his fragmented memory of the attack at the mall, then his time in the cell and the dream of the woman in her kitchen and his struggle to stay awake, and the taunting visits of the man whom Peter believed was almost certainly Jude-but the effort of talking was clearly difficult for him, and he'd eventually fallen into a sleep so profound that Sara had to reassure Peter that his brother was still breathing. The wound to Mausami's leg was worse than she'd claimed but less than life-threatening. The shot had blasted through her outer thigh, cutting a grisly-looking bloody trench but exiting cleanly. The night before, Sara had used a needle and thread from the med kit to sew the wound closed and had cleaned it with spirits from a bottle they'd found under the sink in the engine's tiny lavatory. It must have hurt like hell, but Maus had borne all of it with a stoic silence, gritting her teeth as she clutched Theo's hand. As long as she kept it clean, Sara said, she'd be fine. With luck she'd even be able to walk in a day or two.

The question arose about where to go. It was Hollis who raised it, and Peter found himself taken aback; the thought had never occurred to him that they would fail to press on. Whatever lay ahead of them in Colorado, he felt more strongly than ever that they had to find out what it was, and it seemed far too late to turn back now. But Hollis, he was forced to concede, had a point. Theo, and Finn, and the woman whom first Alicia and now Mausami claimed was Liza Chou-all had come from the Colony. Whatever was happening with the virals-and obviously something was happening-it appeared that they wanted people alive. Should they go back and warn the others? And Mausami-even if her leg was all right, could she really continue on foot? They had no vehicles and very little in the way of ammunition for the weapons they possessed; they could probably find food on the way, but this would slow them down, and soon they would be entering the mountains, where the terrain would be more difficult. Could they expect a pregnant woman to walk all the way to Colorado? He was only posing these questions, Hollis said, because someone had to; he wasn't sure what he thought. On the other hand, they had come a long way. Babcock, whatever he was, was still out there, as were the Many. Turning around brought risks of its own.

Sitting on the ground outside the engine, the seven of them-Theo was still sleeping in the train-discussed their options. For the first time since they'd left, Peter sensed uncertainty among the group. The bunker and its bounty of supplies had given them a sense of security-a false one, maybe, but adequate to propel them forward. Now, stripped of their weapons and vehicles, with no food but what they could find, and having been cast four hundred kilometers into an unknown wilderness, the idea of Colorado had become much more tenuous. The events at the Haven had left them all shaken; never had it occurred to them that they would have to count among their obstacles the other human survivors they might encounter, or that a being like Babcock-a viral but also something far more, possessing a power to control the others-could exist.

Alicia, unsurprisingly, said she wanted to press on, as did Mausami-if only, Peter thought, to prove that Alicia was no tougher than she was. Caleb said he would do whatever the group wanted to do, but as he voiced these words his eyes were fixed on Alicia; if it came to a vote, Caleb would side with her. Michael also spoke for continuing, reminding everyone of the Colony's failing batteries. That's what this all comes down to, he said. As far as he was concerned, the message from Colorado was the only real hope they had-especially now, after what they'd seen at the Haven.

This left Hollis and Sara. Hollis plainly believed they should turn back. That he had come short of actually saying so, however, suggested that he believed, as Peter did, that the decision had to be unanimous. Sitting beside him in the shade of the train, her legs folded under her, Sara appeared more uncertain. She was squinting across the field, where Amy was continuing her solitary vigil in the grass. Peter realized it had been many hours since he'd heard her voice.

"I remember some of it now," Sara said after a moment. "When the viral took me. Bits and pieces, anyway." She lifted her shoulders in a gesture that was half shrug, half shudder, and Peter knew she would say no more about this. "Hollis isn't wrong. And I don't care what you say, Maus, you're in no shape to be out here. But I agree with Michael. If you're asking for my vote, Peter, that's it."

"So we keep going."

She shifted her eyes toward Hollis, who nodded. "Yes. We keep going."

The other question was Olson. Peter's distrust of the man had not abated, and though no one had said as much, he obviously represented a risk-for suicide, if nothing else. Since the train had stopped, he had barely moved from his place on the ground outside the engine, staring vacantly in the direction they'd come. From time to time he would run his fingers through the loose dirt, scooping up a handful and letting it fall through his fingers. He seemed like a man who was weighing his options, none of them very good, and Peter suspected where his thoughts lay.

Hollis pulled Peter aside as they were packing up the supplies. All the shotguns and the rifle now lay on one of the tarps, beside the piles of ammo. They had elected to spend the night in the train-it was as safe a place as any-and set out, on foot, in the morning.

"What should we do about him?" Hollis asked quietly, tipping his head toward Olson. Hollis was holding one of the pistols; Peter had the other. "We can't just leave him here."

"I guess he comes."

"He may not want to."

Peter considered this for a moment. "Leave him be," he said finally. "There's nothing we can do."

It was late afternoon. Caleb and Michael had gone around to the rear of the engine, to siphon off water from the tanks with a hose they'd found in a closet in the engine's aft compartment. Peter turned to see Caleb examining a hinged panel, about a meter square, hanging off the underside of the train.

"What's this?" he asked Michael.

"It's an access panel. It connects to a crawl space that runs underneath the floor."

"Anything in there we can use?"

Michael shrugged, busying himself with the hose. "I don't know. Have a look."

Caleb knelt and turned the handle. "It's stuck."

Peter, watching from five meters away, felt a prickling sensation along his skin. Something clenched inside him. All eyes. "Hightop-"

The panel flew open, sending Caleb tumbling backward. A figure unfolded from inside the tube.


Everyone reached for a weapon. Jude stumbled toward them, lifting a pistol. Half his face had been blasted away, revealing a broad smear of exposed meat and glistening bone; one of his eyes was gone, a dark hole. He seemed, in that elongated moment, a being of pure impossibility, half dead and half alive.

"You f**king people!" Jude snarled.

He fired just as Caleb, reaching for the pistol, stepped in front of him. The bullet caught the boy in the chest, spinning him around. In the same instant, Peter and Hollis found the triggers of their weapons, lighting up Jude's body in a crazy dance.

They emptied both their guns before he toppled.

Caleb was lying face-up on the dirt, one hand clutched at the place where the bullet had entered. His chest rose and fell in shallow jerks. Alicia threw herself onto the ground beside him.


Blood was running through the boy's fingers. His eyes, pointed at the empty sky, were very moist. "Oh shit," he said, blinking.

"Sara, do something!"

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