The Passage Page 64

She gave a little laugh. "Oh, your father and me, we talked. About a lot of things. About the stars."

It was all so confusing. More than confusing: it was as if, in the space of just a few days-since the night the viral had been killed in the nets by Arlo Wilson-some fundamental precept of the world had changed, only nobody had told Peter what this change might be.

"Did he ever tell you ... about a Walker, Auntie?"

The old woman sucked in her cheeks. "A Walker, you say? Now, I don't recall anything about that. Theo see a Walker?"

He heard himself sigh. "Not Theo. My father."

But she had given up listening; her eyes, pointed at the wall behind him, had gone far away again. "Now, Terrence, I believe he did tell me something about a Walker. Terrence and Lucy. She always was the littlest thing. It was Terrence who made her stop crying, you know. He always could do that."

It was hopeless. Once Auntie went off like this, it could be hours, even days, before she came back to the present. He almost envied her, this power.

"Now, what was it you wanted to ask me?"

"That's okay, Auntie. It can keep."

She lifted her bony shoulders in a shrug. "You say so." A silent moment passed. Then: "Tell me something. You believe in God almighty, Peter?"

The question caught him short. Though she'd spoken of God often, never had she asked him what he believed. And it was true that looking at the stars from the station roof, he'd felt something-a presence behind them, their vast immensity. As if the stars were watching him. But the moment, and the feeling it gave him, had slipped away. It would have been nice to believe in something like that, but in the end, he just couldn't.

"Not really," he admitted, and heard the gloom his voice. "I think it's just a word people use."

"Now, that's a shame. A shame. Because the God I know about? He wouldn't give us no chance." Auntie took a final sip, smacking her lips. "Now you think on that some and then tell me about Theo and where he gone to."

The conversation seemed to end there; Peter rose to go. He bent to kiss the top of her head.

"Thanks for the tea, Auntie."

"Anytime. You come back and tell me your answer when it comes to you. We'll talk about Theo then. Have us a good talk. And Peter?"

He turned in the kitchen doorway.

"Just so you know. She comin'."

He was taken aback. "Who's coming, Auntie?"

A teacherly frown. "You know who, boy. You known it since the day God dreamed you up."

For a moment Peter said nothing, standing in the door.

"That's all I'm saying now." The old woman gave a dismissive wave, as if shooing a fly away. "You go on and come back when you ready."

"Don't write all night, Auntie," Peter managed. "Try to get some sleep."

A smile creased the old woman's face. "I got eternity for that."

He showed himself out, stepping into a breath of cool night air that brushed his face, chilling the sweat that had gathered beneath his jersey in the overheated kitchen. His stomach was still churning under the spell of the tea. He stood a moment, blinking into the lights. It was strange, what Auntie had said. But there was no way she could have known about the girl. The way the old woman's mind worked, stories all piled on top of stories, the past and present all mixed together, she could have meant anyone. She could have been talking about someone who'd died years ago.

Which was just when Peter heard the shouts coming from Main Gate, and all hell began to break loose.


It had begun with the Colonel. That much everyone was able to ascertain in the first few hours.

No one could recall seeing the Colonel for days, not in the apiary or stables or on the catwalks, where he sometimes went at night. Peter certainly hadn't seen him over the seven nights he'd stood, but he hadn't thought this absence strange; the Colonel came and went according to his own mysterious designs and sometimes didn't show his face for days.

What people did know, and this was reported first by Hollis but confirmed by others, was that the Colonel had appeared on the catwalk shortly after half-night, near Firing Platform Three. It had been a quiet night, without sign; the moon was down, the open ground beyond the walls bathed in the glow of the spots. Only a few people noticed him standing there, and no one thought anything about it. Hey, there's the Colonel, people might have said. Old guy never could quite make himself stand down. Too bad there's nothing doing tonight.

He lingered a few minutes, fingering his necklace of teeth, giving his gaze to the empty field below. Hollis supposed he'd come to speak with Alicia, but he didn't know where she was, and in any event, the Colonel made no move to look for her. He wasn't armed, and he didn't speak with anyone. When Hollis looked again, he was gone. One of the runners, Kip Darrell, claimed later to have seen him descending the ladder and heading down the trace, toward the pens.

The next time anyone saw him, he was running across the field.

"Sign!" one of the runners yelled. "We have sign!"

Hollis saw it, saw them. At the edge of the field, a pod of three, leaping into the light.

The Colonel was running straight toward them.

They fell on him swiftly, swallowing him like a wave, snapping, snarling, while on the catwalk high above a dozen bows released their arcing arrows, though the distance was too great; only the luckiest of shots would have accomplished anything.

They watched the Colonel die.

Then they saw the girl. She was at the edge of the field, a lone figure appearing out of the shadows. At first, Hollis said, they all thought she was another viral, and everyone was completely trigger-happy besides, all of them ready to shoot at anything that moved. As she broke across the field toward Main Gate, under a hail of arrows and bolts, one caught her in the shoulder with a meaty thunk that Hollis actually heard, spinning her around like a top. Still she kept on coming.

"I don't know," Hollis admitted later. "It might have been me who got her."

By now Alicia was on the scene, screaming at everyone as she raced down the catwalk, yelling at them to hold fire, it was a person, a human being goddamnit, and get the ropes, get the f**king ropes now! A moment of confusion: Soo was nowhere to be seen, and the order to go over the Wall could only come from her. All of which apparently gave Alicia no pause whatsoever. Before anyone could say another word she hopped to the top of the rampart, clutching the rope in her hand, and stepped out.

It was, Hollis said, the damnedest thing he'd ever laid eyes on.

She descended in a rush, swinging down the face of the Wall, her feet skimming the surface in an airborne run, the rope buzzing through the block at the top of the Wall while three pairs of hands frantically tried to set the brake before she hit. As the mechanism caught with a scream of bending metal Alicia landed, rolling end over end in the dust, and came up running. The virals were twenty meters away, still huddled over the Colonel's body; at the sound of Alicia's impact, they gave a collective twitch, twisting and snarling, tasting the air.

Fresh blood.

The girl was at the base of the Wall now, a dark shape huddled against it. A glistening hump sat at the center of her back-her knapsack, now pinned to her body by the bolt embedded in her shoulder, all of it slick and shining with the gleaming wetness of her blood. Alicia snatched her like a sack, hurled her over her shoulders, and did her best to run. The rope was useless now, forgotten behind her. Her only chance was the gate.

Everybody froze. Whatever else you did, you didn't open the gate. Not at night. Not for anyone, not even Alicia.

It was at this moment that Peter reached the staging ground, running from Auntie's porch toward the commotion. Caleb came sprinting from the barracks, arriving at Main Gate just ahead of him. Peter didn't know what was taking place on the other side, only that Hollis was yelling from the catwalk.

"It's Lish!"


"It's Lish!" Hollis cried. "She's outside!"

Caleb got to the wheelhouse first. It was this fact that would later be used to implicate him, while exonerating Peter of blame for what occurred. By the time Alicia reached the gate, it was open just wide enough for her to scramble through with the girl. If they had been able to close the doors then, probably none of the rest would have happened. But Caleb had released the brake. The weights were dropping, picking up speed as they slipped down the chains; the doors' opening was now ordained by the simple fact of gravity. Peter grabbed hold of the wheel. Behind and above him he heard the shouts, the volley of bolts unleashed from their crosses, the pinging footsteps of Watchers racing down the ladders into the staging ground. More hands appeared, fastening onto the wheel-Ben Chou and Ian Patal and Dale Levine. With excruciating slowness, it began to turn in the opposite direction.

But it was too late. Of the three virals, only one made it through the doors. But that was enough.

He headed straight for the Sanctuary.

· · ·

Hollis was the first to reach the building, just as the viral vaulted to the roof. It crested the roof's apex like a stone skipping on water and dropped into the interior courtyard. As he tore through the front door, Hollis heard a crash of breaking glass inside.

He reached the Big Room at the same instant Mausami did, the two of them arriving by different hallways onto opposite sides of the room. Mausami was unarmed; Hollis had his cross. An unexpected silence met them. Hollis had braced himself for screams and chaos, the children running everywhere. But nearly all were still in their beds, their eyes wide with terrified incomprehension. A few had managed to scramble under their cots; as Hollis crossed the threshold, he detected a flurry of movement from the nearest row, as one of the three J's, June or Jane or Juliet, rolled off her bed and scurried beneath it. The only light in the room came from the broken window, its shade ripped and hanging kitty-corner, still quivering with movement.

The viral was standing over Dora's crib.

"Hey!" Mausami yelled. She waved her arms above her head. "Hey, look over here!"

Where was Leigh? Where was Teacher? The viral jerked its face toward the sound of Mausami's voice. It blinked its eyes, tipping its head to the side on its long neck. A wet clicking sound rose from somewhere in the taut curve of its throat.

"Over here!" Hollis yelled, following Mausami's lead and waving to draw the creature's attention. "Yeah, look this way!"

The viral spun toward him, facing him squarely. Something was glinting at the base of its neck, some kind of jewelry. But there was no time to wonder about this; Hollis had his angle, his opening. Leigh entered the room then. She'd been sleeping in the office and heard nothing. As Leigh broke into a scream, Hollis aimed the crossbow and fired.

A good shot, a clean shot, dead center on the sweet spot: he felt its rightness, its perfection, the instant it leapt from the stock. And in the split second of the arrow's flight, a distance of fewer than five meters, he knew. The glinting key on the lanyard; the look of mournful gratitude in the viral's eyes. The thought came to Hollis fully formed, a single word that arrived on his lips at the same instant that the arrow-the merciful, awful, unrecallable arrow-struck home in the center of the viral's chest.


Hollis had just killed his brother.

· · ·

Sara-though she did not remember this and never would-first learned about the Walker in a dream: a confusing and unpleasant dream in which she was a little girl again. She was making johnnycake. The kitchen where she worked-she was standing on a stool, beating the heavy batter in a wide, wooden bowl-was both the kitchen of the house where she lived and the kitchen in the Sanctuary, and it was snowing: a gentle snow that did not fall from the sky, because there was no sky, but seemed to appear out of the air before her face. Strange, the snow; it almost never snowed and certainly not indoors that Sara could recall, but she had more important things to worry about. It was the day of her release, Teacher would come for her soon, but without the johnnycake, she would have nothing to eat in the outside world; in the outside world, Teacher had explained to her, that was the only thing people ate.

Then there was a man. It was Gabe Curtis. He was sitting at the kitchen table before an empty plate. "Is it ready?" he asked Sara, and then, turning to the girl sitting next to him, said, "I always liked johnnycake." Sara wondered, with vague alarm, who this girl was-she tried to look at her but somehow could not see her; wherever Sara looked for her was always the very spot the girl had just departed-and the fact reached her mind, slowly and then all at once, that she was in a new place now. She was in the room Teacher had brought her to, the place of the telling, and her parents were there, waiting; they were standing at the door. "Go with them, Sara," Gabe said. "It's time for you to go. Run and keep on running." "But you're dead," said Sara, and when she looked at her parents, she saw that where their faces should have been were regions of blankness, as if she were viewing them through a current of water; something was wrong with their necks. There was a pounding sound now, without the room, and the sound of a voice, calling her name. "You're all dead."

Then she was awake. She had fallen asleep in a chair by the cold hearth. It was the door that had awakened her; someone was outside, calling her name. Where was Michael? What time was it?

"Sara! Open up!"

Caleb Jones? She opened the door as he was reaching to hit it again, his fist freezing in the air.

"We need a nurse." The boy was breathing hard. "Someone's been shot."

She was instantly awake, reaching for her kit on the table by the door. "Who?"

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