The Passage Page 66

Hollis emerged, briefly meeting Peter's eyes and giving him a curt nod before retreating down the hall. Peter began to rise but Ian said, "Not you, Jaxon. Lish is next."

Jaxon? Since when did anybody call him Jaxon-especially someone on the Watch? And why did it sound suddenly different to him, coming from Ian's mouth?

"It's all right," Lish said, and got to her feet wearily. He had never seen her looking so defeated. "I just want to get this over with."

Then she was gone, leaving Peter and Ian alone. Ian had awkwardly fixed his gaze on the square of wall above Peter's head.

"It really wasn't her fault, Ian. It wasn't anybody's."

Ian stiffened but said nothing.

"If you'd been there, you might have done the same thing."

"Look, save it for Sanjay. I'm not supposed to talk to you."

By the time Lish appeared, Peter had actually managed to doze off. She stepped from the room with a wordless look he knew: I'll find you.

Peter felt it the moment he stepped into the room. Whatever was going to happen had already been decided. His appearance, whatever he had to say for himself, would make very little difference. Soo had been asked to recuse herself from the proceedings, leaving only five members of the Household in attendance: Sanjay, who was seated at the center of a long table, and, on either side of him, Old Chou, Jimmy Molyneau, Walter Fisher, and Peter's cousin Dana, occupying the Jaxon seat. He noted the odd number; Soo's absence had effectively prevented any kind of deadlock. An empty desk had been positioned to face the table. The tension in the room was palpable; no one was speaking. Only Old Chou seemed willing to meet Peter's eye; everyone else was looking away, even Dana. Slumped in his chair, Walter Fisher seemed hardly to know where he was, or to care. His clothing seemed unusually filthy and rumpled; Peter could actually smell the shine coming off him.

"Have a seat, Peter," Sanjay said.

"I'd rather stand, if that's all right."

He felt the small pleasure of defiance, a point being scored. But Sanjay did not react. "I suppose we should get on with it." He cleared his throat before continuing. "Though there is some confusion on this point, the general opinion of the Household, based in large part on what Caleb has told us, is that you were not responsible for opening the gate, that this was his doing entirely. Is this your version?"

"My version?"

"Yes, Peter," Sanjay said. He sighed with unconcealed impatience. "Your version of events. What you believe occurred."

"I don't believe anything. What did Hightop tell you?"

Old Chou held up a hand and leaned forward. "Sanjay, if I may."

Sanjay frowned but said nothing.

Old Chou leaned forward over the table, a gesture of command. He had a soft, wrinkled face and damp eyes that gave him an appearance of absolute earnestness. He had been Head of the Household for many years before yielding the position to Theo's father, a history that still gave him considerable authority if he cared to use it. For the most part, he didn't; after his first wife had been killed on Dark Night, he had taken a second, much younger wife, and now passed most of his days in the apiary, among the bees he loved.

"Peter, no one doubts that Caleb thought he was doing the right thing. Intention is not the issue here. Did you open the gate or not?"

"What are you going to do with him?"

"That hasn't been decided. Please answer the question."

Peter tried to meet Dana's eye but couldn't; she was still looking at the table.

"I would have, if I'd gotten there first."

Sanjay gave an indignant lift in his chair. "You see? This is what I'm saying."

But Old Chou paid this interruption no mind, keeping his eyes locked on Peter's face. "So am I correct in understanding that your answer is no? You would have, but in fact you did not." He folded his hands on the table. "Take a moment to think if you need to."

It seemed to Peter that Old Chou was trying to protect him. But saying what had happened would shift all the blame to Caleb, who had simply done what Peter himself would have, if he'd gotten to the wheelhouse first.

"No one doubts your loyalty to your friends," Old Chou went on. "I would expect nothing less from you. But the greater loyalty here must be to the safety of everyone. I'll ask you again. Did you help Caleb in opening the gate? Or did you, in fact, try to close it, once you saw what was happening?"

Peter had the feeling of standing at the edge of a great abyss: whatever he said next would be final. But the truth was all he had.

He shook his head. "No."

"No what?"

He took a long breath. "No, I didn't open the gate."

Old Chou visibly relaxed. "Thank you, Peter." His gaze passed over the group. "If nobody has anything else-"

"Wait," Sanjay cut in.

Peter felt the air in the room tighten; even Walter seemed suddenly alert. Here it comes, thought Peter.

"Everyone here knows of your friendship with Alicia," Sanjay said. "She is someone who confides in you. Would that be fair to say?"

Peter nodded warily. "I guess."

"Has she in any way indicated to you that she knows this girl? Has seen her before, perhaps?"

A knot tightened in his stomach. "Why would you think that?"

Sanjay glanced at the others before returning his eyes to the front of the room. "There is a question, you see, of coincidence. You three were the last to return from the power station. And the story you tell, first about Zander and then Theo ... well, you must admit it's pretty strange."

The anger Peter had been holding in check gave way. "You think we planned this? I lost my brother down there. We were lucky to get back alive."

The room had grown very quiet again. Even Dana was looking at Peter with frank suspicion.

"So, for the record," Sanjay said, "you are saying you don't know the Walker, you've never seen her before."

Suddenly it wasn't about Alicia, he realized. The question was about him.

"I have no idea who she is," he said.

Sanjay held his eyes on Peter's face for what seemed like an unnaturally long moment. Then he nodded.

"Thank you, Peter. We appreciate your candor. You're free to go."

Just like that it was over. "That's all?"

Sanjay had already busied himself with the papers before him. He looked up, frowning, as if surprised to find Peter still in the room. "Yes. For now."

"You're not going to ... do anything to me?"

Sanjay shrugged; his mind had already moved on. "What do you want us to do?"

Peter felt an unexpected disappointment. Sitting outside with Alicia and Hollis, he'd felt a bond, a shared stake in the outcome. Whatever was going to happen would happen to them all. Now they had been separated.

"If it happened as you say, you're not to blame. The blame is Caleb's. Soo has said, and Jimmy agrees, that the stress of standing for your brother could be considered a factor here. Take a few more days before returning to the catwalk. After that, we'll see."

"What about the others?"

Sanjay hesitated. "I suppose there's no reason not to tell you, since everyone will know soon enough. Soo Ramirez has offered her resignation as First Captain, which the Household has, with reluctance, agreed to accept. But she was out of position when the attack occurred and shares some of the blame. Jimmy will serve as new First Captain. As for Hollis, he's off the Wall for the time being. He can return when he's ready."

"And Lish?"

"Alicia has been ordered to stand down from the Watch. She's been reassigned to Heavy Duty."

Of everything that had happened, this development was actually the most difficult for him to process. Alicia as a wrench: it was simply beyond Peter's power to imagine such a thing. "You're joking."

Sanjay gave a correcting lift of his generous eyebrows. "No, Peter. I promise you, I am not joking."

Peter exchanged a quick glance with Dana: Did you know anything about this? Her eyes said she did.

"Now, if that's all ... " Sanjay said.

Peter stepped toward the door. But as he reached the threshold, a sudden doubt occurred to him. He turned to face the group once more.

"What about the power station?"

Sanjay heaved a weary sigh. "What about it, Peter?"

"If Arlo's dead, shouldn't we be sending someone down there?"

Peter's first impression, considering the startled looks on everyone's faces, was that he'd somehow implicated himself at the last second. But then he understood: they had failed to consider this.

"You didn't send somebody down there at first light?"

Sanjay swiveled toward Jimmy, who shrugged nervously, evidently caught short. "It's too late now," he said quietly. "They'd never make it before dark. We'll have to wait till tomorrow."

"Flyers, Jimmy."

"Look, I just missed it, all right? There was a lot going on. And Finn and Rey could still be all right."

Sanjay seemed to take a moment just to breathe, composing himself. But Peter could tell he was furious.

"Thank you, Peter. We'll take this under advisement."

There was nothing more to say; Peter stepped from the room, into the hall. Ian was just where he'd left him, leaning against the wall with his arms folded across his chest.

"I guess you heard about Lish, huh?"

"I heard."

Ian shrugged; the stiffness had gone out of him. "Look, I know she's your friend. But you can't say she didn't have it coming. Going over like she did."

"What about the girl?"

Ian startled, a blaze of anger in his eyes. "Flyers, what about her? I've got a kid, Peter. What do I care about some Walker?"

Peter said nothing. As far as he could see, Ian had every reason to be angry.

"You're right," he said finally. "It was stupid."

But Ian's expression softened then. "Look," he said, "people are just upset is all. I'm sorry I got mad. Nobody thinks it's your fault."

But it was, Peter thought. It was.

The answer had come to Michael just after dawn: 1,432 megahertz-of course.

The bandwidth was officially unassigned, because it really had been assigned-to the military. A short-range digital signal, cycling every ninety minutes, looking for its mainframe.

And all night long, the signal had been growing stronger. It was practically on their doorstep.

The encryption would be the easy part. The trick would be finding the handshake, broadcasting the one reply that would cause the signal's transmitter, wherever and whatever it was, to link up with the mainframe. Once he did this, the rest would be just a question of uploading the data.

So what was the signal looking for? What was the digital answer to the question it was posing, every ninety minutes?

Something Elton had said, just before he'd gone to bed: Someone's calling us.

That was when he'd figured it out.

He knew just what he needed. The Lighthouse was full of all kinds of crap, stored in bins on the shelves; there was at least one Army handheld that he knew of. They had some old lithium cells that could still hold a charge-not more than a few minutes' worth, but that was all he'd need. He worked quickly, keeping an eye on the clock, waiting for the next ninety-minute interval to pass so he could grab the signal. Dimly he sensed some kind of commotion going on outside, but who knew what that was. He could jack the handheld into the computer, snatch the signal as it came in, capture its embedded ID, and program the handheld from the panel.

Elton was asleep, snoring on his cratered cot in the back of the Lighthouse. Flyers, if the old man didn't take a bath soon, Michael didn't know what he'd do. The whole place stank like socks.

By the time he was through it was almost half-day. How long had he been working, barely rising from his chair? After that whole thing with Mausami, he'd been too restless to sleep and returned to the hut; that might have been ten hours ago. His ass felt like he'd been sitting that long at least. He really had to pee.

He stepped from the hut, too quickly, unprepared for the blast of daylight that filled his eyes.


Jacob Curtis, Gabe's boy. Michael saw him jogging up the path with a lumbering gate, waving his arms. Michael took a breath to prepare himself. It was hardly the boy's fault, but talking to Jacob could be a trial. Before Gabe had gotten sick, he would sometimes bring Jacob around the Lighthouse, asking Michael if he could find something for the boy to do to make himself useful. Michael had done his best, but there really wasn't much Jacob could understand. Whole days could be swallowed up by explaining the simplest tasks to him.

He came to a halt before Michael, dropping his hands to his knees and heaving for breath. Despite his size, his movements possessed a childlike disorderliness, the parts never quite seeming in sync. "Michael," he gulped, "Michael-"

"Easy, Jacob. Slow down."

The boy was flapping a hand before his face, as if to push more oxygen into his lungs. Michael couldn't tell if he was upset or simply excited. "I want to see ... Sara," he gasped.

Michael told him she wasn't there. "Did you try at the house?"

"She's not there either!" Jacob lifted his face. His eyes were very wide. "I saw her, Michael."

"I thought you said you couldn't find her."

"Not her. The other one. I was sleeping and I saw her!"

Jacob didn't always make perfect sense, but Michael had never seen the boy like this. His face wore a look of complete panic.

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