The Passage Page 70

The man opened his mouth to speak, but no words came; the effort seemed lost.

"It's nothing," Jimmy said finally, looking away. "Sara's right. I really could use some sleep."

Chapter THIRTY

There would come a time, many years later, when Peter would recall the events surrounding the girl's arrival as a series of dancelike movements: bodies converging and separating, flung for brief periods into wider orbits, only to be drawn back again under the influence of some unknown power, a force as calm and inevitable as gravity.

When he'd come into the Infirmary the night before and seen the girl-so much blood, blood everywhere, Sara frantically trying to seal off the wound and Caleb with the soaked compress in his hands-he'd felt not horror or surprise but a blast of pure recognition. Here was the girl of the carousel; here was the girl of the hallway and the mad dash in darkness; here was the girl of the kiss and the closing door.

The kiss. In the long hours on the catwalk, standing the Mercy for Theo, Peter's mind had returned to it, again and again, to the puzzle of its meaning, the kind of kiss it was. Not a kiss like Sara's, that night under the lights; not the kiss of a friend or even, strictly speaking, the chaste kiss of a child, though there had been something childlike about it: its furtive haste and embarrassed quickness, ending almost before it had begun, and the girl's abrupt reversal, stepping back into the hallway before he could say a word and sealing the door in his face. It was all of these and none, and it wasn't until he'd come into the Infirmary and seen her lying there that he understood what it was: a promise. A promise as clear as words from a girl who hadn't any. A kiss that said: I'll find you.

Now, hidden behind a stand of junipers at the base of the Sanctuary wall, Alicia and Peter watched Sanjay depart. Jimmy left a moment later-there was something odd about his movements, Peter thought, a directionless lassitude, as if he didn't quite know where to go or what to do with himself-leaving Ben and Galen standing guard in the shade of the porch.

Alicia shook her head. "I don't think we're going to be able to talk our way past them."

"Come on," he said.

He led her around to the rear of the building, a protected alleyway running between the Infirmary and the greenhouses. The back door of the building and its windows were all bricked in, but behind a pile of empty crates was a metal bulkhead. Inside was an old delivery chute, leading to the basement; sometimes at night, when his mother had been working alone and he was still young enough to take enjoyment from such a thing, she'd let him come over and ride the chute.

He swung the metal door open. "In you go."

He heard her body banging off the sides of the tube, then her voice from below: "Okay." Gripping the edges of the door, he eased himself inside, drawing the bulkhead down over his head-a sudden, enveloping blackness; it had been part of the thrill, he recalled, to ride the chute in darkness-and let go.

A quick, rattling plunge; he landed on his feet. The room was as he recalled, full of crates and other supplies and to his right the old walk-in freezer with its wall of jars, and at the center the wide table, with its scale and tools and guttered candles. Alicia was standing at the base of the stairs that led to the Infirmary's front room, angling her head upward into the shaft of light that fell from above. The steps emerged, at the top, in full view of the porch. Getting past the windows would be the tricky part.

Peter ascended first. Near the top he peeked out, lifting his eyes over the final step. The angle was wrong, he was too low, but he could hear the muffled sound of the two men's voices; they were facing away. He turned back to Alicia, signaling his intentions, then quickly rose and moved furtively across the room and down the hall to the ward.

The girl was awake and sitting up. That was the first thing he saw. Her bloody clothing was gone, replaced by a thin gown that revealed the white swath of her dressing. Sara, positioned on the edge of the narrow cot, was facing away; the girl's wrist was in her hand.

The girl's eyes flicked up then, meeting his own. A burst of panicked movement: she yanked her hand away and scrambled to the head of the cot, as Sara, sensing his presence behind her, vaulted to her feet and spun to face him.

"Flyers, Peter." Her whole body seemed clenched; she spoke in a hoarse whisper. "How the hell did you get in here?"

"Through the basement." The voice came from behind him: Alicia. The girl had pulled herself into a ball, her knees defensively compressed to her chest to form a barricade, the loose fabric of her gown drawn down over her legs, which she was gripping with her hands.

"What happened?" Alicia said. "That shoulder was torn to shreds a few hours ago."

Only then did Sara's posture relax. She huffed a weary sigh and dropped onto one of the adjacent cots.

"I might as well tell you. As far as I can see, she's perfectly okay. The wound is practically healed."

"How can that be?"

Sara shook her head. "I can't explain it. I don't think she wants anyone to know, though. Sanjay was just in here with Jimmy. Anybody comes in here, she pretends to be asleep." She shrugged. "Maybe she'll talk to you. I can't get a word out of her."

Peter heard this exchange only distantly; it seemed to be occurring in another room of the building. He had moved forward, toward the cot. The girl was peering at him warily over the tops of her knees, her eyes hooded by a tangle of her hair; he had the sense of moving into the presence of a skittish animal. He sat on the edge of the bed, facing her.

"Peter." This was Sara. "What are you ... doing?"

"You followed me. Didn't you?"

A tiny nod, almost imperceptible. Yes. I followed you.

He lifted his face. Sara was standing at the foot of the bed, staring at him.

"She saved me," Peter explained. "At the mall, when the virals attacked. She protected me." He gave his eyes to the girl again. "That's right, isn't it? You protected me. You sent them away."

Yes. I sent them away.

"You know her?" Sara said.

He hesitated, struggling to assemble the story in his mind. "We were under a carousel. Theo was already gone. The smokes were coming, I thought it was all over. Then she ... climbed on top of me."

"She climbed on top of you."

He nodded. "Yes, on my back. Like she was shielding me. I know I'm not telling it right, but that's how it happened. Next thing I knew, the smokes were gone. She led me to a hallway and showed me the stairs that led to the roof. That's how I got out."

For a moment Sara said nothing.

"I know it sounds strange."

"Peter, why didn't you tell anyone?"

He shrugged, at a loss. He had no defense, at least not a good one. "I should have. I wasn't even sure the whole thing had actually happened. And once I didn't say anything, it became harder and harder to actually do it."

"What if Sanjay finds out?"

The girl had inched her face above the barricade of her knees; she appeared to be studying him, probing his face with a dark and knowing look. The feeling of wildness was still there, an animal jitteriness in the way she moved and held herself. But in the few minutes since they had entered the ward, a shift had occurred, a perceptible lessening of fear.

"He's not going to," Peter said.

"Oh my God," a voice behind them said. "It's true."

They all turned to see Michael standing at the curtain.

"Circuit, how did you get in here?" Alicia hissed. "And keep your voice down."

"Same as you. I saw the two of you going down the alley." Michael moved cautiously toward the cot, his eyes locked on the girl. He was clutching something in his hand. "Seriously, who is that?"

"We don't know," Sara said. "She's a Walker."

For a moment Michael fell silent, his expression unreadable. Yet Peter could detect the workings of his mind, the swift calculations. He seemed, all of a sudden, to take notice of the object he was carrying.

"Holy shit. Holy shit. It's just like Elton said."

"What are you talking about?"

"The signal. The ghost signal." He shushed them with a hand. "No, wait ... hang on. I can't believe this. Everybody ready?" His face lit up with a triumphant smile. "Here it comes."

And just like that, the device began to buzz.

"Circuit," said Alicia, "what the hell is that?"

He held it up to show them. A handheld.

"That's what I came to tell you," Michael said. "That girl? The Walker? She's calling us."

The transmitter had to be somewhere on her person, Michael explained. He couldn't say exactly what it would look like. Large enough to have a power source, but beyond that he couldn't say.

Her knapsack and its contents had gone into the fire. This left something on the girl herself as the source of the signal. Sara sat beside her on the cot and explained what she wanted to do, asking the girl to hold still. Moving from her feet, Sara ran her hands up the girl's body, gently touching every surface, examining her legs and arms and hands and neck; when this was done she rose and moved behind her, positioning herself at the head of the cot, and pulled her fingers slowly through the matted nest of her hair. Through all of it the girl held herself with a motionless compliance, lifting her arms and legs when Sara asked, her eyes floating about the room with a neutral inquisitiveness, as if she was not quite sure what to make of it all.

"If it's here, it's well hidden." Sara paused to push a strand of hair from her face. "Michael, are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure. It has to be inside her then."

"Inside her body?"

"It should be near the surface. Probably just under the skin. Look for a scar."

Sara considered this. "Well, I'm not doing it in front of a crowd. Peter and Michael, both of you turn around. Lish, get over here. I might need you."

Peter used this moment to step to the curtain and peek through. Ben and Galen were still outside, blurred figures facing away on the far side of the windows. He wondered how much longer they had. Surely someone else would come, Sanjay or Old Chou or Jimmy.

"Okay, you can look now."

The girl was sitting on the edge of the bed, her head bent forward at the neck. "Michael was right; I didn't have to look very long." Sara lifted the tangle of the girl's hair to show them: a distinct white line at the base of her neck, no more than a couple of centimeters long. Above it was the telltale bulge of some foreign object.

"You can feel the edges." Sara pressed her fingers against it to demonstrate. "Unless there's more to it, I think it should come out clean."

Peter asked, "Will it hurt?"

Sara nodded. "It'll be quick, though. After last night it should feel like nothing. Like removing a big splinter."

Peter sat on the cot and spoke to the girl. "Sara needs to remove something from under your skin. A kind of radio. Is that okay?"

He saw a flicker of apprehension in her face. Then she nodded.

"Just be careful," said Peter.

Sara went to the storage cabinet and returned with a basin, a scalpel, and a bottle of spirits. She wet a cloth and cleaned the area. Then, positioned behind the girl once more, holding her hair away, she took the scalpel from the basin.

"This will sting."

With a stroke of the scalpel's blade she traced the line of the scar. If the girl felt any pain, she made no indication. A single bead of blood appeared at the wound, running down the long line of the girl's neck to disappear into her gown. Sara dabbed the wound with the cloth and angled her head toward the basin.

"Somebody hand me those tweezers. Don't touch the tines."

Alicia was the one to do this. Sara eased the ends of the tweezers through the jacketlike opening in the girl's skin, holding the blood-tinged cloth below it. So intense was Peter's focus that he could feel-actually feel in the tips of his fingers-the moment when the ends of the tweezers caught hold of the object. With a slow pulling motion, Sara drew it free, a dark shadow emerging, and placed it on the cloth. She held it up for Michael to see.

"Is this what you're looking for?"

Resting on the bed of cloth was a small, oblong-shaped disk, made of some shiny metal. A fringe of tiny wires, like hairs, beaded at the tips, encircled its edges. Altogether it looked to Peter like some kind of flattened spider.

"That's a radio?" Alicia said.

Michael was frowning, his brow furrowed. "I'm not sure," he confessed.

"You're not sure? How is it you could make the phone ring but you don't know what this is?"

Michael rubbed the object with a clean rag and held it to the light. "Well, it's some kind of transmitter. That's what these wires are probably for."

"So what's it doing inside her?" Alicia asked. "Who could have done something like that?"

"Maybe we should ask her what it is," Michael said.

But when he held the object out to show her, lying on its bed of bloodstained cloth, the girl responded with a look of puzzlement. Its very existence in her neck seemed as mysterious to her as it was to them.

"You think the Army put it in there?" Peter asked.

"It could be," Michael said. "It was broadcasting on a military frequency."

"But you can't tell by looking at it."

"Peter, I don't even know what it's transmitting. It could be reciting the alphabet for all I know."

Alicia frowned. "Why would it be reciting the alphabet?"

Michael let this pass without comment. He looked at Peter again. "That's all I can tell you. If you want to know more, I'll have to open it."

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies