The Passage Page 71

"Then open it," said Peter.


Sanjay Patal had left the Infirmary intending to find Old Chou. There were things that needed to be decided, things to be discussed. Sam and Milo, for starters-that was a wrinkle Sanjay hadn't planned on-and what to do about Caleb, and the girl.

The girl. Something about her eyes.

But as he moved away from the Infirmary, into the afternoon, an unexpected heaviness came over him. He supposed it was only natural-up half the night and then a morning like the one he'd had, so much to do and say and worry over, so many things to consider. People often joked about the Household, that it wasn't a real job, one of the trades, Watch or HD or Ag-it had been Theo Jaxon who had dubbed it "the plumbing committee," a joke that had cruelly stuck-but that was because they didn't know the half of it, the responsibility. It weighed on a person; it was a load you carried and never quite put down. Sanjay was forty-five years old, which wasn't young, but as he moved down the gravel path, he felt much older.

At this time of day, Old Chou would be in the apiary-never mind that the gates were closed; the bees would care nothing about that. But the thought of the long walk over there, under the high, hot sun of midday, and whom Sanjay might encounter along the way and be forced to talk to, filled him with a sudden weariness like a gray mist in his brain. He decided it then: he had to get off his feet. Old Chou would keep. And almost before he knew it, Sanjay found himself moving at a slow trudge through the shadowed glade in the direction of his house, then stepping through the door (he listened for the sounds of Gloria elsewhere in the house, detecting nothing), climbing the creaking stairs under the eaves with their cobwebby corners, and lying down in bed. He was tired, so tired. Who knew how long it had been since he had let himself take a nap in the middle of the day.

He was asleep almost before he'd finished asking himself this question.

He awoke sometime later with a savagely sour taste in his mouth and a rush of blood in his ears. He felt not so much awake as ejected bodily from sleep; his mind felt beaten clean. Flyers, how he'd slept. He lay motionless, savoring the feeling, floating in it. He realized he'd heard voices downstairs, Gloria's and someone else's, deeper, a man's; he thought it might be Jimmy or Ian or maybe Galen, but as he lay and listened he realized more time had passed, and the voices had gone away. How nice it was, simply to lie there. Nice and a little strange, because in fact it seemed to him that he should have gotten up some time ago; night was falling, he could see this through the window, the whiteness of the summer sky pinkening with dusk, and there were things to do. Jimmy would want to know about the power station, and who should ride down in the morning (though Sanjay couldn't, at that moment, recall precisely why this had to be decided), and there was still the question of the boy, Caleb, whom everyone called Hightop for some reason, it had something to do with his shoes. So many things like this. And yet the longer he lay there, the more these concerns seemed distant and indistinct, as if they applied to someone else.


Gloria was standing in the doorway. Her presence touched him less as a person than as a voice: a disembodied voice, calling his name in the dark.

"Why are you in bed?"

He thought: I don't know. How strange I don't know why I'm lying in this bed.

"It's late, Sanjay. People are looking for you."

"I was ... napping."


"Yes, Gloria. Napping. Taking a nap."

His wife appeared above him, the image of her smooth round face floating bodiless in the gray sea of his vision. "Why are you holding the blanket like that?"

"Like what? How am I holding it?"

"I don't know. Look for yourself."

The effort, imagined in advance, seemed huge, nothing he wished to attempt. And yet somehow he managed it, tipping his head forward from the sweat-moistened pillow to troll the length of his body. It appeared that in his sleep he had pulled the blanket from their bed and twisted it into the form of rope, which he was now holding across his waist, clutching it tightly with his hands.

"Sanjay, what's the matter with you? Why are you talking like that?"

Her face was still above him and yet he could not seem to focus on it, to bring it fully into view. "I'm fine. I was just tired."

"But you're not tired anymore."

"No. I don't think so. But perhaps I will sleep some more."

"Jimmy was here. He wants to know what to do about the station."

The station. What about the station?

"What should I tell him if he comes back?"

He remembered then. Somebody had to go down to the station to secure it, from whatever it was that might be happening there.

"Galen," he said.

"Galen? What about him?"

But her question touched him only vaguely. His eyes had closed again, the image of Gloria's face shifting before him, resolving, replaced by another: the face of a girl, so small. Her eyes. Something about her eyes.

"What about Galen, Sanjay?"

"It would be good for him, don't you think?" he heard a voice saying, for one part of him was still there in the room while the other part, the dreaming part, was not. "Tell him to send Galen."


The hours passed and night came on.

They'd heard no word yet from Michael. After the three of them had slipped out the back of the Infirmary, the group had separated: Michael to the Lighthouse, Alicia and Peter to the trailer park, to watch over Caleb from one of the empty hulks, in case Sam and Milo returned. Sara was still inside with the girl. For the time being, the only thing to do was wait.

The trailer where they hid was two rows away from the lockup, far enough that they could go undetected but still with a view of the door. It was said the trailers had been left by the Builders, who had used them to house the workers who had built the walls and lights; as far as Peter knew, no one else had ever lived there. Most of the paneling had been stripped away to get at the pipes and wires, and all the fixtures and appliances had been taken out, chopped up and dispersed. There was a space in the back where a mattress had sat on a platform, separated by a flexible, sliding door on a track, and a couple of sleeping cubbies tucked into the walls; a tiny table was situated at the other end with a pair of benches facing each other. These were covered in cracked vinyl, the gaps in the fabric disgorging a brittle foam that crumbled to dust when you touched it.

Alicia had brought a deck of cards to pass the time. Between hands of go-to, she would shift restlessly on the bench, glancing out the window toward the lockup. Dale and Sunny were gone, replaced by Gar Phillips and Hollis Wilson, who evidently had decided not to stand down after all. Sometime in the late afternoon, Kip Darrell had appeared, bearing a tray of food. Otherwise they'd seen no one.

Peter dealt a fresh hand. Alicia turned away from the window, took her cards from off the table, and looked at them quickly, frowning.

"Flyers. Why'd you give me such junk?"

She sorted her cards while Peter did the same, and led with a red jack. Peter matched the suit and countered with the eight of spades.

"Go to."

He had no more spades; he drew from the deck. Alicia was gazing out the window again.

"Stop it, will you?" he said. "You're making me nervous."

Alicia said nothing. It took Peter four draws to match the suit; his hands were now hopelessly full of cards. He played a deuce and watched while Alicia played out the two of hearts, rolling the suit, and ran with four cards in a row, flipping on a queen to bring him back to spades.

He drew again. She was long in spades, he could feel it, but there was nothing he could do. She had him completely boxed. He played a six and watched while she dealt out a sequence of cards, flipping to diamonds on a nine, and emptied the rest of her hand.

"You always do that, you know," she said, as she was scooping up the cards. "Play out your weakest suit first."

Peter was still looking at his hand, as if there was something left to play. "I didn't know that."


First Bell was moments away. How strange it would be, Peter thought, not to spend this night on the catwalk.

"What will you do if Sam comes back?" Peter asked.

"I really don't know. Try to talk him out of it, I guess."

"And what if you can't?"

She tipped a shoulder, frowning. "Then I'll deal with it."

They heard First Bell.

"You don't have to do this, you know," Alicia said.

He wanted to say: Neither do you. But he knew this wasn't so.

"Trust me," Alicia said, "nothing's going to happen after Second Bell. After last night, everybody's probably hiding in their houses. You should go look in on Sara. The Circuit, too. See if he's found anything."

"What do you think she is?"

Alicia shrugged. "As far as I can see, she's just a frightened kid. That doesn't explain that thing in her neck, or how she survived out there. Maybe we'll never figure it out. Let's see what Michael comes up with."

"But you believe me? About what she did at the mall."

"Of course I believe you, Peter." Alicia was frowning at him. "Why wouldn't I believe you?"

"It's a pretty crazy story."

"If you say that's what happened, then that's what happened. I've never doubted you before, and I'm not going to start now." She examined him closely for a moment. "But that's not what you were asking about, is it?"

He let a silence pass. Then: "When you look at her, what do you see?"

"I don't know, Peter. What should I see?"

Second Bell began to ring. Alicia was still studying him, waiting for his reply. But he had no words for what he felt, at least none that he trusted.

A blaze from outside: the lights were on. Peter unfolded his legs from under the table and rose to his feet.

"Would you really have stuck Sam with that cross today?" he asked her.

Alicia was below him now, illuminated from behind, her face sunk in shadow. "Honestly? I don't really know. I might have. I'm sure I'd be sorry if I had."

He waited, saying nothing. Resting on the floor was Alicia's pack-food and water and a bedroll, her cross beside it.

"Go on," she urged, tipping her head toward the door. "Get out of here."

"You're sure you'll be okay?"

"Peter," she said with a laugh, "when wasn't I?"

In the Lighthouse, Michael Fisher was having more than his share of problems. But worst of all was the smell.

It had gotten bad, really bad. A sour, armpitty reek of unwashed body and old socks. A moldy-cheese-and-onions sort of smell. The air was so rank that Michael could barely concentrate.

"Flyers, Elton, just get out of here, will you? You're stinking the whole place up."

The old man was sitting in his usual spot at the panel to Michael's right, his hands lying heavily on the arms of his old wheeled chair, face turned slightly to the side, away. After they'd powered up for the night-levels all green as far as that went; the station, whatever might have happened down there, was still sending current up the mountain-Michael had resumed work on the transmitter, which now lay in pieces on the counter, their images bulging through the articulated magnifying glass he'd carried out from the shed. He'd been nervously anticipating a visit from Sanjay, to ask him about the batteries; he was ready at a moment's notice to scoop the whole thing into a drawer. But the only official visit had come from Jimmy, late in the afternoon. Jimmy didn't look so hot, sort of flushed and out of it, like maybe he was coming down with something, and he'd asked about the batteries sheepishly, as if he'd forgotten all about them and was almost too embarrassed to bring it up now. He hadn't gotten farther than a meter from the door, though the smell would keep anyone away, a barricade of human stink, and had appeared to take no notice of the magnifier, sitting out there for anyone with half a brain to see, nor the open slot on the panel with its colored cables and exposed circuitry and the soldering iron resting beside it on the counter.

"I mean it, Elton. If you're going to sleep, go do it in back."

The old man twitched to life, fingers tightening on the arms of his chair. He turned his blind, rigid face to Michael.

"Right. Sorry." He rubbed a hand over his face. "Did you solder it?"

"I'm going to. Seriously, Elton. You're not alone in here. When was the last time you took a bath?"

The old man said nothing. Come to think of it, he didn't look so great himself, not that the standards where Elton was concerned were all that high to begin with. Sweaty and washed out and somehow not there. While Michael watched, Elton drifted a slow hand toward the surface of the counter, his fingers tapping lightly in a searching way until they alighted on the headphones, though he didn't pick them up.

"Are you feeling all right?"


"I'm just saying you don't look so great is all."

"Are we lights up?"

"That was an hour ago. How asleep were you?"

Elton licked his lips with a heavy tongue. Flyers, what was it? Something in his teeth?

"Maybe you're right. Maybe I will go lie down."

The old man lumbered to his feet and shuffled down the narrow hallway that connected the work area with the back of the hut. Michael heard the creek of springs as his big body hit the cot.

Well, at least he wasn't in the room.

Michael turned his attention back to the work that lay before him. He'd been right about the thing in the girl's neck. The transmitter was connected to a memory chip, but not any kind he'd ever seen, much smaller and without any obvious ports except for a pair of tiny gold brads. One was linked to the transmitter, the other to the filigree of beaded wires. So either the wires were an antenna array and the transmitter ran off the chip, which didn't seem likely, or the wires themselves were sensors of some kind, the source of the data the chip was recording.

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