The Passage Page 88

He pressed the nightscope to his eye. "I don't see anything."

"It was there, I know it."

Then Amy was in the room. She was clutching the globe to her chest. With her other hand she gripped Peter by the arm and began to pull him away from the window.

"Amy, what's wrong?"

The glass behind them didn't so much shatter as explode, detonating in a hail of glinting shards. The air blew from his body as he was knocked across the room. It was only later that Peter would realize that the viral had come in right on top of them. He heard Sara scream-not even words, just a cry of terror. He hit the floor, rolling, his limbs tangled with Amy's, in time to see the creature vaulting back out the window.

Sara was gone.

Alicia and Hollis were in the room now, everyone was there, Hollis was ripping off the sling and taking up his rifle, he was standing at the window, aiming below, sweeping the scene with his barrel. But no shots came.


Alicia pulled Peter to his feet. "Are you cut? Did it scratch you?"

His insides were still churning. He shook his head: no.

"What happened?" Michael cried. "Where's my sister!"

Peter found his voice. "It took her."

Michael had grabbed Amy roughly by the arms. She was still clutching the globe, which had somehow remained unbroken. "Where is she? Where is she?"

"Stop it, Michael!" Peter yelled. "You're frightening her!"

The globe fell to the floor with a crash as Alicia yanked Michael away, sending him spilling onto the sofa. Amy stumbled backward, her eyes wide with fear.

"Circuit," Alicia said, "you have to calm down!"

His eyes were brimming with furious tears. "Don't f**king call me that!"

A booming voice: "Everyone shut the hell up!"

They turned to where Hollis stood by the open window, his rifle at his hip.

"Just. Shut. Up." He looked them all over. "I'll get your sister, Michael."

Hollis dropped to one knee and began rifling through his pack for extra clips, filling the pockets of his vest. "I saw which way they took her. Three of them."

"Hollis-" Peter began.

"I'm not asking." He met Peter's eyes. "You of all people know I have to go."

Michael stepped forward. "I'm coming with you."

"I'm going too," said Caleb. He raised his eyes to the group, his face suddenly uncertain. "I mean, because we're all going. Right?"

Peter looked at Amy. She was sitting on the sofa, her knees pressed protectively to her chest. He asked Alicia for her pistol.

"What for?"

"If we're going out there, Amy needs a weapon."

She drew it from her waistband. Peter released the clip to check the load, then pushed the clip back into the handle and cocked the slide to put a round in the chamber. He turned it around in his hand and held it out to Amy.

"One shot," he said. He tapped his breastbone. "That's all you get. Through here. You know how to do this?"

Amy lifted her eyes from the gun in her hand, nodding.

They were gathering their gear when Alicia pulled Peter aside. "Not that I'm objecting," she said quietly, "but it could be a trap."

"I know it's a trap." Peter took up his rifle and pack. "I think I've known it since we got to this place. All those blocked streets, they led us right here. But Hollis is right. I never should have left Theo behind, and I'm not leaving Sara."

They cracked their light sticks and stepped into the hall. At the top of the stairwell, Alicia moved to the rail and looked down, sweeping the area with the barrel of her rifle. She gave them the all clear, waving them forward.

They descended in this manner, flight by flight, Alicia and Peter trading the point, Mausami and Hollis guarding the rear. When they reached the third floor they exited the stairwell and moved down the hall, toward the elevators.

The middle elevator stood open, as they'd left it. Peering over the edge, Peter could see the car with its roof hatch standing open below. He swung out onto the cable, his rifle slung across his back, and shimmied to the roof of the car, then dropped inside. The elevator opened on another lobby, two stories tall, with a glass ceiling. The wall facing the open door was mirrored, giving him an angled view of the space beyond. He inched the barrel of his rifle out, holding his breath. But the moonlit space was empty. He whistled up through the hatch to the others.

The rest of the group followed, passing their rifles through the hatch and dropping down. The last was Mausami. She was wearing two packs, Peter saw, one slung from each shoulder.

"Sara's," she explained. "I thought she'd want it."

The casino was to their left, to their right the darkened hall of empty stores. Beyond that lay the main entrance and the Humvees. Hollis had seen the pod taking Sara across the street, to the tower. The plan was to get across the open ground in front of the hotel using the vehicles, with their heavy guns, for cover. Beyond that, Peter didn't know.

They reached the lobby, with its silent piano. All was quiet, unchanged. In the glow of their light sticks, the painted figures on the ceiling seemed to float freely, suspended over their heads without attachment to any physical plane. When Peter had seen them the first time, they had seemed somehow menacing, but as he looked at them now, this feeling was gone. Those dewy eyes and soft, round faces-Peter realized they were Littles.

They reached the entrance and crouched by the open window. "I'll go first," Alicia said. She took a drink from her canteen. "If it's clear, we get in and go. I don't want to hang around the base of the building more than about two seconds. Michael, you take Sara's place at the wheel of the second Humvee; Hollis and Mausami, I want you up on those fifties. Caleb, just run like hell and get inside and make sure Amy's with you. I'll cover you while everybody gets aboard."

"What about you?" Peter asked.

"Don't worry, I'm not letting you leave without me."

Then she was up and out the window, dashing for the nearest vehicle. Peter scrambled into position. The darkness beyond was total, the moon obscured by the roof of the portico. He heard a soft impact as Alicia took cover at the base of one of the Humvees. He pressed the stock of his weapon tight against his shoulder, willing Alicia to whistle the all clear.

Beside him, Hollis whispered, "What the hell's keeping her?"

The lack of light was so complete it felt like a living thing, not an absence but a presence, pulsing all around him. An anxious sweat prickled his hair. He drew a breath and tightened his finger on the trigger of his rifle, ready to fire.

A figure raced toward them out of the darkness.


As Alicia dove headfirst through the window, Peter realized what he was seeing: a roiling mass of pale green light, like a cresting wave, hurtling toward the building.

Virals. The street was full of virals.

Hollis had begun to fire. Peter shouldered his weapon and managed to let off a pair of shots before Alicia seized him by the sleeve and yanked him away from the window.

"There's too many! Get out of here!"

They had made it less than halfway across the lobby when there came a thundering crash and the sound of splintering wood. The front door was failing; the virals would be streaming in at any second. Up ahead, Caleb and Mausami were sprinting down the hall toward the casino. Alicia was firing in quick bursts behind them, covering their retreat, her spent shell casings pinging across the tiled floor. In the flashing light of her muzzle Peter saw Amy on all fours by the piano, probing the ground as if she'd lost something. Her gun. But there was no point in looking for it now. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her down the hall, chasing the others. His mind was saying: We're dead. We're all dead.

Another crash of breaking glass from deep inside the building. They were being flanked. Soon they'd be surrounded, lost in the dark. Like the mall, only worse, because there was no daylight to run to. Hollis was beside him now. Ahead he saw the glow of a light stick and the figure of Michael ducking through the shattered window of a restaurant. As he reached it he saw that Caleb and Mausami were already inside. He yelled to Alicia, "This way! Hurry!" and shoved Amy through, in time to see Michael disappearing through a second door at the rear.

"Just follow them," he cried. "Go!"

Then Alicia was upon him, yanking him through the window. Without a pause she reached into her pouch and withdrew another light stick and cracked it over her knee. They raced across the room to the rear door, which was still swinging with the force of Michael's exit.

Another hallway, narrow and low-ceilinged, like a tunnel. Peter saw Hollis and the others up ahead, waving to them, shouting their names. The smell of sewer gas was suddenly stronger, almost dizzying. Peter and Alicia swiveled as the first viral burst through the door behind them. The hallway flashed with the light of their muzzles. Peter was firing blind, aiming at the door. The first one fell and then another and another. And still they kept on coming.

He realized he'd been squeezing the trigger but nothing was happening. His gun was empty; he had fired off his last round. Alicia was pulling him down the hall again. A flight of stairs, leading down to another hall. He bumped against the wall and almost fell but somehow kept going.

The hall ended at a pair of swinging doors that opened on a kitchen. The stairs had taken them below ground level, into the deep inner workings of the hotel. Banks of copper pots hung from the ceiling above a wide steel table that shone with the reflected glow of Alicia's light stick. His breath felt tight in his chest; the air was dense with fumes. He dropped his empty rifle and seized one of the pots from the ceiling. A wide copper fry pan, heavy in his hands.

Something had followed them through the door.

He turned, swinging the pan as he lurched backward against the stove-a gesture that would have seemed comical if it weren't so desperate-sheltering Alicia with his body as the viral bounded to the top of the steel table, dropping into a crouch. A female: her fingers were covered in rings like the ones he'd seen on the slims at the card table. She was holding her hands away from her body, the long fingers flexing, shoulders swaying in a liquid motion from side to side. Peter clutched the pan like a shield, Alicia pressed behind him.

Alicia: "She sees herself!"

What was the viral waiting for? Why hadn't she attacked?

"Her reflection!" Alicia hissed. "She sees her reflection in the pan!"

Peter became aware of a new sound, coming from the viral-a mournful nasal moaning, like the whine of a dog. As if the image of her face, reflected in the pan's copper bottom, were the source of some deep and melancholy recognition. Peter cautiously moved the pan back and forth, the viral's eyes following, entranced. How long could he hold her like this, before more virals came through the door? His hands were slick with sweat, the air was so dense with fumes he could scarcely breathe.

This place will go up like a torch.

"Lish, do you see a way out of here?"

Alicia swiveled her head quickly. "A door to your right, five meters."

"Is it locked?"

"How should I know?"

He spoke through clenched teeth, doing everything he could to hold his body still, to keep the viral's eyes focused on the pan. "Does it have a lock you can see, damnit?"

The creature startled, a muscular tautness rippling through her. Her jaw fell open, lips withdrawing to reveal the rows of gleaming teeth. She had given up her moaning; she had begun to click.

"No, I don't see one."

"Pull a grenade."

"There's not enough space in here!"

"Do it. The room is full of gas. Toss it behind her and run like hell for the door."

Alicia slipped a hand between their bodies to her waist, freeing a grenade from her belt. He felt her pull the pin.

"Here you go," she said.

A clean arc, up and over the viral's head. It was as Peter had hoped; the viral's eyes broke away, her head twisting to follow the airborne parabola of the grenade as it lobbed across the room, clattering on the table behind her before rolling to the floor. Peter and Alicia turned and dashed for the door. Alicia got there first, slamming into the metal bar. Fresh air and a feeling of space-they were on some kind of loading dock. Peter was counting in his head. One second, two seconds, three seconds ...

He heard the first report, the concussive spray of the grenade's detonation, and then a second, deeper boom as the gas in the room ignited. They rolled over the edge of the dock as first the door shot above their heads and then the shock wave, a prow of fire. Peter felt the air being stripped from his lungs. He pressed his face into the earth, his hands held over his head. More explosions as pockets of gas went off, the fire traveling upward through the structure. Debris began to pour down over them, glass falling everywhere, exploding on the pavement in a rain of glinting shards. He breathed in a mouthful of smoke and dust.

"We have to move!" Alicia cried, pulling at him. "The whole thing is going up!"

His hands and face felt wet, but who knew what that was. They were somewhere on the south side of the building. They tore across the street under the light of the burning hotel and took cover behind the rusted hulk of an overturned car.

They were breathing hard, coughing out smoke. Their faces were coated with soot. He looked at Lish and saw a long glistening stain on her upper thigh, soaking the fabric of her pants.

"You're bleeding."

She pointed at his head. "So are you."

Above them, a second series of explosions shook the air. A huge fireball ascended upward through the hotel, bathing the scene in a furious orange light, sending more flaming debris cascading to the street.

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