The Passage Page 91

"And you're really okay?"

Sara shrugged. It was true: apart from the scratches and the wrist that was not broken after all but merely sprained, wrapped with a splinted bandage, she had no visible injuries at all. "I feel fine. I just can't explain it."

Jude twisted in his chair toward Alicia. "I've got to say, Lish, you sure know how to throw a party. I'd have liked to see the looks on their faces when you tossed that grenade."

"Michael should get some of the credit. He was the one who told us about the gas. And Peter was the one who used the pan."

"I still don't completely understand that part," said Billie, frowning. "You say it saw its own reflection?"

Peter shrugged. "All I know is, it worked."

"Maybe the virals just don't like your cooking," Hollis suggested.

Everybody laughed.

It was all so strange, Michael thought. Not just the story itself but the way everyone was acting, as if they had no worries in the world.

"What I don't get is what you guys were doing there in the first place," he ventured. "I'm glad you were, but it seems like quite a coincidence."

It was Jude who answered. "We still send regular patrols down to the city to scavenge up supplies. When the hotel went up, we were just three blocks away. We've got a fortified shelter in the basement of one of the old casinos. We heard the explosion and headed straight for it." He gave a closed-mouth grin. "Just dumb luck we saw you when we did."

Michael paused to consider this. "No, that can't be right," he said after a moment. "I remember it distinctly. The hotel blew up after we got out. You were already there."

Jude shook his head doubtfully. "I don't think so."

"No, ask her. She saw the whole thing." Michael turned his head to look at Billie; she was observing him coolly, that same look of neutral concern on her face. "I remember it distinctly. You used the gun on one of them, and Amy pulled me into the truck. Then we heard the explosion."

But before Billie could respond, Hollis broke in: "I think you've got it a little mixed up, Michael. I was the one who pulled you into the truck. The hotel was already burning. That's probably what you're thinking of."

"I could have sworn ... " Michael fixed his eyes on Jude again, his chiseled face. "And you were in a shelter, you say?"

"That's pretty much it."

"Three blocks away."

"About that." An indulgent smile. "Like I said, I wouldn't second-guess a stroke of luck like that, my friend."

Michael felt the nervous heat of everyone's attention. Jude's story didn't add up; that was obvious. Who would leave the safety of a fortified shelter at night and drive toward a burning building? And why was everyone going along with it? The streets on three sides of the hotel were all blocked by rubble. That meant Jude and Billie could only have come from the east. He tried to recall which side of the building they'd exited from. The south, he thought.

"Oh hell, I don't know," he said finally. "Maybe I'm not remembering it right. To tell you the truth, the whole thing is pretty mixed up in my mind."

Billie nodded. "That's to be expected after a long period of unconsciousness. I'm sure in a few days things will start to come back to you."

"Billie's right," said Peter. "Let's let the patient get some rest." He directed his voice to Hollis. "Olson said he'd take us out to the fields to look around. See how they do things."

"Who's Olson?" Michael asked.

"Olson Hand. He's in charge around here. I'm sure you'll meet him soon. So, how about it, Hollis?"

The big man offered a close-lipped smile. "Sounds great."

With that, everyone rose to leave. Michael had resigned himself to lying in solitude, puzzling over these strange new circumstances, when at the last instant Sara darted back to his bedside. Jude was observing her from the edge of the screen. Taking hold of Michael's hand, she kissed him quickly on the forehead-the first time in years she had done this.

"I'm glad you're okay," she said. "Just focus on getting your strength back, okay? That's what we're all waiting for."

Michael listened closely for their departure. Footsteps, then the sound of a heavy door, opening and closing again. He waited another minute, to be certain he was alone. Then he opened his hand to examine the folded slip of paper Sara had secreted there.

Tell them nothing.


The party Peter had spoken of had been held the previous evening, the third night after their arrival. This had been their one chance to see everyone, the whole of the Haven, in one place. And what they saw did not ring true.

Nothing did, beginning with Olson's claim that there were no virals. Just two hundred kilometers to the south, Las Vegas was crawling; they had traveled at least that far from the Joshua Valley to Kelso, through similar terrain, and the virals had followed them the whole way. The stink of that herd, Alicia pointed out, would travel far downwind as well. And yet the only perimeter appeared to be a metal fence, far too insubstantial to protect against an attack. Except for the flamethrowers on the vans, Olson had confessed, they had no useful weapons at all. The shotguns were just for show, all their ammunition having been used up decades ago.

"So you see," he had told them, "our existence here is an entirely peaceful one."

Olson Hand: Peter had never met anybody like him, so apparently at ease with his own authority. Apart from Billie and the man known as Jude, who seemed to function as his aides, and the driver of the truck that had brought them from Las Vegas-Gus appeared to be a kind of engineer, in charge of what they termed "the physical plant"-Peter could detect no other structures of command. Olson had no title; he was simply in charge. And yet he wore this mantle easily, communicating his intentions with a gentle, even apologetic manner. Tall and silver-haired-like most of the men, Olson wore his hair in a long ponytail, while the women and children were all closely shorn-with a stooped frame that seemed to barely fill his orange jumpsuit and a habit of placing the tips of his fingers together when he spoke, he seemed more like a benevolent father figure than someone responsible for the lives of three hundred souls.

It was Olson who had told them the history of the Haven. This had transpired within the first hours of their arrival. They were in the infirmary, where Michael was being attended by Olson's daughter, Mira-an ethereal, slender-limbed adolescent with close-cropped hair so pale and fine it was almost transparent, who seemed to regard them with a nervous awe. After they had been carried from the van, the seven of them had been stripped and washed, their belongings confiscated; all would be returned, Olson had assured them, except for their weapons. If they chose to move on-and here Olson had paused to note, with his customary mildness, that he hoped they would elect to stay-their weapons would be returned to them. But for now their guns and blades would remain locked away.

As for the Haven: A lot was simply not known, Olson explained, the stories having evolved and changed over time until it was no longer clear what the truth really was. But a few points were generally agreed on. The first settlers had been a group of refugees from Las Vegas who had come there in the last days of the war. Whether they had come by design, hoping that the prison, with its bars and walls and fences, might offer some safety, or had simply stopped here on the way to someplace else, no one could know. But once they realized there were no virals, the surrounding wilderness being too inhospitable-forming, in fact, a kind of natural barrier-they had chosen to remain and eke out an existence from the desert landscape. The prison complex was in fact made up of two separate facilities: Desert Wells State Penitentiary, where the first settlers had housed themselves, and the adjacent Conservation Camp, a low-security agricultural work camp for juvenile offenders. That was where all the inhabitants now lived. The spring from which the prison took its name provided water for irrigation, as well as a steady stream of water to cool some of the buildings, including the infirmary. The prison had provided much of what they needed, right down to the orange jumpsuits nearly everyone still wore; the rest they scavenged from the towns to the south. It was not an easy existence, and there were many things they lacked, but here at least they were free to live their lives without the threat of the virals. For many years they had sent out search parties to hunt for more survivors, hoping to lead them to safety. They had found some, quite a few in fact, but not for many years, and had long since given up hope of ever finding any more.

"Which is why," Olson had said, smiling benignly, "your being here is nothing less than a miracle." His eyes actually misted over. "All of you. A miracle."

They had spent that first night in the infirmary with Michael and were moved the next day to a pair of adjacent cinder-block huts on the outskirts of the work camp, facing a dusty plaza with a pile of tires in the center, the edges lined by fire barrels. This was where they would spend the next three days in isolation, a mandatory quarantine. On the far side were more huts, which appeared to be unoccupied. Their quarters were spartan, each of the two huts with just a table and chairs and a room in the back with cots; the air was hot and dense, and the floor crunched underfoot with grit.

Hollis had left with Billie in the morning, to look for the Humvees; working vehicles were in short supply, Olson had said, and if they had survived the explosion, they would be worth the hazards of such a trip. Whether Olson intended to keep them for his own use or return them, Peter did not know. This fact was left ambiguous, and Peter had elected not to press. After their experience in the van, the seven of them nearly cooked to death in the heat, and with Michael still unconscious, the wisest course seemed to be to say as little as they could. Olson had questioned them about the Colony and the purpose of their journey, and there was no avoiding offering some explanation. But Peter had volunteered only that they had come from a settlement in California and had gone looking for survivors. He told Olson nothing about the bunker, his silence suggesting that the place they came from was well armed. There would come a time, Peter thought, when he would probably have to tell Olson the truth, or at least more of it. But that time had not arrived yet, and Olson had appeared to accept the caginess of his explanation.

For the next two days they received only fleeting glimpses of the other inhabitants. Behind the huts stood the growing fields, with long irrigation pipes radiating from a central pumphouse, and beyond that the herd, several hundred head kept in large, shaded pens. From time to time they could see the boiling dust of a vehicle moving against the distant fence line. But apart from this, and a few figures in the fields, they detected virtually no one. Where were the other people? The doors to their huts were not locked, but always across the empty plaza were two men, wearing the orange jumpsuits. It was these men who brought them their meals, usually in the company of Billie or Olson, who reported on Michael's condition. Michael appeared to have lapsed into a deep sleep-not a coma necessarily, Olson assured them, but something like one. They had seen it before, they said, the effects of the heat. But his fever was down, a good sign.

Then, the morning of the third day, Sara was returned to them.

She possessed no memory of what had happened to her. This part of the story that they related to Michael, when he awakened the following day, was not a lie, nor was Hollis's tale of how he had found her. They were very happy and very relieved-Sara seemed fine, if a little slow to come around to the news of their new circumstances-but it was also true that both her capture and her return were deeply puzzling. Like the absence of lights and walls, it simply made no sense.

By this time, whatever happiness they felt at the thought of finding another human settlement had been replaced by a deep unease. Still they had seen almost no one, apart from Olson and Billie and Jude, and the two orange-suited men who watched them, whose names were Hap and Leon. The only other sign of life was a group of four Littles in raggy clothing who appeared each evening to play on the tires in the square, though, strangely, no adults ever appeared to claim them; they simply drifted away when the game was over. If they weren't prisoners, why were they guarded? If they were, why all the pretense? Where was everyone? What was wrong with Michael, why was he still unconscious? Their packs, as Olson had promised, had been returned to them; the contents had obviously been examined, and a number of items, such as the scalpel in Sara's med kit, had been taken. But the maps, which Caleb had tucked into an inner compartment, had apparently been overlooked. The prison itself was not on the Nevada map, but they found the town of Desert Wells, north of Las Vegas on Highway 95. It was bordered to the east by a vast gray region, no roads or town in it at all, marked with the words NELLIS AIR FORCE TEST RANGE COMPLEX. Situated at the western edge of this region, just a few kilometers from the town of Desert Wells, was a small red square and the name YUCCA MOUNTAIN NATIONAL REPOSITORY. If Peter was correct about where they were, they could see this structure plainly, a humped ridge forming a barricade to the north. Hollis's drive south with Billie and Gus had given him the chance to scout out more of the landscape. The fence line, Hollis reported, was more robust than it appeared-twin barricades of heavy-gauge steel, roughly ten meters apart, topped with concertina wire. Hollis had seen only two exits. One stood to the south, at the far edge of the fields-this seemed to connect to a roadway that encircled the compound-and the main gate, which connected the compound with the highway. This was flanked by a pair of concrete towers with observation posts-manned or not, they didn't know, but one of the orange-suited men was stationed in the small guardhouse at ground level; it was he who had opened the gate for Hollis and Billie to pass.

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