The Passage Page 92

The Haven itself was situated just a few kilometers off the highway that had carried them north. The original prison, a forbidding bulk of gray stone, stood at the eastern edge of the compound, surrounded by a few smaller buildings and Quonset huts. Between the perimeter and the highway, Hollis said, they had crossed railroad tracks, running in a north-south direction. These appeared to head straight toward the ridge of mountains toward the north-odd, Hollis noted, because who would run a pair of tracks straight into a mountain? In their first meeting, Olson had mentioned a railroad depot, in response to Peter's question about where they got fuel for their vehicles. But on the drive south, Hollis said, they hadn't stopped, so he couldn't say if there was a fuel depot or not. Presumably they got fuel somewhere. It was only in the course of this conversation that Peter realized that the idea of leaving was already taking shape in his mind, and that this would require stealing a vehicle and finding fuel to run it on.

The heat was intense; the days of isolation had begun to take their toll. Everyone was antsy and worried about Michael. In their stifling huts, none of them was sleeping. Amy was the most wakeful of them all; Peter didn't think he'd seen the girl close her eyes. All night she sat on her cot, the features of her face gathered in what appeared to be intense concentration. It was as if, thought Peter, she was trying to work out some problem in her mind.

On the third night, Olson came for them. Accompanying him were Billie and Jude. Over the preceding days, Peter had come to suspect that Jude was more than he had first appeared to be. He couldn't say why this was, exactly. But there was something disconcerting about the man. His teeth were white and straight, impossible not to look at, like his eyes, which radiated a piercing blue intensity. They gave his face an ageless quality, as if he had slowed time, and whenever Peter looked at the man, the impression he received was of someone who was looking straight into a gale of wind. Peter had become aware that he had yet to hear Olson give the man a direct order-Olson addressed himself entirely to Billie and Gus and the various orange-suited men who came and went from the hut-and in the back of Peter's mind the idea had begun to form that Jude held some measure of authority, independent of Olson. Several times he had observed Jude speaking to the men who were guarding them.

In the falling dusk, the three appeared across the square, striding toward the hut. With the day's passing heat, the Littles had appeared on the tires; as the three passed by, they abruptly scattered, like a flock of startled birds.

"It is time to see where you are," Olson said when he reached the door. He was smiling munificently-a smile that had begun to seem false. It seemed like a smile with nothing behind it. Standing next to Olson, Jude was showing his line of perfect teeth, his blue eyes darting past Peter into the dim hut. Only Billie seemed immune to the mood; her stoic face betrayed nothing.

"Please come, all of you," Olson urged. "The wait is over. Everyone is very excited to meet you."

They led the seven of them across the empty plaza. Alicia, swinging on her crutches, kept Amy close to her side. In watchful silence, they moved into a maze of huts. These appeared to be arranged in a kind of grid, with alleyways between the lines of buildings, and were obviously inhabited: the windows were lighted with oil lanterns; in the spaces between the buildings were lines of laundry, stiffening in the desert air. Beyond, the bulk of the old prison loomed like a cutout shape against the sky. Out in the dark, no lights to protect them, not even a blade on his belt; Peter had never felt so odd. From somewhere up ahead came a smell of smoke and cooking food and a buzz of voices, growing as they approached.

They turned the corner then to see a large crowd, gathered beneath a wide roof that was open on the sides and held aloft by thick steel girders. The space was lit by smoky flames from the open barrels that encircled the area. Pushed to the side were long tables and chairs; jumpsuited figures were moving pots of food from an adjacent structure.

Everyone froze.

Then, from the sea of faces gazing at them, first one voice and then another rose in a buzz of excitement. There they are! The travelers! The ones from away!

As the crowd enfolded them, Peter had a sense of being softly swallowed. And for a brief time, subsumed in a wave of humanity, he forgot all about his worries. Here were people, hundreds of people, men and women and children all so apparently joyous at their presence he almost felt like the miracle Olson had said they were. Men were clapping him on the shoulder, shaking his hand. Some of the women pressed babies to him, displaying them as if they were gifts; others merely touched him quickly and darted away-embarrassed or frightened or merely overcome by emotion, Peter couldn't tell. Somewhere at the periphery of his awareness Olson was instructing people to stay calm, not to rush, but these warnings seemed unnecessary. We're so happy to see you, everyone was saying. We're so glad that you have come.

This went on for some minutes, enough time for Peter to begin to feel exhausted by it all, the smiling and touching, the repeated words of greeting. The idea of meeting new people, let alone a crowd of hundreds, was so new and strange to him that his mind could scarcely capture it. There was something childlike about them, he came to think, these men and women in their threadbare orange jumpsuits, their faces careworn and yet possessing a look of wide-eyed innocence, almost of obedience. The crowd's warmth was undeniable, and yet the whole thing felt staged, not a spontaneous reaction but one designed to elicit the very response it had produced in Peter: a feeling of complete disarmament.

All of these calculations were moving through his mind while part of him was also struggling to keep track of the others, which proved difficult. The effect of the crowd's advance had been to separate them, and he could detect only quick glimpses of the others: Sara's blond hair peeking above the head of a woman with a baby over her shoulder; Caleb's laughter, coming from somewhere out of range. To his right, a nugget of women had encircled Mausami, cooing with approval. Peter saw one dart out her hand to touch Mausami's stomach.

Then Olson was at his side. With him was his daughter, Mira.

"The one girl, Amy," Olson said, and it was the only time Peter had ever seen the man frown. "She can't speak?"

Amy was standing close to Alicia, ringed by a group of little girls who were pointing at Amy and pressing their hands to their mouths in laughter. While Peter watched, Alicia lifted one of her crutches to shoo them away, a gesture half playful and half serious, sending them scattering. Her eyes briefly met Peter's. Help, she seemed to say. But even she was smiling.

He turned to Olson again. "No."

"How strange. I've never heard of that." He glanced at his daughter before returning his attention to Peter, looking concerned. "But she's otherwise ... all right?"

"All right?"

He paused. "You'll have to forgive my directness. But a woman who can bear a child is a great prize. Nothing is more important, with so few of us left. And I see that one of your females is pregnant. People will want to know."

Your females, Peter thought. A strange choice of words. He looked toward Mausami, who was still surrounded by the women. He realized that many of them were pregnant, too.

"I suppose."

"And the others? Sara and the redhead. Lish."

The line of questioning was so odd, so out of the blue, that Peter hesitated, unsure of what to say or not say. But Olson was looking at him intently now, requiring at least some kind of response.

"I guess."

The answer seemed to satisfy him. Olson concluded with a brisk nod, the smile returning to his lips. "Good."

Females, Peter thought again. As if Olson were speaking of livestock. He had the disquieting sense of having told too much, of having been maneuvered into surrendering some crucial bit of information. Mira, standing beside her father, was facing the crowd, which was moving away; Peter realized she hadn't said a word.

Everyone had begun to gather around the tables. The volume of conversation settled to a murmur as food was passed out-bowls of stew ladled from giant vats, platters of bread, pots of butter and pitchers of milk. As Peter scanned the scene, everyone talking and helping themselves, some assisting with children, women with babies bouncing on their laps or suckling at an exposed breast, he realized that what he was seeing was more than a group of survivors; it was a family. For the first time since they had left the Colony, he felt a pang of longing for home, and wondered if he had been wrong to be so suspicious. Perhaps they really were safe here.

And yet something wasn't right; he felt that, too. The crowd was incomplete; something was missing. He couldn't say what this missing thing was, only that its absence, nibbling at the edge of his consciousness, seemed more profound the longer he looked. Alicia and Amy, he saw, were with Jude now, who was showing them where to sit. Standing tall in his leather boots-nearly everyone else was barefoot-the man seemed to tower over them. While Peter watched, Jude leaned close to Alicia, touching her on the arm, and spoke quickly into her ear; she responded with a laugh.

These thoughts were interrupted when Olson rested his hand on Peter's shoulder. "I do hope you choose to remain with us," he said. "We all do. There's strength in numbers."

"We'll have to talk about it," Peter managed.

"Of course," said Olson, leaving his hand where it was. "There's no hurry. Take all the time you need."


It was simple. There were no boys.

Or almost no boys. Alicia and Hollis claimed they'd seen a couple. But when Peter questioned them more closely, they were both forced to confess that they couldn't say for sure if they'd seen any or not. With those short haircuts all the Littles wore, it was difficult to tell, and they'd seen no older children at all.

It was the afternoon of the fourth day, and Michael was finally awake. The five of them had gathered in the larger of the two huts; Mausami and Amy were next door. Peter and Hollis had just returned from their trip out to the fields with Olson. The real purpose of this trip had been to get a second look at the perimeter, because they had decided to leave as soon as Michael was able. There was no question of taking this up with Olson; though Peter had to admit he liked the man and could find no outward reason to distrust him, too much about the Haven simply failed to add up, and the events of the night before had left Peter more uncertain than ever of Olson's intentions. Olson had given a short speech welcoming them all, but as the night had worn on, Peter had begun to find the crowd's empty warmth oppressive, even disturbing. There was a fundamental sameness to everyone, and in the morning, Peter found he couldn't recall anyone in particular; all the faces and voices seemed to blur together in his mind. Not one person, he realized, had asked a single question about the Colony or how they'd come to be there-a fact that, the longer he considered it, made no sense at all. Wouldn't it be the most natural thing, to wonder about another settlement? To question them about their journey and what they had seen? But Peter and the others might just as well have materialized out of thin air. No one, he realized, had so much as told him their name.

They would have to steal a vehicle; on this point, everyone was agreed. Fuel was the next question. They could follow the train tracks south, looking for the fuel depot, or if they had enough, drive south to Las Vegas to the airport before heading north again on Highway 15. Probably they'd be followed; Peter doubted Olson would let go of one of the vans without a fight. To avoid this, they could head straight east instead, across the test range, but with no roads or towns, Peter doubted they could make it, and if the terrain was anything like it was around the Haven, it didn't look like the kind of place where they wanted to get stranded.

This left the matter of weapons. Alicia believed there had to be an armory somewhere-from the beginning she'd maintained that the guns they'd seen were loaded, no matter what Olson said-and she'd done her best to feel out Jude on this question the night before. Jude had stayed close to her all evening-just as Olson had stayed close to Peter-and in the morning he had taken her out in a pickup to show her the rest of the compound. Peter didn't like it, but any chance to glean more information, and to do so in a way that would go undetected, was one they had to take.

But if there was an armory, Jude had given no hint where it might be. Perhaps Olson was telling the truth, but it wasn't anything they could risk. And even if he was, the weapons they had brought with them had to be somewhere-by Peter's count, three rifles, nine blades, at least six magazines of ammunition, and the last of the grenades.

"What about the prison?" Caleb suggested.

Peter had already thought of this. With its fortresslike walls, it seemed the natural place to lock something away. But so far, none of them had been close enough to see how they might get inside. For all intents and purposes, the place seemed abandoned, just as Olson had said.

"I think we should wait till dark and scout it out," Hollis said. "We can't know for sure what we're up against if we don't."

Peter turned to Sara. "How long do you think until Michael can travel?"

She frowned doubtfully. "I don't even know what's wrong with him. Maybe it really was heatstroke, but I don't think so."

She had expressed these misgivings before. Heatstroke serious enough to make him seize, Sara had said, would almost certainly have killed him, because it would have meant the brain had swollen. His protracted state of unconsciousness might follow from that, but now that he was awake, she detected no sign of brain injury at all. His speech and motor coordination were fine; his pupils were normal and reactive. It was as if he had fallen into a profound but otherwise ordinary sleep from which he had simply awakened.

"He's still pretty weak," Sara went on. "Some of that is just dehydration. But it could be a couple of days before we can move him, maybe more."

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