The Passage Page 93

Alicia sank back on her cot with a groan. "I don't think I can keep this up that long."

"What's the problem?" Peter asked.

"Jude is the problem. I know we're supposed to play along here, but I'm wondering how far I'm going to have to take this."

Her meaning was plain. "Do you think you can ... I don't know, hold him off?"

"Don't worry about me. I can take care of myself. But he's not going to like it." She paused, suddenly uncertain. "There's something else, nothing to do with Jude. I'm not sure I should even bring this up. Does anybody remember Liza Chou?"

Peter did, at least by name. Liza was Old Chou's niece. She and her family, a brother and her parents, had all been lost on Dark Night-killed or taken up, he couldn't recall. Peter remembered Liza vaguely, from their days together in the Sanctuary. She was one of the older children, practically an adult in his eyes.

"What about her?" Hollis asked.

Alicia hesitated. "I think I saw her today."

"That's impossible," Sara scoffed.

"I know it's impossible. Everything about this place is impossible. But Liza had a scar on her cheek, I do remember that. Some kind of accident, I forget what it was. And there it was, the same scar."

Peter leaned forward. Something about this new bit of information seemed important, part of an emerging pattern his mind couldn't quite discern. "Where was this?"

"In the dairy barns. I'm pretty certain she saw me, too. Jude was with me, so I couldn't really break away. When I looked again she was gone."

It was conceivable, Peter supposed, that she had escaped, and somehow ended up here. But how would a young girl, as Liza was at the time, travel such a distance?

"I don't know, Lish. Are you sure?"

"No, I'm not sure. I didn't have the chance to be sure. I'm just saying she looked a lot like Liza Chou."

"Was she pregnant?" Sara asked.

Alicia thought for a moment. "Come to think of it, she was."

"A lot of the women are pregnant," Hollis offered. "It makes sense, doesn't it? A Little's a Little."

"But why no boys?" Sara went on. "And if so many of the women are pregnant, wouldn't there be more children?"

"Aren't there?" asked Alicia.

"Well, I thought so too. But I didn't count more than a couple dozen last night. And the children I see all seem to be the same ones."

Peter said, "Hollis, you said there were some kids outside."

The big man nodded. "They're playing on that pile of tires."

"Hightop, check it out."

Caleb rose from his bunk and moved to the door, opening it a crack.

"Let me guess," Sara said. "The one with the crooked teeth and her friend, the little blond girl."

Caleb turned from the door. "She's right. That's who's out there."

"That's what I mean," Sara insisted. "It's always the same ones. It's like they're always out there so we think there's more than there are."

"What are we saying here?" This was Alicia. "Okay, I agree it's strange about the boys. But this ... I don't know, Sara."

Sara turned to face Alicia, squaring her shoulders combatively. "You're the one who thinks she saw a girl who died fifteen years ago. She'd be, what, in her midtwenties now? How would you know it was Liza Chou?"

"I told you. The scar. And I think I know a Chou when I see one."

"And that means we're supposed to take your word for it?"

Sara's sharp tone seemed to bristle through Alicia. "I don't care if you do or not. I saw what I saw."

Peter had heard all he wanted to. "Both of you, enough." The two women were glowering at each other. "This isn't going to solve anything. What's the matter with you?"

Neither woman answered; the tension in the room was palpable. Then Alicia sighed and flopped back on the cot again.

"Forget it. I'm just tired of waiting. I can't sleep at all in this place. It's so goddamn hot, I have nightmares all night long."

For a moment no one spoke.

"The fat woman?" Hollis said.

Alicia sat up quickly. "What did you say?"

"In the kitchen." His voice was grave. "From the Time Before."

Caleb stepped toward them from the door. "I tell you, the boy isn't just dumb ... "

Sara finished for him: " ... he's been struck dumb." Her face was astonished. "I'm dreaming about her, too."

Everyone was looking at Peter now. What were his friends talking about? What fat lady?

He shook his head. "Sorry."

"But the rest of us are having the same dream," said Sara.

Hollis rubbed his beard, nodding. "It would appear so."

Michael had been drifting in and out of a formless sleep when he heard the door opening. A girl stepped around the screen. Younger than Billie, but with the same funny orange costume and severe haircut. She was holding a tray before her.

"I thought you might be hungry."

As she advanced into the room, the smell of warm food hit Michael's senses like an electric current. He was suddenly ravenous. The girl placed the tray on his lap: some kind of meat in a brown gravy, boiled greens, and, most wondrous of all, a fat slice of buttered bread. Metal utensils lay beside it, wrapped in a rough cloth.

"I'm Michael," he offered.

The girl nodded faintly, smiling. Why was everybody always smiling?

"I'm Mira." She was blushing, he saw. What little hair she possessed was so fair it was practically white, like a Little's. "I was the one who took care of you."

Michael wondered what this meant exactly. In the hours since he'd awakened, bits of memory had come floating back to him. The sound of voices, shapes and bodies moving around him, water on his body and moistening his mouth.

"I guess I should say thank you."

"Oh, I was glad to do it." She studied him for a moment. "You're really from away, aren't you?"


She gave a delicate shrug. "There's here and there's away." She lifted her nose toward the tray. "Aren't you going to eat?"

He started with the bread, soft and wonderful in his mouth, then moved on to the meat and finally the greens, stringy and bitter but still satisfying. While he ate, the girl, who had taken a chair beside his bed, kept her eyes on him, her face rapt, as if each bite he took brought her pleasure as well. What strange people these were.

"Thanks," he said, when all that remained was a smear of grease on his plate. How old was she, anyway? Sixteen? "That was fantastic."

"I can get you more. Whatever you want."

"Really, I couldn't eat another bite."

She took the tray from his lap and put it aside. He thought she was preparing to leave but instead she moved toward him again, standing close to the cot, which was positioned high off the floor.

"I like ... watching you, Michael."

He felt his face grow warm. "Mira? It's Mira, right?"

Nodding, she took his hand from where it lay on the sheet and wrapped it in her own. "I like how you say my name."

"Yes, well, um-"

But he couldn't continue; she was suddenly kissing him. A wave of sweet softness filled his mouth; he felt his senses collapsing. Kissing him! Of all things, she was kissing him! And he was kissing her!

"Poppa says I can have a baby," she was saying, her breath warm on his face. "If I have a baby, I won't have to go to the ring. Poppa says I can have anyone I want. Can I have you, Michael? Can I have you?"

He was trying to think, to process what she was saying and what was happening, the taste of her, and also the fact that she had now, it seemed, climbed on top of him, straddling him near the waist, her face still pushed into his own-a collision of impulses and sensations that rendered him into a state of mute compliance. A baby? She wanted to have a baby? If she had a baby she didn't have to wear a ring?


A moment of complete disorientation; the girl was gone, vaulted away. The room was suddenly full of men, large men in orange jumpsuits, crowding the space with their bulk. One of them caught Mira by the arm. Not a man: Billie.

"I'll pretend," she said to the girl, "that I didn't see this."

"Listen," Michael said, finding his voice, "it was my fault, whatever you think you saw-"

Billie nailed him with a cold glare. Behind her, one of the men snickered.

"Don't even pretend this was your idea." Billie pointed her eyes at Mira again. "Go home," she commanded. "Go home now."

"He's mine! He's for me!"

"Mira, enough. I want you to go straight home and wait there. Don't talk to anyone. Do I make myself understood?"

"He's not for the ring!" Mira cried. "Poppa said!"

That word again, Michael thought. The ring. What was the ring?

"He will be unless you get out of here. Now go."

These last words appeared to work; Mira fell silent and, without looking at Michael again, darted behind the screen. The feelings of the last few minutes-desire, confusion, embarrassment-were still whirling inside him while another part of him was also thinking: just my luck. Now she'll never come back.

"Danny, go bring the truck around back. Tip, you stay with me."

"What are you going to do with me?"

Billie had withdrawn a small metal tin from somewhere on her person. With thumb and forefinger she pinched a bit of dust from the tin and sprinkled it into a cup of water. She held it out to him.

"Bottoms up."

"I'm not drinking that."

She sighed impatiently. "Tip, a little help here?"

The man stepped forward, towering over Michael's bed.

"Trust me," Billie said. "You won't like the taste, but you'll feel better fast. And no more fat lady."

The fat lady, thought Michael. The fat lady in the kitchen in the Time Before.

"How did you-?"

"Just drink. We'll explain on the way."

There seemed no way to avoid it. Michael tipped the cup to his lips and poured it down. Flyers, it was awful.

"What the hell is that?"

"You don't want to know." Billie took the cup from him. "Feeling anything yet?"

He was. It was as if someone had plucked a long, tight string inside him. Waves of bright energy seemed to radiate from his very core. He'd opened his mouth to declare this discovery when a strong spasm shook him, a gigantic, whole-body hiccup.

"That happens the first time or two," said Billie. "Just breathe."

Michael hiccuped again. The colors in the room seemed unusually vivid, as if all the surfaces around him were part of this new nexus of energy.

"He better shut up," warned Tip.

"It's fantastic," Michael managed to say. He swallowed hard, pushing the urge to hiccup down inside him.

The second man had returned from the hallway. "We're losing the light," he said briskly. "We better get a move on."

"Get him his clothes." Billie steadied her gaze on Michael again. "Peter says you're an engineer. That you can fix anything. Is that true?"

He thought of the words on the paper Sara had slipped him. Tell them nothing.


"I guess."

"I don't want you to guess, Michael. It's important. You can or you can't."

He glanced toward the two men, who were looking at him expectantly, as if everything depended on his answer.

"Okay, yes."

Billie nodded. "Then put your clothes on and do everything we tell you."

Chapter FIFTY

Mausami in darkness, dreaming of birds. She awoke to a quick bright fluttering beneath her heart, like a pair of wings beating inside her.

The baby, she thought. This baby is moving.

The feeling came again-a distinct aquatic pressure, rhythmic, like rings widening on the surface of a pool. As if someone were tapping at a pane of glass inside her. Hello? Hello out there!

She let her hands trace the curve of her belly under her shirt, damp with sweat. A warm contentment flooded her. Hello, she thought. Hello back, you.

The baby was a boy. She'd thought it was a boy since the start, since the first morning at the compost pile when she'd lost her breakfast. She didn't want to name him yet. It would be harder to lose a baby with a name, that's what everyone always said; but that wasn't the real reason, because the baby would be born. The idea was more than hope, more than belief. Mausami knew it for a fact. And when the baby was born, when he'd made his loud and painful entry into the world, Theo would be there, and they would name their son together.

This place. The Haven. It made her so tired. All she could do was sleep. And eat. It was the baby, of course; it was the baby that made her think about eating all the time. After all the hardtack and bean paste, and that awful strange food they'd found in the bunker-hundred-year-old goop vacuumed in plastic; it was a miracle they hadn't all poisoned themselves-how amazing to have real food. Beef and milk. Bread and cheese. Actual butter so creamy it made the top of her throat tickle. She shoveled it in, then licked her fingers clean. She could have stayed in this place forever, just for the food.

They'd all felt it right away: something wasn't right. Last night, all those women crowding around her, holding babies or pregnant themselves-some actually both-their faces beaming with a sisterly glow at the discovery that she was pregnant too. A baby! How wonderful! When was she due? Was it her first? Were any of the other women in their group also with child? It hadn't occurred to her at the time to wonder how they'd known-she was barely showing, after all-nor why none had asked who the father was or mentioned the fathers of their own children.

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