The Passage Page 94

The sun was down. The last thing Mausami remembered was lying down for a nap. Peter and the others were probably in the other hut, deciding what to do. The baby was moving again, flipping around inside her. She lay with her eyes closed and let the sensation fill her. Standing the Watch: it seemed like years ago. A different life. That was what happened, she knew, when a person had a baby. This strange new being grew inside you and by the time it was all over, you were someone different, too.

Suddenly she realized: she wasn't alone.

Amy was sitting on the bunk next to hers. Spooky, the way she could make herself invisible like that. Mausami rolled to face her, tucking her knees to her chest as the baby went thump-thump inside her.

"Hey," Maus said, and yawned. "I guess I took a little nap there."

Everybody was always talking that way around Amy, stating the obvious, filling the silence of the girl's half of the conversation. It was a little unnerving, the way she looked at you with that intense gaze, as if she were reading your thoughts. Which was when Mausami realized what the girl was really looking at.

"Oh. I get it," she said. "You want to feel it?"

Amy cocked her head, uncertain.

"You can if you want. Come on, I'll show you."

Amy rose, taking a place on the edge of Mausami's cot. Mausami held her hand and guided it to the curve of her belly. The girl's hand was warm and a little damp; the tips of her fingers were surprisingly soft, not like Mausami's, which were callused from years of the bow.

"Just wait a minute. He was flipping around in there a second ago."

A bright flicker of movement. Amy drew her hand away quickly, startled.

"You feel that?" Amy's eyes were wide with pleasant shock. "It's okay, that's what they do. Here-" She took Amy's hand and pressed it to her belly once more. At once the baby flipped and kicked. "Whoa, that was a strong one."

Amy was smiling too now. How strange and wonderful, Mausami thought, in the midst of everything, all that had happened, to feel a baby moving inside her. A new life, a new person, coming into the world.

Mausami heard it then. Two words.

He's here.

She yanked her hand away, scurrying up the cot so she was sitting with her back pushed to the wall. The girl was looking at her with a penetrating stare, her eyes filling Maus's vision like two shining beams.

"How did you do that?" She was shaking; she thought she might be ill.

He's in the dream. With Babcock. With the Many.

"Who's here, Amy?"

Theo. Theo is here.


He was Babcock and he was forever. He was one of Twelve and also the Other, the one above and behind, the Zero. He was the night of nights and he had been Babcock before he became what he was. Before the great hunger that was like time itself inside him, a current in the blood, endless and needful, infinite and without border, a dark wing spreading over the world.

He was made of Many. A thousand-thousand-thousand scattered over the night sky, like the stars. He was one of Twelve and also the Other, the Zero, but his children were within him also, the ones that carried the seed of his blood, one seed of Twelve; they moved as he moved, they thought as he thought, in their minds was an empty space of forgetting in which he lay, each to a one, saying, You will not die. You are a part of me, as I am a part of you. You will drink the blood of the world and fill me up.

They were his to command. When they ate, he ate. When they slept, he slept. They were the We, the Babcock, and they were forever as he was forever, all part of the Twelve and the Other, the Zero. They dreamed his dark dream with him.

He remembered a time, before he Became. The time of the little house, in the place called Desert Wells. The time of pain and silence and the woman, his mother, the mother of Babcock. He remembered small things-textures, sensations, visions. A box of golden sunlight falling on a square of carpet. A worn place on the stoop that fit his sneakered foot just so, and the ridges of rust on the rail that cut the skin of his fingers. He remembered his fingers. He remembered the smell of his mother's cigarettes in the kitchen where she talked and watched her stories, and the people on the television, their faces huge and close, their eyes wide and wet, the women with their lips painted and shimmering, like glossy pieces of fruit. And her voice, always her voice:

Be quiet now, goddamnit. Cain't you see I'm trying to watch this? You make such a goddamn racket, it's a wonder I don't lose my goddamn mind.

He remembered being quiet, so quiet.

He remembered her hands, Babcock's mother's hands, and the starry bursts of pain when she struck him, struck him again. He remembered flying, his body lifted on a cloud of pain, and the hitting and the slapping and the burning. Always the burning. Don't you cry now. You be a man. You cry and I'll give you something to cry about, so much the worse for you, Giles Babcock. Her smoky breath, close to his face. The look of the red-hot tip of her cigarette where she rolled it against the skin of his hand, and the crisp wet sound of its burning, like cereal when he poured milk into it, the same crackle and pop. The smell of it mingling with the jets of smoke that puffed from her nostrils. And the way the words all stopped up inside him, so that the pain could end-so he could be a man, as she said.

It was her voice he remembered most of all. Babcock's mother's voice. His love for her was like a room without doors, filled with the scraping sound of her words, her talk-talk-talk. Taunting him, tearing into him, like the knife he took from the drawer that day as she sat at the table in the kitchen of the little house in the place called Desert Wells, talking and laughing and laughing and talking and eating her mouthfuls of smoke.

The boy isn't just dumb. I tell you, he's been struck dumb.

He was happy, so happy, he'd never felt such happiness in his life as the knife passed into her, the white skin of her throat, the smooth outer layer and the hard gristle below. And as he dug and pushed with his blade, the love he felt for her lifted from his mind so that he could see what she was at last-that she was a being of flesh and blood and bone. All her words and talk-talk-talk moving inside him, filling him up to bursting. They tasted like blood in his mouth, sweet living things.

They sent him away. He wasn't a boy after all, he was a man; he was a man with a mind and a knife, and they told him to die-die, Babcock, for what you have done. He didn't want to die, not then, not ever. And after-after the man, Wolgast, had come to where he was, like a thing foretold; and after the doctors and the sickness and the Becoming, that he should be one of Twelve, the Babcock-Morrison-Chavez-Baffes-Turrell-Winston-Sosa-Echols-Lambright-Martinez-Reinhardt-Carter-one of Twelve and also the Other, the Zero-he had taken the rest the same way, drinking their words from them, their dying cries like soft morsels in his mouth. And the ones he did not kill but merely sipped, the one of ten, as the tide of his own blood dictated, became his own, joining to him in mind. His children. His great and fearful company. The Many. The We of Babcock.

And This Place. He had come to it with a feeling of return, of a thing restored. He had drunk his fill of the world and here he rested, dreaming his dreams in the dark, until he awoke and he was hungry again and he heard the Zero, who was called Fanning, saying: Brothers, we're dying. Dying! For there was hardly anyone left in the world, no people and no animals even. And Babcock knew that the time had come to bring those that remained to him, that they should know him, know Babcock and the Zero also, assume their place within him. He had stretched out his mind and said to the Many, his children, Carry the last of humankind to me; do not kill them; bring them and their words that they should dream the dream and become one of us, the We, the Babcock. And first one had come and then another and more and more and they dreamed the dream with him and he told them, when the dreaming was done, Now you are mine also, like the Many. You are mine in This Place and when I am hungry you will feed me, feed my restless soul with your blood. You will bring others to me from beyond This Place that they should do the same, and I will let you live in this way and no other. And those that did not bend their wills to his, that did not take up the knife when the time had come in the dark place of dreaming where Babcock's mind met theirs, they were made to die so the others could see and know and refuse no longer.

And so the city was built. The City of Babcock, first in all the world.

But now there was Another. Not the Zero or the Twelve but Another. The same and not the same. A shadow behind a shadow, pecking at him like a bird that darted from sight whenever he tried to fix the gaze of his mind upon her. And the Many, his children, his great and fearful company, heard her also; he sensed her pull upon them. A force of great power, drawing them away. Like the helpless love he had felt so long ago, when he was just a boy, watching the red-hot tip rolling, rolling and burning against his flesh.

Who am I? they asked her. Who am I?

She made them want to remember. She made them want to die.

She was close now, very close. Babcock could feel it. She was a ripple in the mind of the Many, a tear in the fabric of night. He knew that through her, all that they had done could be undone, all that they had made could be unmade.

Brothers, brothers. She is coming. Brothers, she is already here.


"I'm sorry, Peter," said Olson Hand, "I can't keep track of all your friends."

Peter had learned that Michael was missing just before sunset. Sara had gone over to the infirmary to check on him and found that his bed was empty. The whole building was empty.

They had fanned out in two groups: Sara, Hollis, and Caleb to search the grounds, Alicia and Peter to look for Olson. His house, which Olson had explained had once been used as the warden's residence, was a small, two-story structure situated on a patch of parched ground between the work camp and the old prison. They had arrived to find him stepping from the door.

"I'll speak with Billie," Olson continued. "Maybe she knows where he went." He seemed harried, as if their visit had caught him in the midst of some important duty. Even so, he took the trouble to offer one of his reassuring smiles. "I'm sure he's fine. Mira saw him in the infirmary just a few hours ago. He said he was feeling better and wanted to have a look around. I thought he was probably with you."

"He could barely walk," Peter said. "I'm not sure he could walk at all."

"In that case, he can't have gone far, now could he?"

"Sara said the infirmary was empty. Don't you usually have people there?"

"Not as a general matter. If Michael chose to leave, they'd have no reason to remain." Something dark came into his face; he leveled his eyes at Peter. "I'm sure he'll turn up. My best advice would be to return to your quarters and wait for his return."

"I don't see-"

Olson cut him off with a raised hand. "As I said, that's my best advice. I suggest you take it. And try not to lose any more of your friends."

Alicia had been silent until now. Suspended on her crutches, she bumped Peter with her shoulder. "Come on."


"It's fine," she said. Then, to Olson: "I'm sure he's okay. If you need us, you know where to find us."

They retreated through the maze of huts. Everything was strangely quiet, no one about. They passed the shed where the party had been held, finding it deserted. All the buildings were dark. Peter felt a prickling on his skin as the cooling desert night descended, but he knew this sensation was caused by more than just a change in temperature. He could feel the eyes of people watching them from the windows.

"Don't look," Alicia said. "I feel it too. Just walk."

They arrived at their quarters as Hollis and the others were returning. Sara was frantic with worry. Peter related their conversation with Olson.

"They've taken him somewhere, haven't they?" Lish said.

It seemed so. But where, and for what purpose? Olson was lying, that was obvious. Even more strange was the fact that Olson seemed to have wanted them to know he was lying.

"Who's out there now, Hightop?"

Caleb had taken his position by the door. "The usual two. They're hanging out across the square, pretending they're not watching us."

"Anyone else?"

"No. It's dead quiet out there. No Littles, either."

"Go wake up Maus," Peter said. "Don't tell her anything. Just bring her and Amy over here. Their packs, too."

"Are we leaving?" Caleb's eyes shifted to Sara, then back again. "What about the Circuit?"

"We're not going anywhere without him. Just go."

Caleb darted out the door. Peter and Alicia exchanged a look: something was happening. They would have to move quickly.

A moment later Caleb returned. "They're gone."

"What do you mean gone?"

The boy's face was gray as ash. "I mean the hut's empty. There's no one there, Peter."

It was all his fault. In their haste to find Michael, he'd left the two women alone. He'd left Amy alone. How could he have been so stupid?

Alicia had put her crutches aside and was unrolling the bandage from her leg. Inside, secreted there on the night of their arrival, was a blade. The crutch was a ruse: the wound was nearly healed. She rose to her feet.

"Time to find those guns," she said.

Whatever Billie had put in his drink, the effects hadn't worn off yet.

Michael was lying in the back of a pickup, covered with a plastic tarp. The bed of the truck was full of rattling pipes. Billie had told him to lie still, not to make a sound, but the jumpy feeling inside him was almost more than he could bear. What was she doing, giving him a concoction like that and expecting him to lie perfectly still? The effect was like shine in reverse, as if every cell in his body were singing a single note. Like his mind had passed through some kind of filter, giving each thought a bright, humming clarity.

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