The Passage Page 96


It was the new moon, Peter realized, as they made their way through the darkness. New moon, and not one soul about.

Getting past the guards had been the easy part. It was Sara who had come up with a plan. Let's see Lish do this, she had said, and marched straight out the door across the square to where the two men, Hap and Leon, were standing by a fire barrel, watching her approach. She stepped up to them, positioning herself between them and the door of the hut. A brief negotiation ensued; one of the men, Hap, the smaller of the two, turned and walked away. Sara ran one hand through her hair, the signal. Hollis slipped outside, ducking into the shadow of the building, then Peter. They circled around to the north side of the square and took positions in the alleyway. A moment later, Sara appeared, leading the remaining guard, whose quick step told them what she'd promised. As she walked past them, Hollis rose from his hiding place behind an empty barrel, wielding the leg of a chair.

"Hey," said Hollis, and hit the one named Leon so hard he simply melted.

They dragged his limp body deeper into the alley. Hollis patted him down; strapped to the man's leg in a leather sheath, hidden under the jumpsuit, was a short-barreled revolver. Caleb appeared with a length of laundry line; they bound the man's hands and feet and stuffed a wadded rag into his mouth.

"Is it loaded?" Peter asked.

Hollis had opened the cylinder. "Three rounds." He snapped it closed with a flick of his wrist and passed the weapon to Alicia.

"Peter, I think these buildings are empty," she said.

It was true; there were no lights anywhere.

"We better hurry."

They approached the prison from the south, across an empty field. Hollis believed the entrance to the building was located on the far side, facing the main gate to the compound. There was, he said, a kind of tunnel there, the entrance arched in stone and set into the wall. They would attempt this if they had to, but it stood in full view of the observation towers; the plan was to look for a less risky way in. The vans and pickups were kept in a garage on the south side of the building. It would make sense for Olson and his men to keep their hard assets together, and, in any event, they had to look somewhere first.

The garage was sealed, the doors drawn down and secured with a heavy padlock. Peter looked through a window but could see nothing. Behind the garage was a long concrete ramp leading to a platform with an overhang and a pair of bay doors set in the prison wall. A dark stain ran up the middle of the ramp. Peter knelt and touched it; his fingers came away wet. He brought his fingers to his nose. Engine oil.

The doors had no handles, no obvious mechanism by which they could be opened. The five of them formed a line and pressed their hands against the smooth surface, attempting to draw it upward. They felt no sharp resistance, only the weight of the doors themselves, too heavy to lift without something to grip. Caleb scampered back down the ramp to the garage; a crash of glass and he returned a moment later, holding a tire iron.

They formed a line again, managing to lift the door far enough for Caleb to wedge the iron under it. A blade of light had appeared on the concrete. They drew the door upward and ducked through one by one and let it fall closed behind them.

They found themselves in some kind of loading area. There were coils of chain on the floor, old engine parts. Somewhere nearby water was dripping; the air smelled like oil and stone. The source of the light lay up ahead, a flickering glow. As they moved forward, a familiar shape emerged from the gloom.

A Humvee.

Caleb opened the tailgate. "Everything's gone, except for the fifty-cal. There are three boxes of rounds for that."

"So where are the rest of the guns?" Alicia said. "And who moved this in here?"

"We did."

They swiveled to see a single figure step from the shadows: Olson Hand. More figures began to emerge, surrounding them. Six of the orange-suited men, all of them armed with rifles.

Alicia had drawn the revolver from her belt and was pointing it at Olson. "Tell them to back off."

"Do as she says," Olson said, holding up a hand. "I mean it. Guns down, now."

One by one the men dropped the barrels of their weapons. Alicia was the last-though Peter noted that she didn't return the gun to her belt, but kept it at her side.

"Where are they?" Peter asked Olson. "Do you have them?"

"I thought Michael was the only one."

"Amy and Mausami are missing."

He hesitated, appearing perplexed. "I'm sorry. This isn't what I intended. I don't know where they are. But your friend Michael is with us."

"Who's 'us'?" Alicia demanded. "What's going on, goddamnit? Why are we all having the same dream?"

Olson nodded. "The fat woman."

"You son of a bitch, what did you do with Michael?"

With that, she raised the gun again, using two hands to steady the barrel, which she aimed at Olson's head. Around them, six rifles responded in kind. Peter felt his stomach clench.

"It's all right," Olson said quietly, his eyes fixed on the barrel of the gun.

"Tell him, Peter," Alicia said. "Tell him I will put a bullet in him right here unless he starts talking."

Olson was gently waving his hands at his sides. "Everyone, stay calm. They don't know. They don't understand."

Alicia drew her thumb down on the hammer of the revolver to c*ck it. "What don't we know?"

In the thin lamplight, Olson appeared diminished, Peter thought. He seemed hardly the same person at all. It was as if a mask had fallen away and Peter was seeing the real Olson for the first time: a tired old man, beset by doubt and worry.

"Babcock," he said. "You don't know about Babcock."

Michael was on his back, his head buried beneath the control panel. A mass of wiring and plastic connectors hung above his face.

"Try it now."

Gus closed the knife switch that connected the panel to the batteries. From beneath them came the whir of the main generator spinning up.


"Hang on," Gus said. Then: "No. The starter breaker popped again."

There had to be a short in the control harness somewhere. Maybe it was the stuff in the drink Billie had given him or all that time he'd spent around Elton, but it was as if Michael could actually smell it-a faint aerial discharge of hot metal and molten plastic, somewhere in the tangle of wires above his face. With one hand he moved the circuit tester up and down the board; with the other he gave a gentle tug at each connection. Everything was tight.

He shimmied his way out and drew up to a seated position. The sweat was pouring down. Billie, standing above him, eyed him anxiously.


"I know, I know."

He took a long swig from a canteen and wiped his face on his sleeve, giving himself a moment to think. Hours of testing circuits, tugging wires, backtracking each connection to the panel. And still he'd found nothing.

He wondered: What would Elton do?

The answer was obvious. Crazy, perhaps, but still obvious. And in any event, he'd already tried everything else he could think of. Michael climbed to his feet and moved down the narrow walkway connecting the cab with the engine compartment. Gus was standing by the starter control unit, a penlight tucked in his mouth.

"Reset the relay," he instructed.

Gus spat the flashlight into his hand. "We've already tried that. We're draining the batteries. We do this too many times, we'll have to recharge them with the portables. Six hours at least."

"Just do it."

Gus shrugged and reached around the unit, into its nest of pipes, feeling his way blind.

"Okay, for what it's worth, it's reset."

Michael stepped back to the breaker panel. "I want everybody to be very, very quiet."

If Elton could do it, so could he. He took a deep breath and slowly released it as he closed his eyes, trying to empty his mind.

Then he flipped the breaker.

In the instant that followed-a splinter of a second-he heard the spin of the batteries and the rush of current moving through the panel, the sound in his ears like water moving through a tube. But something was wrong; the tube was too small. The water pushed against the sides and then the current began to flow in the wrong direction, a violent turbulence, half going one way and half the other, canceling each other out, and just like that everything stopped; the circuit was broken.

He opened his eyes to find Gus staring at him, mouth open, showing his blackened teeth.

"It's the breaker," Michael said.

He drew a screwdriver from his tool belt and popped the breaker from the panel. "This is fifteen amps," he said. "This thing wouldn't power a hot plate. Why the hell would it be fifteen amps?" He gazed up at the box, its hundreds of circuits. "What's this one, in the next slot? Number twenty-six."

Gus examined the schematic that was spread out on the tiny table in the engine's cab. He glanced at the panel, then back to the drawing. "Interior lights."

"Flyers, you don't need thirty amps for that." Michael jimmied the second breaker free and swapped it for the first one. He closed the knife switch again, waiting for the breaker to pop. When it didn't, he said, "That's it."

Gus was frowning doubtfully. "That's it?"

"They must have gotten switched. It's got nothing to do with the head-end unit. Reset the relay and I'll show you."

Michael moved forward to the cab, where Billie was waiting in one of the two swiveling chairs at the windshield. Everyone else was gone; the rest of the crew had left just after dark in Billie's pickup, headed for the rendezvous.

Michael took the other chair. He turned the key set in the panel beside the throttle; from below they heard the batteries spinning up. The dials on the panel began to glow, a cool blue. Through the narrow slit between the protective plates, Michael could see a curtain of stars beyond the open doors of the shed. Well, he thought, it's now or never. Either there was current to the starter or there wasn't. He'd found one problem but who knew how many others there might be. It had taken him twelve days to fix one Humvee. Everything he'd done here, he'd done in a little under three hours.

Michael lifted his voice to the rear of the car, where Gus was priming the fuel system, clearing any air from the line: "Go ahead!"

Gus fired the starter. A great roar rose from below, carrying the satisfying smell of combusting diesel. The engine gave a shuddering lurch as the wheels engaged and began to push against their brakes.

"So," Michael said, turning to Billie, "how do you drive this thing?"


In the end, they could only take Olson at his word. They simply had no choice.

They divvied up the weapons and split into two groups. Olson and his men would storm the room from ground level while Peter and the others entered from above. The space they called the ring had once been the prison's central courtyard, covered by a domed roof. Part of the roof had fallen away, leaving the space open to the outside, but the original structural girders were intact. Suspended from these girders, fifteen meters above the ring, was a series of catwalks, once used by the guards to monitor the floor below. These were arranged like the spokes of a wheel with ducts running above them, wide enough for a person to crawl through.

Once they had secured the catwalk, Peter and the others would descend by flights of stairs at the north and south ends of the room. These led to three tiers of caged balconies encircling the yard. This would be where most of the crowd would be, Olson explained, with perhaps a dozen stationed on the floor to operate the fireline.

The viral, Babcock, would enter through the opening in the roof, on the east side of the room. The cattle, four head, would be driven in from the opposite end, through a gap in the fireline, followed by the two people slated for the sacrifice.

Four and two, Olson said, for each new moon. As long as we give him the four and two, he keeps the Many away.

The Many: that was what Olson called the other virals. The ones of Babcock, he explained. The ones of his blood. He controls them? Peter asked, not really believing any of it yet; it was all too fantastic-though even as he formed the question, he felt his skepticism giving way. If Olson was telling the truth, a great deal suddenly made sense. The Haven itself, its impossible existence; the strange behavior of the residents, like people carrying a terrible secret; even the virals themselves and the feeling Peter had harbored his whole life that they were more than the sum of their parts. He doesn't just control them, Olson answered. As he spoke, a heaviness seemed to come over him; it was as if he'd waited years to tell the story. He is them, Peter.

"I'm sorry I lied to you before, but it couldn't be helped. The first settlers who came here weren't refugees. They were children. The train brought them here, from where exactly we don't know. They were going to hide in Yucca Mountain, in the tunnels inside it. But Babcock was already here. That was when the dream began. Some say it's a memory from a time before he became a viral, when he was still a man. But once you've killed the woman in the dream, you belong to him. You belong to the ring."

"The hotel, with the blocked streets," Hollis ventured. "It's a trap, isn't it?"

Olson nodded. "For many years we sent out patrols, to bring in as many more as we could. A few just wandered through. Others were left there by the virals for us to find. Like you, Sara."

Sara shook her head. "I still don't remember what happened."

"No one ever does. The trauma is simply too great." Olson looked imploringly at Peter again. "You must understand. We've lived this way always. It was our only way to survive. For most, the ring seems a small price to pay."

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