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The Passage

The Passage

Page 34

A blast of static, and Richards heard the first screams coming over the audio, and gunshots, and more screams-the screams men made when they died.

"Holy f**k!" Another blast of static. "They're all loose down here! The f**king sweeps let them all go!"

Quickly Richards called up the monitor for the sentry post on L3. A broad mural of blood was on the wall; the sentry, Davis, was slumped on the floor below it, his face pressed to the tiles, as if he were probing the ground for a lost contact. A second soldier stepped into view and Richards saw that it was Paulson, holding a .45. Behind him, the doors to the elevator stood open. Paulson looked straight into the camera as he holstered the gun and removed the grenade from his pocket, then two more. He pulled the pins, using his teeth, and rolled them into the elevator. Then he took one more look at Richards, who saw his empty eyes, drew the .45, raised it to the side of his head, and pulled the trigger.

Richards reached for the switch to seal the level, but it was too late. He heard the explosion, ripping through the elevator shaft, and then a second blast of sound as what was left of the car went sailing to the bottom, and all the lights went out.

At first Wolgast didn't know what he was hearing; the sound of the alarm was so sudden, so completely alien, that for a moment it obliterated all thought. He rose from his chair beside Amy's bed and tried the door, but of course it wouldn't open; they were sealed inside. The alarm rang and rang. A fire? No, he reasoned, over the din in his ears, it was something else, something worse. He looked up at the camera where it hung in the corner.

"Fortes! Sykes, goddamnit! Open this door!"

He heard the pop of automatic-weapon fire, muffled by its passage through the thick walls. For an instant he thought hopefully of rescue. But of course that was out of the question; who would rescue them?

And then, before he could generate another thought, there was a great concussive bang, and a terrible roar that ended in a second bang, louder than the first, bringing with it a deep, sonorous trembling, like an earthquake, and the room plunged into darkness.

Wolgast froze. The blackness was total, an overwhelming absence of light, completely disorienting. The alarms had stopped. He felt a blind urge to run, but there was nowhere to go. The room seemed to expand and to be closing in upon him, all at once.

"Amy, where are you? Help me find you!"

Silence. Wolgast drew a deep breath and held it. "Amy, say something. Say anything."

He heard, behind him, a soft moan.

"That's it." He turned, listening hard, trying to calibrate the distance and direction. "Do it again. I'll find you."

His mind began to focus, his initial panic giving way to a sense of purpose, the task at hand. Cautiously Wolgast took a step forward toward her voice, then another. A second moan, barely audible. The room was small, not twenty feet square, so how could it be that Amy should seem so far away from him in the dark? He heard no more gunfire, no sounds at all from outside. Only the soft notes of Amy's breathing, summoning him.

Wolgast had reached the foot of her bed and was feeling his way along its metal rails when the emergency lights came on, two beams that shot from the corners of the ceiling over the door. Barely enough to see by, but enough. The room was the same; whatever was happening outside, it had yet to reach them. He sat by Amy's bed and felt her forehead. Still warm, but her fever was down, her skin a little damp. With the power out, her IV pump had stopped. He wondered what to do, and decided to disconnect her. Perhaps this was wrong, but he didn't think so. He had watched Fortes and the others change the drip enough times to know the ritual. He adjusted the clamp, sealing off the flow of liquid, and withdrew the long needle from the rubber stopper at the top of the tube buried in the skin of her hand. With the IV disconnected there was no reason to leave the port in place; he removed this also, pulling it gently away. The wound didn't bleed, but to be sure, he covered it with gauze and tape from the supply cart. Then he waited.

The minutes passed. Amy shifted restlessly on the bed, as if she were dreaming. Wolgast had the curious intuition that somehow, if he could see her dreams, he'd know what was happening outside. But part of him wondered if any of it mattered now. They were well belowground, sealed away. They might as well have been locked in a tomb.

Wolgast had all but resigned himslf to their abandonment when he heard, behind him, a hiss of equalizing pressure. His hopes soared; someone had come after all. The door swung open to reveal a solitary figure, backlit, his face draped in shadow, wearing only street clothes. As the man stepped under the beams of the emergency lights, Wolgast saw somebody entirely new to him. The stranger had long hair, wild and unkempt, shot with streaks of gray, and a coarse beard that climbed halfway up his cheeks; his lab coat was rumpled and stained. He approached Amy's bedside with the preoccupied air of an accident victim, or the bystander to some terrible calamity. He'd done nothing so far even to acknowledge Wolgast's presence.

"She knows," he mumured, gazing at Amy. "How does she know?"

"Who the hell are you? What's going on out there?"

Still the man ignored him. An otherworldly feeling seemed to radiate off his entire person, an almost fatalistic calm. "It's strange," he said after a moment. He sighed deeply and touched his beard, sweeping his eyes over the barren room. "All of this. Is this ... what I wanted? I wanted there to be one, you see. Once I saw, once I knew what they were planning, how it would all end, I wanted there to be at least one."

"What are you talking about? Where's Sykes?"

At last the stranger seemed to take notice of him. He regarded Wolgast closely, his face tightening with a sudden frown. "Sykes? Oh, he's dead. I rather think they're all dead, don't you?"

"What do you mean dead?"

"Dead, gone, in pieces probably. The lucky ones, anyway." He gave his head a slow shake of wonder. "You should have seen it, the way they swooped down from the trees. Like the bats. We really should have seen that coming."

Wolfgast felt completely lost. "Please. I don't know ... what you're talking about."

The stranger shrugged. "Well, you will. Soon enough, I'm sorry to say." He looked at Wolgast again. "My manners. You'll have to excuse me, Agent Wolgast. It's been a while for me. I'm Jonas Lear." He gave a rueful smile. "You could say I'm the person in charge around here. Or not. Under the circumstances, I rather think nobody's in charge anymore."

Lear. Wolgast searched his memory, but the name meant nothing. "I heard an explosion-"

"Quite right," Lear interrupted. "That would have been the elevator. Now, my guess would be it was one of the soldiers. But I was locked in the freezer, so I didn't see that part." He sighed heavily and cast his eyes around the room once more. "Not a moment of great heroism, was it, Agent Wolgast, locking myself in the freezer? You know, I really wish there was another chair in here. I'd like to sit down. I can't tell you how long it's been since I sat down."

Wolgast shot to his feet. "Jesus. Take mine. Just please, tell me what's going on."

But Lear shook his head, his greasy hair swaying. "There's no time, I'm afraid. We have to be going. It's all over, isn't it, Amy?" He looked down at the girl's sleeping form and gently touched her hand. "Over at last."

Wolgast could stand it no more. "What's over?"

Lear lifted his face; his eyes were full of tears.

"Everything."

Lear led them down the corridor, Wolgast carrying Amy in his arms. The air smelled burnt, like molten plastic. As they turned the corner toward the elevator, Wolgast saw the first body.

It was Fortes. There wasn't much left. His body looked smeared, like it had been hit and dragged by something huge. Pooling blood glistened under the throb of the emergency lights. Beyond Fortes was another one, or so Wolgast thought. It took him a moment to understand he was looking at more of Fortes, just a different part of him.

Amy's eyes were closed, but Wolgast did his best to cover them anyway, pressing her face to his chest. Beyond Fortes lay two more bodies, or three, he couldn't tell. The floor was slick with blood, so much blood that he felt his feet sliding on it, the grease of human remains.

The elevator was blown away, nothing more than a hole, its darkened interior lit by the dancing sparks of broken wiring. Its heavy metal doors had shot across the hallway, caving in the opposite wall. Under the angular light of the emergency beams, Wolgast could see two more dead men, soldiers, crushed by pieces of the door. A third was propped against the wall, seated like a man taking a siesta, except he was resting in a pool of his own blood. His face was drawn and dessicated; his uniform hung limply on his frame, as if it were a size too large.

Wolgast tore his gaze away. "How do we get out of here?"

"This way," Lear said. The fog had lifted from him; he was pure urgency and purpose now. "Quickly."

Down another corridor. Doors stood open all up and down its length-heavy metal doors, identical to the one that led to Amy's chamber. And on the floor of the hallway, more bodies, but Wolgast didn't-couldn't-count. The walls were riddled with bullet holes, cartridges lay all over the floor, their brass casings gleaming.

Then a man stepped through one of the doors. Not stepped: stumbled. A big soft man, like the ones who'd delivered Wolgast's meals to his room, though his face was not familiar. He was holding a hand to a deep gash on his neck, the blood flowing through and around his fingers where they pressed into his flesh. His shirt, a white hospital tunic like Wolgast's, was a glistening bib of blood.

"Hey," he said. "Hey." He looked at the three of them, then up and down the hall. He seemed not to notice the blood or, if he did, not to care. "What happened to the lights?"

Wolgast didn't know what to say. A wound like that-the man should be dead already. Wolgast couldn't believe he was even standing.

"Oooo," the bleeding man said, wobbling on his feet. "I gotta sit down."

He slid heavily to the floor, his body seeming to cave in on itself, like a tent without poles. He took a long breath and looked up at Wolgast. His body shuddered with a deep twitch.

"Am I ... asleep?"

Wolgast said nothing. The question made no sense to him.

Lear touched his shoulder. "Agent, leave him. There's no time."

The man licked his lips. He'd lost so much blood he was becoming dehydrated. His eyes had started to flutter; his hands lay loosely, like empty gloves, on the floor at his sides.

"Because I'm here to tell you, I've been having the worst goddamn dream. I said to myself, Grey, you are having the worst dream in the world."

"I don't think it was a dream," Wolgast said.

The man considered this and shook his head. "I was afraid of that."

He twitched again, a hard spasm, as if he'd been hit by a jolt of current. Lear was right-there was nothing to do for him. The blood from his neck had darkened to a deep blue-black. Wolgast had to get Amy away.

"I'm sorry," Wolgast said. "We have to go."

"You think you're sorry," the man said, and let his head rock back against the wall.

"Agent-"

But Grey's mind already seemed elsewhere. "It wasn't just me," he said, and closed his eyes. "It was all of us."

They hurried on, to a room with lockers and benches. A dead end, Wolgast thought, but then Lear withdrew a key from his pocket and opened a door marked MECHANICALS.

Wolgast stepped inside. Lear was on his knees, using a small knife to pry loose a metal panel. It swung free on a pair of hinges, and Wolgast bent to look inside. The opening wasn't more than a yard square.

"Straight on, about thirty feet, and you'll come to an intersection. A tube leads straight up. There's a ladder inside for maintenance. It goes all the way to the top."

Fifty feet at least, climbing a ladder in pitch blackness holding Amy, somehow, in his arms. Wolgast didn't see how he could do it.

"There has to be another way."

Lear shook his head. "There isn't."

The man held Amy while Wolgast entered the duct. Seated, his head bent low, he'd be able to pull Amy along, holding her by the waist. He backed in until his legs were straight; Lear positioned Amy between them. She seemed to be poised on the edge of awareness now. Through her thin gown, Wolgast could still feel the warmth of her fever rising off her skin.

"Remember what I said. Ten yards."

Wolgast nodded.

"Be careful."

"What killed those men?"

But Lear didn't answer. "Keep her close," he said. "She's everything. Now go."

Wolgast began to scooch away, one hand clutching Amy by the waist, the other pulling them deeper into the duct. It was only when the panel sealed behind him that he realized that Lear had never meant to come with them.

The sticks were everywhere now, all over the compound. Richards could hear the screams and the gunfire. He took extra clips from his desk and ran upstairs to Sykes's office.

The room was empty. Where was Sykes?

They had to establish a perimeter. Push the sticks back inside the Chalet and throw the switch. Richards stepped from Sykes's office, his gun raised.

Something was moving down the hall.

It was Sykes. By the time Richards got to him, he had slumped to the floor, his back propped against the wall. His chest was heaving like a sprinter's, his face sheened with sweat. He was holding a wide tear on his lower arm, just above the wrist, from which blood was running freely. His gun, a .45, lay on the floor near his upturned palm.

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