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Eve of destruction, p.11
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       Eve of Destruction, p.11

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “There’s something else,” I continued, preparing to tell them about Amy and a possible way out, at least for them. I got as far as there’s someone else . . .

  And then Mrs. Goring appeared on the central monitor, watching like she was hoping to catch me plotting something that wasn’t on the approved Goring list of things to do.

  “Who are you talking to?” she shouted. Wow, Bad Mood Goring was in the house. “Answer me!”

  I moved close to the camera that fed the signal into the bomb shelter and leaned in so my face would fill her monitor on the other side.

  “I’m talking to Kate and Marisa, who, no thanks to you, have arrived safely in the silo room. You’re welcome.”

  Mrs. Goring’s mood softened, and I realized she was probably nervous about Rainsford escaping.

  “Hey, Mrs. Goring,” Kate added. “Destroy any lives since we last talked?”

  “Kate Hollander saves the day, how charming. I have to say though, I wasn’t too concerned. I’ve come to expect big things from you.”

  Kate wasn’t exactly taken aback, but her expression lightened. A compliment was a powerful weapon, even from someone who didn’t care about anyone but themselves. I wanted to remind Kate that Mrs. Goring had locked us underground, put us all in extreme danger, and probably would have shrugged it off if she’d discovered that Kate and Marisa were both lying facedown in a pile of radioactive sludge.

  “Can we get on with this?” I asked impatiently. “I don’t want those two in there any longer than they have to be. What’s the plan?”

  “Look at you, getting all tough on me,” Mrs. Goring said. “There may be hope for you yet, Will Besting.”

  A silence fell over the proceedings and I wondered what everyone else was thinking. My thoughts were split between many competing things: Rainsford, Avery, the guys all locked in a room, Amy, getting Marisa above-ground. And there was some self-pity going on, too: Even if everyone else gets out, I’ll die in this room alone. It will be lonely at the very end.

  “Both of you,” said Mrs. Goring. She was straining to catch a side glimpse of Kate and Marisa in the S3 monitor, which sat against the wall to my right. “Listen very carefully. How long have you been inside that room?”

  The camera was on Marisa, so I saw as she pulled out her cell phone and looked at the time. “I don’t know for sure, maybe half an hour?” she said.

  “It’s not safe to stay in there much longer. You’ll need to be clear of the area in another twenty.”

  “Wait, I thought you said it wasn’t dangerous as long as we didn’t walk on the floor?” Kate protested.

  “I never said that. And even if I did, now I’m changing my mind. Deal with it.”

  “Just tell us what to do, you nasty old bag.”

  “Warning,” replied Mrs. Goring. “Objects in the S3 monitor are dumber than they appear.”

  “Shut up, you two!” I yelled. If I’d let them, Kate and Mrs. Goring would trade insults for half the time they had left in there without batting an eye.

  “Please, Mrs. Goring, what’s the plan here? Why do they need to be in there and how do I get them out?”

  Mrs. Goring explained a few things about the room and the underground missile silo that we didn’t previously know about. The room they were in was in fact one of the places where bombs had been stored—in the silos—and there were controls in that room for preparing them for launch. But this room wasn’t where the real whopper was kept, the bomb that was big enough to fly all the way to Europe on its own power. That one had been stored in a third silo, which I was guessing was the circle on the map with the square right behind it. The other two silos, where Marisa and Kate were, contained shorter-range missiles created for strategic defense in the event of an attack.

  “There were no bombs that could go that far in the 1950s,” said Marisa. “I know, I sat through a cold war history semester last year.”

  “Don’t believe everything you read, it makes you look even more foolish than you actually are.”

  “Okay fine, so let’s assume that sixty-plus years ago we cared,” Kate blasted into the conversation. “All we need to know right now is why we’re in here and how to get out.”

  Mrs. Goring was losing patience. I knew something the girls didn’t, namely that Mrs. Goring was also single-handedly preparing for a cycle of cures that would, at least she thought, make her young again. That was set to begin in a few hours. She had to be feeling the pressure.

  “On the side of each silo you’ll find a pair of large, round buttons. They’re red, so you can’t miss them. To open the door that leads inside the third silo, all four of those buttons have to be depressed at one time. I know what you’re thinking—why not use duct tape, you could have done this yourself—it’s not that easy.”

  “Why not?” I asked, thinking of the O2 marker I’d seen on the map and understanding now why I couldn’t open it from inside the observation room. O2 was O zone 2, the door that would let them out.

  “Because those buttons have to be pushed in a certain order, over a certain amount of time. It was designed to make sure three people would have to work together in order to give the president the ability to launch an attack.”

  Mrs. Goring explained that the first two buttons needed to be depressed in order, and we’d know the order because they were marked alphabetically. The A button was to be pushed in and held. After ten full seconds, within the next ten-second window, the second button was to be pushed in and held as well.

  “The other two buttons are marked C and D. They’re on the side of the other silo, so it needs to be a different person. When both A and B are held down, someone needs to depress the C button at the second silo sometime during the minute that follows. Once C is pressed and held, the final button should not—must not—be pushed for a full five minutes.”

  “It sounds to me like you could have done this with duct tape. You’re just not very smart.”

  Kate wouldn’t let up, but Mrs. Goring ignored her. She was acting like she had business of her own to attend to upstairs and was running out of patience. There was an X marker on the map at the last door, near the S4 monitor, I’d seen it. It was the door that led into the circle and the square directly behind.

  “The X door will only stay unlocked for thirty seconds after D is pressed. So unless you can run back to the roof, across the catwalk, out the door, down the tunnel, and push the X door open in half a minute, I’d shut your pie hole.”

  Kate didn’t answer, unless silently fuming as if smoke might start pouring out of her ears counted as a comeback.

  “After you’ve pushed the last button, use the escape route I just outlined.”

  Mrs. Goring switched her line of sight, staring directly at me.

  “Will, this is where you need to coordinate everything. Your big moment, don’t screw it up.”

  “I appreciate the vote of confidence.”

  “Once that X door opens, you need to get Connor and Alex through. I have a feeling it will take both of them to finish the job.”

  Mrs. Goring explained that there were no cameras directly on the other side of the door, and that she wished she didn’t have to send two Neanderthals with less than half a brain between them.

  “That silo is flooded with water, so they’ll need to swim across. I know what you’re thinking, but it’s okay. It’s clear of any electrical charge, I guarantee it. Once you get them that far, we’ll have contact again.”

  A Goring guarantee, how comforting. But it rang true—she wouldn’t put us through all these hoops just to fry us in the end.

  I was turned around, looking at the map on the wall, and understood right away what she was talking about.

  “The S5 station, inside the room behind the circle.”

  “You guessed it.”

  “So that’s where the vials are kept?” Marisa asked as she, too, strained to see the map from where she stood.

  “Yes, that’s where the vials are kept,” said Mrs. Gori
ng.

  “It’s a three-person job. How’d our vials get in there to begin with?”

  It was a reasonable question to ask, no doubt.

  “Rainsford, that little ogre Avery, and your doctor.”

  “Wait, you mean Dr. Stevens helped lock this stuff away, even after she knew what really went on here?”

  “Stupid boy. What makes you think she didn’t always know? Rainsford has a way with his offspring that is quite, shall we say, persuasive. Half the time she doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

  “You live in a twisted family, mommy dearest,” Kate said.

  Kate’s comment seemed to dig at the core of who Mrs. Goring was, a mother who’d badly failed her child. She started to fume, like she was going to say something, but she seemed to think better of it. Maybe she was harnessing that particular kind of anger so she could use it against Rainsford instead. She reached up and turned her monitor off.

  “Now you’ve gone and chased her away,” Marisa said with a slight smile on her face.

  “Yeah, big bummer. Will? Have you thought about how Rainsford and Avery might complicate this little plan?”

  “And how we can’t be in here for more than about fifteen more minutes?” Marisa asked.

  “I’ve been thinking a lot about both of those things. You guys figure out where the knobs are, I’ll get to work. I’ll be back in ten minutes or less.”

  “You better be,” Kate said.

  “And Will? Go easy on Avery. She’s one of us. Let’s get her back.”

  That last part was less a plea than a challenge from Marisa. She, more than anyone else, was concerned about Avery and the mess she’d gotten herself into. I appreciated this about Marisa, the way she zeroed in on what really mattered. This was about us, all of us, getting out alive. Oddly enough, it was Avery I would need to lean on if I had any chance of getting the X door open and the right people on the other side.

  And I needed her for something even bigger, something no one else had thought about, or so it seemed. It was funny how Mrs. Goring dropped small clues in the things she said. She must have known I’d think of it eventually.

  Mrs. Goring was a seventh. She carried her vial with her. And we needed all seven of our vials in order for the mixture to work.

  That seventh vial wouldn’t be in the room behind the door marked with an X.

  No, the seventh vial was carried by the seventh person cured.

  Avery was turning out to be more important than I’d imagined she could be. Without her there was no cure for us and no poison for Rainsford.

  Without Avery there was nothing.

  6:30 PM–7:00 PM

  “Avery, listen to me,” I said, seeing her sitting cold and alone at the S1 station. She hadn’t moved since I’d last seen her, and she looked exactly the same: a ghostly figure, half alive and half dead. Her head tilted up toward me, and I wondered how long it had been since she’d eaten anything.

  “You were one of us once, remember that?” I started.

  She had no response, so I continued on.

  “We all showed up at Fort Eden for the same reason— to get cured. But we were lied to, Avery. You and all the rest of us, we were fed a steady diet of lies for years before we even got there. And I’ve got some bad news for you. She’s doing it again. Mrs. Goring has a whole new set of seven people up there, and starting tonight, she’s going to repeat the procedure. Only this time, she’s doing it on herself. We can’t let that happen.”

  Something about what I’d said got Avery’s attention. She was up on her feet, more alive than dead, staring at me like a phantom that had decided there was still work to be done on this side of the grave.

  “She’s trying to get him back,” Avery said. “She’ll take him from me.”

  “No, no . . .” Wow, not the answer I was expecting, but in a twisted way there was some logic to it. “She hates Rainsford more than anyone. You said it yourself—she tried to kill him more than once—she just wants to . . .”

  And there I was stuck. Mrs. Goring was hell-bent on killing the guy Avery loved, not stealing him away. What could I say that would make Avery want to help me? At least part of the truth contained the destruction of Rainsford, a young version with whom Avery was madly in love. I stuck with the facts that had a sliver of a chance of helping.

  “Goring sent us down here to get seven vials of blood, blood that came out of our cures. We mix all that blood together, and it’s a cure for the things they took from us. Even if you don’t want to be cured, we do. And remember one thing—you ended up with white hair, we got it a lot worse. Our ailments have real consequences.”

  “Tell me the truth, Will. You’re lying,” Avery said. She was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, and one of her hands had drifted into a pocket.

  She has it. She has her vial, I thought.

  “No! I’m not lying to you, seriously.”

  “But you’re not telling me everything.”

  I looked at my watch—three minutes already gone—and decided to go for broke.

  “If we mix the vials together, the mixture will cure us. But it will kill her. It will kill Eve Goring.”

  This got Avery’s attention. She was so interesting to watch, because part of her seemed lucid, normal. But another part was detached and troubled, like she might snap at any moment.

  “How do you know that?”

  “Dr. Stevens told me. She hates Goring.”

  More deceit off the top of my head. I was getting almost too good at this.

  “Are you lying to me, Will Besting?”

  I was, totally. But Avery was halfway to believing me, not because it rang true, but because she needed the rules of the world to be this way. She needed to believe there was a secret way of killing her competition.

  “No, it’s the truth. I’m telling you the truth. And I know you love Davis or Rainsford or whoever this guy is at this particular moment in history, but just hear me out on this. He dumped his old age into us. He betrayed us. And in the end, there is no evidence to support the idea that he won’t abandon you when having you around isn’t to his liking anymore. Avery, I’m sorry, but Rainsford is a heartless bastard. He just is.”

  Avery stared straight into my eyes, and for the glimmer of a moment I could see that she knew I might be right. I’d broken through, briefly but importantly, and I knew somewhere inside all that hollowed-out skin lived the girl I once knew.

  “Power of love, Will,” Avery said in her haunted voice. “It’s timeless and immortal, you know?”

  “Yeah, I know. I really do.”

  I was thinking of Marisa and how it wouldn’t matter if we were separated by death. I’d love her always, to the end of time.

  “Open the door, I’ll get you the vials.”

  “How?”

  “Just do it, Will. I’ll get them.”

  I was lower than low on options. I had to get someone past that X door in five minutes or less no matter what. I’d given her my best arguments.

  “Help us, Avery. We need you.”

  And with that I pushed the control for the red zone door, opening it.

  “There’s a door marked X down there. You know about that door?”

  “Of course I know. Davis told me.”

  “And you know what’s in there?”

  Avery didn’t answer, but she did turn in my direction and stare, as if I was being ridiculous. Of course she knew.

  “We need our vials. It’s that simple.”

  She started to walk away without responding, then turned back.

  “Leave it open.”

  “What? Why?”

  “Just do as I say. Leave it open.”

  She didn’t say anything else, just moved down the tunnel, through the door, and out of my line of sight. Maybe she had bigger plans than I could hope for, like retrieving all my friends and sending them out of the red zone. I fired up the S4 monitor, where I’d left Rainsford waiting for almost an hour. I expected to find him standing there, r
eady to kill one of my friends for locking Avery on my side of a door he couldn’t get through, but of course he was gone. There was no one. It was as if the red zone was deserted, had in fact never been inhabited to begin with. It was all just a bad dream I was going to wake up from.

  I opened up the S3 feed, where Kate and Marisa were, and saw that they had found the buttons. They were waiting impatiently for me to fire the start gun.

  I calculated the time and figured I could wait maybe three more minutes. If I started them then, they’d be stuck holding down knobs for five more, then they’d have to get out fast through the number-two O zone door. I took one more look at the map, holding the green key card in my hand, and thinking about when I would try to use it.

  Not yet. Maybe not ever. It won’t work anyway.

  Getting out of the silo room would be fast, just a few minutes. It would have to be close enough. It was the best I could do.

  “Who are you going to trust, me or her?”

  I spun around on my heels so fast I nearly fell over. I knew that voice and went first to where I expected it had come from—a lightning-fast glance at S4, where I’d last seen Rainsford. But he wasn’t there. No, he’d moved. He was much closer now.

  He was at S1, just down the tunnel from me. He’d taken Avery’s place.

  In a flash I slammed the red zone lockdown control, and the room filled with an echoing buzz.

  “That door won’t close until I take the metal bar out. I blocked it, Will. It’s not rocket science.”

  The blaring was constant and loud, and I could hear Kate and Marisa yelling in the background, wondering what was happening in my small neck of the woods.

  I turned the S1 monitor off and stared at Marisa, who looked wide-eyed and afraid.

  “Now! Do it now, Marisa!”

  Marisa ran away from the monitor, pushing Kate in front of her until they were both out of sight. I hoped they’d devised some way of counting down the time so they’d get it right.

  “Can you hear me?” I shouted, but there was no reply. Either they were too far away or my hearing was bad enough I couldn’t make out their voices.

 
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