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Eve of destruction, p.12
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       Eve of Destruction, p.12

           Patrick Carman
 
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I looked quickly at the S4 monitor and saw no one. My only hope was to keep Rainsford occupied long enough that Avery could get Connor and Alex free. But would she even do it? Would she play along? It was starting to feel like I’d been tricked into letting her out and Rainsford in.

  I was just taking a deep breath to steady my nerves before turning Rainsford’s station back on, when I heard a loud pounding on the metal door.

  It was him: Rainsford, standing outside, trying to force his way through. For once I was happy the door was firmly locked. The pounding stopped as fast as it had started and I watched the main monitor as Rainsford crossed through the entryway section on his way back to S1. By the time he got there, I had turned the monitor back on and the blaring sound of alert had stopped.

  “Did you hear what I asked you?” he began. “Who are you going to trust, me or her?”

  “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

  “Sure you do, Will. You’re a smart kid. It’s why Eve chose you.”

  “You mean Mrs. Goring?”

  “She’s Eve to me, always will be. But she’s also out of her mind. She tried to kill me. You think she won’t try to kill you, too? Think again.”

  “What did you do with my friends?”

  “Friends? Please, Will, let’s at least be honest about what those people mean to you. They aren’t your friends. You only care about one person down here, and that’s Marisa Sorrento. You should be thanking me. I led you to her.”

  “The hell you did. Where’s Connor? Where’s Alex and Ben?”

  He wouldn’t answer me.

  “You shouldn’t try to turn Avery against me. She doesn’t understand what I’m capable of. Better that way, know what I mean?”

  I hated Rainsford so much it was hard not lashing out at him. So smug, so full of the world and all it had to offer. He’d had it all, ten times over. He’d outlive me, then do it all over again. He’d outlive the kids I hadn’t even had yet.

  “You tricked Avery. You tricked all of us.”

  “True. But I cured you, too. It’s a problem with your generation. You don’t appreciate anything. Always focused on the negative.”

  I was talking, but I was also calculating. By now Kate would be pressing the D button. I couldn’t turn on S4 without turning Rainsford off for fear of what he might see, and I was afraid turning off his monitor would set him to thinking. What’s going on back at the ranch? Could Avery be deceiving me?

  All I could do was hope Avery had freed Connor, Alex, and Ben and pointed them in the direction of a door marked with an X.

  “You’re the only one,” Rainsford said. “Did you know that?”

  “You mean the only person who knows the truth? You’re wrong about that.”

  “No, you don’t understand. Lots of people have known, down through the many years. I’ve told people. I told Avery and Eve. It just slips out, you know? A hard secret to keep. But they don’t really remember, not like you remember. I’m always sure to maintain control.”

  “How long have you been alive?” I asked, a bold question I expected no answer to.

  “Longer than you think, and I’m betting you think I’ve been around awhile.”

  “A thousand years?”

  He glanced back toward the red zone door and seemed to forget something, then looked toward the O zone.

  “I heard a voice before. You were talking to someone. Is she down here? This way? I bet she is.”

  Rainsford was staring down the hall, in the direction of the blue zone, after which came the door to the room filled with glowing orange dust. The room that could kill you all by itself. And he had something in his hand, which he started waving in front of me.

  It was a key card and it was blue.

  “Funny the things you find in a missile silo supply room, isn’t it? Stuff just lying around with no purpose. It gets boring in a room like that with nothing to do but search through old boxes.”

  I was speechless. He had a key card, a blue one. He could open that door. A monster with no soul, no heart, was close enough to Marisa to get hold of her. On top of that I was in a panic at the thought of what was going on at S4, if the guys were out or if Avery was against me. But it didn’t matter what I thought or how I felt. None of it mattered as Amy came up on the main monitor, the mystery girl from upstairs, staring at me as I tried to shake my head.

  No. Don’t speak. Don’t give yourself away.

  “You can’t change the way Avery feels,” Rainsford said. “So do me a favor and stop trying. She’ll do as she’s told. They all do.”

  Rainsford walked away in the direction of the blue zone, but not before giving me a look that said everything he needed me to know.

  You made a mistake trying to turn her against me. I won’t stand for that. I think I’ll teach you a lesson by walking down here and killing your girlfriend.

  Amy had a curious look on her face. She’d heard the voice, a person she didn’t know and couldn’t understand. The very idea of explaining the myriad connections to someone who didn’t know any of what I was dealing with sent a wave of anger through me. Not so much at Amy but at the crazy, swirling events of the past few hours that made her so oblivious.

  “Who was that?”

  I couldn’t even answer her without my voice filling with sarcasm.

  “A guy you don’t want to meet but somehow I think you will and when you do he’ll charm you and make you believe his lies and he’ll ruin your life and you’ll become a zombie and you’ll betray all you know and follow him into the abyss and he will never, ever end—but you, Amy—you will end, as sure as I’m standing here, you will definitely come to an end.”

  Wow. Did I just say that? I thought. I guess I did.

  Amy had struck me as a simple girl from the start, but there was something about her that lacked the sadness or the weariness of having feared with total desperation. It suddenly made me nervous even talking to her.

  “Sorry I asked,” she said. “And also I came down here to tell you that Mrs. Goring pushed the cure to later tonight. She wants it to be dark outside, I don’t know why. Maybe she’s spending all her time dealing with you instead, or whatever. Anyway, if you still want me to, I can go open that thing up right after we eat, so like an hour from now. You want me to or not?”

  I had wondered, as Amy talked, where Rainsford was. By now he would have passed by the entryway camera and found his way to the blue zone door. If only he didn’t have that key card! I could have stopped worrying about how far he’d gone. He’d have found the door locked and given up.

  But watching the S2 camera, I knew that was not to be. It was sad, really, to think of them holding down those buttons while this beast of a human being got closer and closer. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

  “I’ll see you soon, everything will be better then,” Amy said. “You’ll see.”

  Amy must have been upset that I was ignoring her and acting like a jerk, because she cut the feed from the bomb shelter a second later after a wistful smile that faded into an empty view of the entry to the missile silo.

  I cycled on the S4 station—nothing—then held the green key card in hand, knowing that if ever there was a time to use it, the moment was now.

  Five minutes were up. Marisa and Kate would be coming out of the silo room, moving up onto the catwalk, and heading for the door on the far end of the O zone.

  I stepped to the broken card reader, hanging like a killed animal against the wall, and held it in my right hand.

  One shot. Please, just open the door.

  I slid the green card against the circuit board, along the line of pale light that would either activate the door lock or blow the fuse.

  There was a crack like lightning, an electrical charge up my forearm, and a flickering of the lights. I was blown back onto the floor, the charred green key card no longer in my hand.

  When I looked up, the card reader was hissing smoke. And there was something else, something far more important.

/>   The door to the observation room was open.

  7:00 PM–7:30 PM

  It should have felt good, even a little bit exciting. I’d been trapped in the observation room all alone for hours, and now the door stood open. I could get up off the floor and leave without anyone stopping me. The fact that I wanted to stay made me wonder what sort of person I’d become.

  What’s wrong with you, bro? This is the part where you run out the door and save the day!

  I’m not good at that kind of thing, Keith. You should know that by now.

  You’re just feeling sorry for yourself. Get up off your ass and show Rainsford what you’re made of.

  But it wasn’t that I felt sorry for myself. My little brother didn’t understand me in death any better than he had when he was alive. Or maybe I’m just complicated. There were reasons I stayed on the floor, and none of them had anything to do with feeling sorry for myself. Exiting the observation room meant leaving the comfort of the monitors. I’d lose my ability to observe what was going on. It had been my keen advantage all along and it was risky giving it up, even for a few minutes. Plus Mrs. Goring could show up while I was away. Finding me not there, I had to assume, would not make her happy. It would complicate her motives even more and possibly increase the chances of her leaving us underground forever. But most of all, I was afraid of Rainsford. There, I said it. Sure I hated the guy and knew he deserved to die ten times over. But he was angry, indestructible, and bigger than me. How was I supposed to feel?

  I stayed on my back until a larger, more important thought cast a black shadow over everything. I couldn’t let Rainsford anywhere near Marisa. I’d go down fighting to save her even if she never knew I’d done it.

  I got up on my feet and took one last look at all the monitors, catching sight of two or three shadowy figures on S4. They were in the tunnel and then they weren’t, and I knew Avery had gotten at least one person out of the room. They vanished from the screen, heading for the door marked X and the secret places that lay beyond.

  I stepped out into the hall and pulled the door to the observation room most of the way shut and ran toward the red zone. The lights crackled and fizzed over my head as drops of water fell from the rusted metal ceiling. Feeling the water made me realize how thirsty I was as I came to the corner and turned right. I was in a dead sprint for the door when it swung open unexpectedly.

  Ben Dugan, who had hobbled all the way back through the red zone, jumped back at the sight of me.

  “Will? You got out!”

  “Get in here! Quick, I gotta move,” I demanded, pulling Ben through the opening without thinking of his injuries. He flinched with pain.

  “Take it easy. My back’s killing me.”

  “But you’re fine, right? You’re okay?”

  “Yeah, like you said before—banged up is all. I’ll live. I’m better than Avery, that’s for sure. She looks like the walking dead. Scared me half to death when she opened the door and let us out.”

  Ben wouldn’t shut up. He kept going on and on about her hair and her skin and how the room was cold and full of all sorts of junk. I tuned him out, picked up the metal pipe Rainsford had used to block the opening, and slammed the red zone door shut.

  “Listen to me Ben, this is important. Get to the green room, where I was. Do not shut the door behind you, keep it barely open so it looks like it’s shut.”

  I was already walking rapidly away, leaving him behind as he tried to talk and I kept on giving instructions.

  “When you get in there lie down under the long control panel—you’ll see it—and no matter what, don’t talk to anyone but me. If you hear other voices, don’t respond. You got it?”

  “Yeah, I got it. Where are you going?”

  “Just go, Ben! As fast as you can get there. And wait for me. It won’t be too long.”

  I didn’t look back as Ben kept talking and talking. He was in a chatty mood at the worst possible time, and I wished he’d shut up so I could concentrate on what I was doing. The metal pipe was about three feet long and solid. I felt stronger and safer carrying it with me, like I might have a fighting chance. I passed through the entryway with the hole that led up and out of the underground, hoping Mrs. Goring hadn’t been watching. The blue door was next, and as I’d suspected, Rainsford had left it wide open so he could return if he wanted to. How many minutes did he have on me? Five? Ten? I couldn’t be sure as I came to the first of two sections of flooring that had broken away. They were bigger openings than I’d expected and they threatened to slow me down, but I took the first one at a run and leaped across, a crazy idea because it was about seven feet to the other side. I hadn’t long-jumped, but Keith had done it in middle school and gone over fourteen feet. I was sure I could make half that far.

  And I did. Only the tile I landed on didn’t hold. It fell free into the mucky water below as my forward momentum carried me onto my knees. I was racked with an electrical charge from the splash of water. My teeth locked down against the fat part of my tongue and I tasted warm blood in my mouth. Pain shot through my knees as they crashed into the hard tile floor, and I slid uncontrollably forward. When the electricity floated cleanly out of my body, I was staring at the second hole, where Kate and Marisa had helped each other across. I’d let go of the metal pipe and it was rolling away. I leapt forward, banging my elbows on the hard floor, lying flat out against the tiles, my fingers grasping the only weapon I had just as it was about to fall into the second hole. My fingers curled around the pipe and I stood up.

  Time’s running out, I thought. Rainsford was probably on the catwalk by then, a catwalk that Kate and Marisa were also going to use. I felt my tongue swelling inside my mouth and the lingering feeling that I’d just been filled with an electric charge. A few inches shorter on that jump and I’d have been finished.

  The second hole was longer, and staring at it I knew it would be impossible for me to clear if I tried to jump. I took the side Kate had taken, slowly making my way along the rounded edge of the tunnel as I listened for any sign of life up ahead. It took valuable time I didn’t have, but finally I cleared the second electrified pool of water and ran for the O zone. That door stood open, too, and staring inside I was momentarily stunned by the brightness of the orange floor. It was menacing, disturbing, beautiful. Like a perfect sea of warm sand on a cool day, it begged to be walked on. So still, so treacherous. I could feel its deadly power waiting to be unleashed.

  I pulled the O zone door shut behind me, stepping on the ladder to my left as I did so, and I heard the sucking sound of the room being sealed off from the rest of the world. This was not a door that would lock from the observation room, that much I’d already figured out on my own. And the O zone door on the far end of the room? It, too, was not a door I knew how to lock.

  Rising quickly on the rungs, I moved with as much stealth as I could while holding a three-foot metal pipe in one hand, until I stood on the flimsy catwalk. It was harrowing to look at, and I found myself feeling utterly amazed that Kate and Marisa had willingly made their way across. I could see, down the way, where the catwalk had fallen through and hung in sheets of metal. One false move and the section could fall into the glowing orange floor. It would send a plume of radioactive dust high into the air. It would eviscerate every living thing in the room.

  But none of those unbelievably hazardous elements had my attention. Not the faulty catwalk or the hanging sections of metal grating or the orange floor of death. They all fell away in comparison to the girl in the distance and the man who stood between us.

  “Will Besting, you never cease to amaze me,” said Rainsford. He smiled at me and a leftover tremor of electricity ran down my spine and into my guts. I hated him, feared him, loathed him.

  “Marisa!” I yelled. Kate was standing behind her, farther away. “Get down the ladder on that side! There’s a door. You can make it!”

  “Yes, by all means!” Rainsford agreed. He stood sideways, glancing back and forth between Marisa and K
ate and me. “It’s Will you need to worry about, not me. I can get you the vials. All he’s going to do is get you into more trouble.”

  “Leave him alone!” yelled Marisa. Kate was unusually quiet, like she was having trouble deciding what to do and talking would only confuse her more.

  “Wait for me on the other side and I’ll make sure you find those vials,” said Rainsford. “Let Will and me do some catching up.”

  I had been slowly walking toward Rainsford while he spoke and arrived within a few paces of where he stood. The railing at the side of the wide catwalk was loose and unsteady. Every step I took fell on another wobbly section of grating. The whole thing felt like a house of cards that could collapse at any moment. It was for that reason that I screamed when Rainsford crouched down and began deliberately forcing the catwalk into a wave of movement beneath my feet. Kate and Marisa screamed, too, but Rainsford laughed.

  “Oh come on, isn’t it thrilling the way it moves? It’s like the fun house at the fair!”

  Kate decided she’d had enough and started down the ladder on the far side, coaxing Marisa to go with her. I wished Marisa could bring herself to leave me behind, but she couldn’t. In fact she started walking toward me with determination, the last thing I wanted her to do.

  “Marisa, no!”

  But it turned out to be exactly what I needed. Rainsford was so captivated by the idea that Marisa would come for me—that she would willingly choose death in order to try and save me—he turned fully in her direction and stared in awe.

  When he did, I took two fast steps toward him and swung the metal pipe. It caught Rainsford on the side of the head and he reeled back, waving his arms drunkenly. He stood straight up again, shook his head four or five times, and seemed to recover. I swung again, this time toward his midsection, and connected with a deadly thud that buckled him over. Sliding the pipe out, I raised it over my head, aiming for what I hoped would be a final blow against his back.

  Time slowed down, nearly stopped. I saw Marisa’s wide eyes fill with the horror of watching me kill a man. I saw the door on the other side of the room swing open, watched Kate start through and turn back, waiting for us. I felt the catwalk begin to buckle in ways that felt more troubling than before. And then I went into a sort of stupor as Rainsford stood bolt upright so very fast. I tried to swing down with the pipe but he caught its middle in one hand, ripping it free in one clean motion. He smiled wickedly at me as blood flowed down the side of his head and neck.

 
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