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Eve of destruction, p.13
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       Eve of Destruction, p.13

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “You’ll have to do better then that, Will Besting.”

  Rainsford started to move toward me, a surprising steadiness in his steps. He dropped the pipe, presumably because he didn’t think he’d need it to finish off such a little guy like me, and the pipe rolled dangerously close to the edge of the catwalk.

  He didn’t see Marisa behind him, sucking in a huge breath and holding it. I did the same just as she pushed Rainsford with all her might, grabbed my hand, and began to run. I reached down, grabbing the metal pipe before it could fall into the sea of orange below, and kept running.

  I couldn’t help looking back, even though it wasn’t very smart. I could have tripped and fallen so easily. But Marisa’s hand was firmly wrapped around mine, where it belonged, and I just had to see.

  He had broken through the railing; free falling, back to the floor, staring up at me. His eyes told me that even he wondered if his immortality could withstand an attack like the one he was about to encounter. But more than that, his confidence carried him. He’d lived in the world too long for his imagination to include a killing machine with the power to take him out. I could read his mind in those eyes of his.

  This will be interesting. But make no mistake, it won’t undo me. You watch.

  We were ten long strides from the ladder on the far side of the open room when Rainsford hit. It was one of the strangest things I’d ever seen. I had expected to see a burst of orange dust fill the room, dust that if it caught me would surely kill me on contact. But a hundred seventy-five pounds of humanity hitting a fifty-year-old pile of radioactive waste turned out to be more like hitting a rolling floor of toxic Jell-O. The whole floor moved like a slow, soft ocean. It was boiling up in waves, releasing pockets of gas and dust in a million different places at once. Rainsford’s weight seemed to push the floor in at the point of impact, like a bubble being forced to the breaking point, sloshing and pumping every part of a living creature. By the time we reached the ladder I knew we were in trouble.

  The bubble finally burst. Rainsford’s weight ripped a hole in the orange mass, and from that hole came the violent burst of radiant ash as if a volcano had just erupted from the floor of the vast room. Marisa literally dove through the air in the direction of the door, landing in Kate’s arms as the two of them tumbled in a pile beyond where I could see them. I felt the hot wind of death coming my way and saw the explosion of dust sweeping toward me. If I didn’t reach the door, get through it, and shut it in time, I wouldn’t be the only one who would suffer the force of what we’d unleashed. Everyone underground would come to an end. We’d all die.

  All but one.

  I knew this beyond a shadow of a doubt for one simple reason. As I leapt through the opening and grabbed the door by its thick iron handle, I heard a final noise. Right before the slamming of the door and the vacuum seal sound of sucking.

  The last thing I heard coming from inside the room was the sound of Rainsford laughing.

  7:30 PM–8:00 PM

  I stood vacantly, looking down at Marissa. She wasn’t moving. I had come to know this habit about her, this way of being, too well; so well that, at first, her stillness didn’t alarm me as it should have. She was a girl who liked to sleep and she was good at it. I’d turned to my left or my right a thousand times and found her dozed off, the warmth of slumber filling every part of her. She is a remarkably attractive sleeper, which can’t be said of all people, including myself. Marisa is soft when she sleeps. If we’re sitting on a couch she will pull me around her like a blanket and fall away into a cup-shaped form, our bodies held together by dreams and whispers.

  “Snap out of it, Will! Hey, you in there!”

  “Wake up, man!”

  Kate was slapping me hard on the shoulder, rousing me back to reality. And was that . . . Connor?

  “Did you breathe any of it into your lungs? Did you?!”

  “I—I don’t know,” I stammered, staring down at Marisa, who was lying on her side. “What’s wrong with her? Is she okay?”

  “She’s fine, Will—just exhausted. I think the stress is getting to her even more than usual.”

  Kate was at my hand, trying to wrench something free I wasn’t willing to let go of. Connor just stood there, gaping at us all, like he didn’t know what to do.

  “Give it to me, Will. Just let it go. I need to bar this door so he can’t get out.”

  “What?” I looked in my own hand and found that I’d carried the metal pipe all the way out of the O zone with me. I don’t know why I did it or even how, but there it was, still in my grasp as I held it out and loosened my grip.

  “I heard him laughing,” said Kate, shaking her head like she couldn’t even begin to believe it. “At least let’s make sure he doesn’t get out if we can help it.”

  “She told me to guard the door,” said Connor, “I should go back.”

  “Guard what door? And who? What are you talking about?” Kate asked.

  Connor pointed down the rusted, dripping tunnel.

  “Avery—who by the way looks pretty bad if you ask me—she and Alex went in, but I was supposed to guard the door. Make sure Davis couldn’t get in. Or Rainsford, whatever this dude’s name is.”

  Like you could stop him if you tried, I thought.

  “Just go, yeah—wait for us there,” Kate said impatiently. She went to the O zone door and Connor took off in the other direction. Looking down at Marisa, I got the feeling she was waking up. Was this her new reality? Like a narcoleptic, would she simply go to sleep at the most inopportune times? I leaned down over her, pushing her dark hair back and feeling her skin. It was warm as I’d hoped, and her hand came up to mine. Her cheek was soft against my hand, her palm against my fingers like a butterfly perched and ready to fly.

  “You scared me,” I said.

  “You scared me, too. Let’s try not to do that to each other anymore, okay?”

  Her eyes opened and I saw that she was smiling. She reached up, took my shirt in her hand, and pulled me close.

  Let’s just say it was the best kiss of my life up to that point. Five seconds, ten? I couldn’t say, but somewhere in that general time frame my eyes came fully open. I’d remembered something important.

  “Shut the blue door,” I said, not nearly loud enough. Then I was up, moving as fast as my feet would carry me to the S4 monitor. “Ben! Lock the blue door!”

  I was yelling into the screen, hoping I hadn’t been too late, wondering if Ben Dugan was in the observation room waiting for me to give him instructions. There was a long, stress-inducing silence as I stared into an empty room but got no reply.

  “What’s going on?” asked Kate. She’d returned from her chore at the O zone door.

  “The other O zone entry, it doesn’t lock either,” I said as Marisa got up and came over, too. The three of us stared into the monitor. “I left the blue door open and put Ben in the observation room. If he doesn’t get that door shut, Rainsford could get out.”

  “Is the observation room locked?” asked Marisa. “If it’s not it should be.”

  “Ben!” I yelled. “Come out, let me know you’re okay.”

  I had a chilling sense that Rainsford was about to pop his orange-covered head into the monitor and hold up Ben’s dead body. I’d tried to kill Rainsford. He would be furious.

  “Hang on, I’m coming. Give me a second.”

  “Hey, that’s him—that’s Ben. I know that voice,” said Marisa. “Ben!”

  “You need to lock the blue zone right now!” I yelled.

  Ben came into view, slowly and with some effort, and I saw that he wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped.

  “My back is seizing up on me—couldn’t get up off the floor.”

  “Oh, Ben—I’m sorry,” said Marisa. “Is the door locked? Close it so no one can get in.”

  “No, wait!” I countered. “There’s no key card. It’s fried, trust me. If you lock that door you won’t be able to get out, maybe ever. Just engage the blue lock, Ben. He can
’t be past there yet.”

  “Whoa.”

  “Wait, what? What’s going on?” I asked. Ben looked like he’d just seen a ghost but couldn’t get his legs to move and run away.

  “It’s Rainsford,” said Ben, mesmerized by something I couldn’t see but he could. “Dude, he just walked right into one of those holes with the electric water.”

  “This is bad,” said Kate.

  “Ben, hit the blue button! Do it now, before he gets to the door.”

  “You don’t understand,” Ben said, squinting his eyes and leaning closer to the wall of monitors. “He’s lying down in the water. He’s gone.”

  “Gone? What do you mean, gone?” Kate asked.

  “Okay, he’s moving fast, like really fast,” Ben said. “But he’s under the water. This is weird, you guys. The tunnel is filled with sparks. The guy is, I don’t know—I think he’s washing something off himself. How’s that even possible?”

  Rainsford was taking a bath in a high-voltage pool of age-old water, an act that would kill a mortal in no time flat. He was clearing his system of whatever gunk Marisa had pushed him into. All the procedures over all those years really had made him unkillable. He was Rainsford, the immortal. He couldn’t be stopped.

  “Which button do I push again?” Ben asked, glancing down at a console I’d become all too familiar with.

  “Blue, round, big.”

  “Um . . . yeah. I see it.”

  “Hit it!” I yelled. Marisa and Kate yelled, too, and Ben looked at the monitor with Rainsford on it and his eyes widened. He hit the button hard and fast, then stepped back from the control panel.

  There was a long silence, maybe five seconds straight, where no one spoke. I looked at Ben and raised my eyebrows.

  Did you get the door locked in time?

  He nodded, yes, and I felt a little better. At least Rainsford was contained for the moment. I was actually feeling pretty good, like it was all a big game and we’d surged into a position where we might actually win.

  And then the truth struck me. What was I, a total moron?

  Rainsford had a blue key card.

  He could open the door anytime he wanted to.

  “Ben, what’s he doing now?” I asked as calmly as I could.

  “He’s still in the water, but he’s sitting up now. The dude is like Frankenstein.”

  “Which pool is he in? The one close to the monitor or the one down at the end, by the blue door?”

  “The one by the monitor. He seems to be taking his time.”

  “Good, hang on—and don’t shut that green door. Also, get down and stay quiet. If Goring shows up, she can’t know you’re in there. Only talk to me, got it?”

  “Got it, and I’m more than happy to lie down. I don’t feel so good.”

  Ben slid slowly out of view, and I knew I had very little time. I had to take complete command of the situation, and fast. It was risky what I was doing. I was taking Ben’s life in my own hands. I was the only one who knew Rainsford had a blue key card. Only I knew that Rainsford could get to Ben Dugan. The question was whether or not I could make it to the blue door first.

  “Marisa, you and Kate stay with Connor,” I said, backpedaling toward the O zone door as Kate followed me. “Wait for Avery and Alex to come out. And find a weapon if you can—anything—I don’t know if Avery can be trusted.”

  Marisa nodded, asked me where I was going.

  “Just trust me, okay? Can you do that?”

  Marisa nodded again. I’d won back her confidence and I aimed to do everything I could to keep it that way. Seconds later I arrived at the O zone door with Kate. She’d figured out the perfect way to slide the bar through the opening on the handle and jam the edge into the corner by the door.

  “I need to take that bar with me,” I said. “He’s not going to come this way. It’s too far, and he knows he’d drag all that radioactive garbage along with him. He’s clearing his system so he can be with Avery, right? He’s only going to go the other way.”

  Kate wanted to protest, I could see it in her eyes. But she’d heard everything, knew what was going on in the blue zone. She knew Rainsford was making a break in the other direction.

  “He can get out, can’t he?” she asked, searching my eyes for the truth.

  I popped the bar out of its position and slid it free of the O zone door.

  “I hope not” was the best I could do.

  I instructed Kate to stay at the monitor so I could communicate if I made it back to the observation room and I told her where Marisa and Connor were stationed. Then I raced through the tunnel until I reached the opening that led to the X door. Connor and Marisa stood there, shadowy in the soft light.

  “Stay here,” I instructed. “Kate’s at the monitor—she’ll alert you when I call. If anything interesting happens, go tell her. I should be online in ten minutes, hopefully less.”

  “Be careful,” Marisa said.

  “I’ll take care of the girls, no worries,” Connor added. I wanted to mention that he hadn’t been very useful so far, but I let it pass and hoped he could at least help guide everyone out of the red zone when the time came.

  And then I was off, making my way as fast as I could past holes in the floor, each time trying to imagine what Rainsford was doing. How long did it take to wash radioactive sludge off your skin when you were using high-voltage liquid? I doubted even Rainsford knew, though probably he could feel how long it would take. I rounded the first of two corners in the red zone and remembered something very important.

  “Kate!” I screamed, my voice bouncing wildly through the tunnel system. She was a long way off, far enough that I couldn’t see her in the gloom, but she answered. My hearing was a problem, as always, and whatever she said came through like the sound of a hamster squeaking into a tin can. At least she’d caught my voice.

  “Tell Ben to open the red zone door!” I screamed. It wouldn’t do me much good to arrive at the door and find it locked tight. I yelled once more for good measure as loud as my voice would go, “Open the red door!”

  Did she hear me and understand? Would Ben be able to get up off the floor in the observation room and do what she asked? Had Mrs. Goring appeared in the room, looking for me? All questions I asked myself as I kept on, arriving at the two remaining holes in the floor. They were both long but narrow, easy to get around but menacing to look at. They were filled with shards of tile and thick, exposed tubes of wire that snaked over and under the water’s surface. The tubes looked like serpents that might reach out and wrap themselves around my legs at any moment, sucking me under as Rainsford had gone under. Only I’d die and he wouldn’t. The unfairness of it all seized in my mind, a fuel of anger and fear and regret for allowing myself to be tricked again.

  Fool me once, right bro?

  Yeah, I know the saying, Keith. I don’t need to hear it.

  It’s a good one, though, right? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  Shut up, Keith. You’re bugging me.

  You always had a way of getting us out of a jam though, right? It was your specialty.

  It was rare for Keith’s voice to rear up in my mind in the past tense, so it caught me off guard.

  You always had a way of getting us out of a jam though, right? It was your specialty.

  Past tense had a different kind of power. I had to face the fact of losing him all over again, the knowing he was gone.

  As I came to the red zone door I pushed my little brother’s voice deep down inside. I couldn’t tell if the door was open or shut, and part of me didn’t know which result I hoped to find. Past the door was now Rainsford’s realm. I’d hit him in the side of the head with the metal pipe I was carrying. He’d want revenge. If he’d cleared the blue zone I was history, me and Ben both.

  How long had it been since I’d last seen Rainsford taking a high-voltage dip? Ten minutes? Longer? Time was warped in my head in a way that made it feel more like ten hours had already gone by and
I was about to open a door and find a monster standing behind it.

  I touched the red zone door, slick and metallic, and pushed. It was heavy like the others and moved slowly. On the other side it was very dark, only a single soft bulb to light thirty or more feet of tunnel.

  A figure stood in the distance, bathed in blue light from a monitor on the wall. He’d come for me, probably already stopped over in the observation room and killed Ben Dugan. And the red door was open, too. He could have his pick of victims: Connor, Alex, Kate, Marisa. They wouldn’t have a chance.

  “That you, Will?”

  It was not the voice I’d expected.

  “Ben?”

  “Yeah, it’s me. I got scared in there. And it feels better if I move around some, doesn’t seize up on me.”

  I ran through the door toward Ben’s silhouette.

  “Whoa, what’s the rush? Take it easy, he’s behind the blue door, remember?”

  “Start running! Get through the red door!” I yelled. Ben needed to be safe and away from the observation room. I didn’t even stop at the turn where Ben stood, I just blew past him and kept on going, yelling for him to get back in the red zone as fast as he possibly could.

  “Why would I want to do that? It’s cold in there, plus—”

  “Go, Ben! Just go right now! It’s not safe here! And shut the door behind you!”

  I was screaming the words over my head as I passed under the hole with the ladder that led up to the surface. I wondered if Amy would unlock the latch and let us all out. There was still a chance I could find a way to escape, to free everyone.

  I rounded the last corner, sliding and falling on the slick tile floor. When my shoulder hit, the tiles broke through, revealing a river of water below through two feet of empty space. I scrambled to my feet, barely avoiding disaster, and came to the blue door. It was closed, thank God, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long. The card reader on my side of the door had a soft blue light about the size of a pencil eraser. It was flashing and beeping. There was a loud click and the light went solid again.

 
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