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Eve of destruction, p.14
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       Eve of Destruction, p.14

           Patrick Carman
 
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  The door had been unlocked from the other side.

  I grabbed the handle and set my foot against the jamb of the door, fumbling with the pipe in my other hand. It was like a baton, slick and moving between my fingers.

  “That you, Will Besting?” came a voice through the small crack that exposed the other side.

  It was him. Rainsford. His voice was ominously calm.

  “You know I’m stronger. You better just start running.”

  I held the door with one hand, but I was losing my grip as the gap grew larger.

  “I’ve got all the time in the world.”

  I hated his voice, hated it so much I wanted to open the door and hit him in the face with the pipe. But I knew better. I had a burst of new energy, an adrenaline-filled rush of power. The door pulled shut in my hand and I slid the pipe into place, jamming it with a forceful thrust that left me breathless and shaking.

  Rainsford was contained, at least for the moment.

  I yelled and jumped up and down like a little kid.

  “You okay, Will?”

  It was Ben behind me, who was turning out to be a guy who was terrible at following instructions.

  “Yeah, Ben. I’m okay.”

  “I really didn’t want to go back in there. Can I just stay with you instead?”

  I smiled, even laughed, and put my arm around his shoulder. The blue light blinked on and off again and the beeping sound returned.

  “I have a better idea,” I said, guiding Ben to the bar jammed in the door. “Hold this bar right where it is, don’t let it slip.”

  Ben took hold of the bar just as Rainsford tried to pull the door open. It held nicely, but I could see how the bar might come loose and fall to the floor if Rainsford tried ten or twenty times.

  “Sure, Will. I can do this,” said Ben. “And Will?”

  “Yeah?”

  “Get us the hell out of here, will you?”

  “Working on that,” I said, and then I was running again, hoping to make it back to the observation room before I’d been missed.

  The first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. I took a few seconds to just drink it in—the calm of the room with all the monitors off except the one at the main entrance. That one delivered a cold, silent view of nothing moving. I took a deep breath and held my hand over the S4 feed.

  Time to check in with Kate.

  When the feed appeared she was standing there, looking bored and beautiful. She was in profile, staring at the floor, but she knew I’d returned.

  “How’d it go? Save the world again?”

  “Maybe not the whole world, but it went as planned. We’re still in the game.”

  “Glad to hear it. Connor called over a few minutes ago. Still nothing from behind the door. Maybe Alex and Avery are making out.”

  “Somehow I doubt that. Hold tight, okay? I’ll leave your monitor on in case something comes up.”

  “Roger that,” Kate said. She was starting to sound like Connor as she rubbed her temples. Kate was tough as nails. I could see why people would follow her around, and for a brief moment I wondered what would become of her.

  Kate Hollander, CEO of a large corporation. Yeah, that fit. And a marathon runner.

  Maybe I was thinking about things that really didn’t matter because I was apprehensive about what I’d see when I clicked the S5 feed on. It was the one feed that had returned nothing but a wall of darkness since I’d arrived in the observation room. I knew what was hidden in the dark, I just didn’t know if I wanted to see it.

  I engaged the S5 monitor and found that all the doors in the room had been opened up. Two people were in there, scanning shelves, looking for something.

  “Hi, Alex. Hi, Avery,” I said as softly as my voice would allow. I didn’t want to scare them into dropping something important.

  Alex turned around, but Avery did not. Her hair and clothes were wet and it looked like she was shaking.

  “Will? Hey, Will!” said Alex, moving closer to the screen. His clothes were wet, too, but his short-cropped hair had dried.

  “How many vials?” I asked, getting right down to business. Avery still wouldn’t turn around. As Alex looked at the wall of open doors, I shuddered at the thought of what I saw. So many vials, all lined up in rows. It couldn’t be.

  “I don’t know, man. I think about a thousand. It’s a lot.”

  1,000 vials divided by 6 equals . . .

  Alex could tell I was calculating the enormity of it.

  “I know, crazy right? I did the math. If it’s seventy years for every six vials, he’s about twelve thousand years old.”

  “But that’s impossible. I mean totally impossible.”

  Avery spoke without turning around, and what she said chilled me to the bone.

  “They’re not all his.”

  Avery turned around then, her ghostly face even more troubling with the strings of wet hair hanging in clumps over her eyes.

  “There are others like him, there have to be.”

  It was as if she’d been thinking about this idea a long time, running her fingers along the vials and wondering, calculating. Could there be more than one Rainsford out there? It felt impossible. It was also an idea that had the power of distraction, which was something we no longer had the luxury of enjoying. It was Kate who reminded us all, as her voice boomed into the observation room from where she stood at S4.

  “Focus, you guys, focus! Or let me in there and I’ll get the job done. Who cares if there are more Rainsfords running around? All we care about right now is this one. Seven vials, that’s it. Get them and get out.”

  I was reminded once more as Avery touched the pocket of her soaked jeans that it was she who carried the seventh vial.

  “Took a while, but we finally figured out they were lined up in order. Ours were the last ones in,” Alex said. “We found ’em, only there’s a problem.”

  “Let me guess,” I asked. “You only found six.”

  Alex looked at me like I could read minds and nodded.

  “Goring said she had to keep hers, remember?” Kate yelled. She trained her eyes on the one person that mattered. “Avery?”

  Avery wouldn’t answer as Marisa arrived next to Kate. She’d heard Kate yelling and wondered what was going on.

  Avery Varone wouldn’t speak. She went back to the wall of a thousand vials and I wondered what she was thinking.

  “Avery, listen to me.” It was Marisa, with her soothing, sleepy voice. “I know how much you love him.”

  “No, you don’t,” Avery said without turning around. “You don’t know anything.”

  “But I do. And I know how much it hurts when they lie. I know how hard it is to trust them again.”

  It stung to hear Marisa’s words, but there was nothing I could do. My betrayal was being played out in front of everyone whether I liked it or not.

  “He loves me,” Avery said, and I could tell she was crying. “Only me. No one else.”

  “You might be right, but either way, he’s keeping things from you. Big things. I know how that feels, too.”

  “And he’s sorry,” I added, partly for Marisa, but more for Avery so she’d understand. “Listen, Avery. Please. This is about us getting cured. You can make that happen. If he really loves you, he’d want that for you. He’d want you to help us, wouldn’t he?”

  Avery didn’t answer as Alex held up six glass vials—three in each hand—and mouthed the words, What do I do?

  I could tell him to tackle Avery and take the seventh vial. She was crafty though. She might figure out a way to make sure at least one of them broke or got spilled.

  “I think you’re right,” Marisa said. “I think he does love you. Only you. And I don’t think that’s going to change if you help us.”

  I glanced at Kate’s monitor and saw that she was staring at the floor, wincing in pain. The stress was finally getting to her. Those headaches were getting worse. Marisa looked utterly exhausted. I was having trouble hearing ever
yone. Even Connor, with his rock solid persona, wobbled back and forth in a distant blur on the monitor, one of his spells coming on unexpectedly. All of us were—in one way or another—in need of a cure. And if Mrs. Goring was telling us the truth, Avery had what we needed.

  “Why are you guys soaking wet?” I asked. There had been a brief lull in the proceedings and it was a question I’d wanted to ask.

  “Wet?” asked Marisa, because she couldn’t see them from the angle of her monitor.

  “Yeah, so once you get past the X door there are some steps getting in here,” said Alex. He was happy to have something to do besides stand there and look stupid. “First there’s this tube and a ladder that goes down, a lot like how we got underground to begin with, then it’s like a beach with water coming up to the edge. The room we’re in is on the other side of an underground lake. And let me just say it is some frickin’ cold water. I don’t recommend getting in if you don’t have to.”

  It wasn’t really a lake, I knew. It was a missile silo, filled with groundwater. That was the round part I’d guessed about on the map. And behind that, the room with the vials.

  Avery came toward the camera, and to my surprise she pushed Alex out of the way and put her face right up in the lens. Up close she looked more innocent, and I was angry at Rainsford all over again for what he’d done to us, to her.

  “Marisa?” she called. “Are you there?”

  The two of them had talked many times during our first visit to Fort Eden. They shared things we couldn’t have known about. They had been like two peas in a pod.

  “I’m here, Avery,” Marisa called from the passageway. She, too, came up close into her screen.

  “Get out of the way, Will,” Avery said, and I realized I was standing between them, blocking their views of each other. When I was out of the way they stared at each other for a moment. It was the first time Marisa had seen her, and I could see how badly she felt for Avery, how surprised she was at the hollowed-out girl on the monitor across the room I stood in.

  “Will you come in here?” asked Avery. She glanced at the floor and back up again. “I can’t do this alone.”

  There was no hesitation in Marisa’s answer.

  “I’m going to the door, how do I open it?”

  “Give me five.”

  Avery crossed to Alex and talked with him, saying things I couldn’t hear. He looked in my direction as if searching for an answer, but Avery commanded his attention once more and he stared directly into her eyes.

  “What are you guys talking about?” I asked. “What’s going on?”

  Neither of them would say as I watched Alex hand all six of the vials to Avery and walk off camera.

  “Whoa, wait a second—what’s going on?” I asked. “Alex? Alex!”

  I heard the sound of moving water and knew that he’d gotten back into the underground lake of the silo. Avery wouldn’t look at me.

  What are you up to, Avery Varone? I thought. I still didn’t trust her and now she had all seven vials. If she’d wanted to, she could destroy them right there in the room. She was alone. She could throw them against the wall, smash them to bits.

  I felt helpless and alone. My team was spread out all over the place, my girlfriend was on her way into the deepest, darkest part of the facility, and the most un- stable among us was holding all the vials. I almost wished Mrs. Goring would return and started to wonder why she hadn’t. She’d been gone longer than usual—forty minutes, an hour? Her absence made me nervous the more I thought about it.

  Nothing was happening that I could see, which felt like a lull before a storm. A bad omen. I thought about visiting Ben, just to make sure everything was okay at the door, but decided against it when Connor came running up to the S4 monitor.

  “Did you approve this thing with Marisa? Why don’t I go instead?”

  “Avery wants to see her,” I said. “I think it’ll be okay.”

  Secretly I worried that Connor might get in that freezing cold water and seize up on us. He’d drag Marisa under with him and they’d both be dead. I knew Marisa could make it because I’d seen her swim back home. She was solid, she could do it.

  “Just wait for them to come back. We’re almost out of this thing.”

  “You mean she’s letting us out? No way! Why didn’t you say that?”

  I couldn’t bear to tell him the truth, but Kate made sure he knew without me having to say anything.

  “No such luck. His master plan doesn’t include us getting out of here. At least not yet.”

  Connor scowled at me, like I’d lied to him or told a half-truth, and then walked away. When he vanished into the hallway leading to the X door, I started watching the S5 monitor again. Avery was somewhere off camera, probably at the water’s edge waiting for Marisa to show up, and I stared at the rows of vials. Could there really be a thousand vials of fear blood? It sure looked like that many.

  “Where’s Ben?” Kate asked.

  “He’s holding the bar in the door so Rainsford can’t get out.”

  Kate just nodded. It looked like it was taking some effort to speak at all.

  “Bad?”

  “Yeah, not great. It must be getting dark outside. That’s when it’s the worst, right before dark.”

  “I wonder why.”

  “Couldn’t tell you. Maybe pain and darkness like each other.”

  I had been right about the bad omen, the calm before the storm, because right when Kate said those words, everything started to fall apart.

  It started with Amy, who unexpectedly returned to the main monitor. Her cheeks were flushed, as if she’d been running or gotten embarrassed.

  “Will, she knows! You have to get out now! She knows everything!”

  “Slow down, Amy—what happened?”

  “There’s no time, Will! She knows and she’s going.”

  “Going where?”

  “I did what you asked. I unlatched the way down. I even opened the door and left it that way. But she knows, Will. She’s leaving right now. And she’s mad. Like, really mad. At you.”

  “Can you stop her? Slow her down? Anything?”

  “I can’t even get out of here! I’m locked in the basement. You have to get out now, Will. Get everybody out. You have to save me.”

  Amy started crying. She was really scared, like a beast was lurking outside the bomb shelter door, trying to get in.

  “Hold tight, I’ll get there as fast as I can. I promise!”

  There was a voice from the basement—was it Mrs. Goring? I thought it was, but I couldn’t say for sure with my rotten hearing. Had to be, because Amy gave me a look before she killed the signal that said something important:

  She’s not gone after all. I’ll keep her here as long as I can. Go! Go! Go!

  This was at least a glimmer of hope. Thank you, Amy! was my first thought as I focused my energy on the S5 monitor. Looming up in the back of my mind was time. It was always about time, it seemed, not enough or way too much in the case of Rainsford. It was about a six- or seven-minute walk to the pond, but Mrs. Goring was in the basement and she had to make sure everything was locked down tight so no one got out. That could take, what, five minutes extra? I had a max of twelve minutes to get everyone out, which meant Avery and Marisa had to be on the other side of the underground lake within five at the most.

  “Marisa! Answer me, it’s important!” I yelled. Kate stirred from where she leaned hard against a wall.

  “What’s wrong?” she asked.

  “Hang on—Avery? Marisa! You need to leave, now. The doorway out is open but not for long. We don’t have much time!”

  “Coming!” yelled Kate. She was getting out of the missile silo whether anyone else made it or not. “I’ll grab Alex and we’ll meet you at the exit. And Marisa and Avery? If you can hear me, and I know you can, get your asses in gear! It’s time to move or get left behind! And don’t show up without the vials. I mean it!”

  I appreciated the extra boost of enthusiasm
from Kate as Marisa’s flustered face appeared in the monitor.

  “We’re coming! We talked it through, and we’re coming!”

  “Do you have the vials?” I asked. I had no illusions about Mrs. Goring helping us, but if we could just get out and escape into the woods before she found us, it wouldn’t matter. We could take the vials home and do the work ourselves.

  “Swim fast! Run faster!” I yelled. “There’s seriously like no time. You gotta move.”

  Marisa didn’t even take the time to answer me, she was just gone. And then Avery appeared in the screen. She had a wisp of a smile on her face, which I hadn’t seen all day. She seemed almost happy.

  “We’ll make it. Don’t go leaving without us.”

  I told her I wouldn’t think of it, and then I double-checked to make sure the red zone door was open. I was about to leave the observation room when a thought raced to the front of my mind.

  What about the seven candidates in Fort Eden? Are we just going to leave them behind? What about Amy?

  I wasn’t responsible for all of them, but I did feel responsible for Amy. She had talked about going first, which could mean really, really soon. If Mrs. Goring got Amy drugged or under some kind of deep hypnosis or whatever, I’d never forgive myself. And the other six candidates were trapped, too. How fast could I get the cops up here? It would take a few hours, at best. It wouldn’t be fast enough.

  I saw two dripping-wet figures come into the tunnel on the S4 monitor—Marisa and Avery were out—and they were running. That was my cue to get to the exit.

  “Will, over here!” yelled Connor. He and Kate and Alex were running up the red zone tunnel. One of them had a flashlight, and it sent a dancing beam of light in my direction.

  “I’ll get Ben,” I said, and ran for the blue zone, where I found Ben sitting on the ground, holding his back with one hand and the metal pipe with the other.

 
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