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Eve of destruction, p.5
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       Eve of Destruction, p.5

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “You didn’t find anything, Will Besting.”

  “Shut up, Goring!” I yelled. “Just leave me alone.”

  I heard someone coming toward me in the dark, maybe several people, yelling about who I was talking to.

  “I will not leave you alone, Will. I can’t. You’re the way in. It’s you and me now, to the end.”

  “What are you even talking about?” I pleaded.

  “Get in this room right now.”

  “I won’t!”

  “You will. Or your friends will die.”

  “What? Wait—what are you saying?”

  “Get in this room, Will Besting. Get in and shut the door. Their lives depend on it.”

  “Mrs. Goring, please. Don’t do anything stupid.”

  “This is your last chance. If you want to get your friends outside again, including Marisa, you better get inside and close the door right now. I won’t ask you again.”

  My head was spinning with information, most of which I didn’t understand and for sure didn’t want access to. Why me? Why is it always me?

  It was Marisa, I could hear her now as she came closer.

  “Marisa, can you hear me?” I said, standing in the doorway.

  “Yeah, I can hear you. I think we’re almost there. Wait for me—don’t move.”

  There was a sweetness in her voice, like she was afraid for me, like she’d missed me. But more than that, like she herself was trying desperately to reach me because she didn’t want to be down here without me.

  “Time’s up, Will.”

  Mrs. Goring’s voice had changed to a gruff whisper only I could hear. All I could think of were the words she’d said and the wild look in her eye when she got really angry.

  Get in this room, Will Besting. Get in and shut the door. Their lives depend on it.

  I stepped all the way inside and took the door by the edge, feeling its steel smoothness on my palm.

  “I love you, Marisa. Don’t forget, okay?”

  There was some laughter—Ben or Alex or both—and then silence as I swung the door shut hard and fast.

  The last thing I heard before the door closed all the way was Marisa’s voice.

  “I won’t forget.”

  And then she was gone and I was alone with Mrs. Goring.

  The room filled with light when the door sealed shut and I had to shield my eyes for a second or two. I heard the iron bolt lock into place from somewhere deep inside the wall, followed by the sound of someone pounding on the door from the outside. It was a distant sound, and their voices were even farther out of my range of comprehension. The world had gone audibly soft and unfocused outside the room, and I turned to see what kind of prison I’d found.

  “If you can’t hear me as well as you’d like, use the big round dial. The one that looks like it belongs in a science-fiction movie.”

  Mrs. Goring’s voice was back.

  “Give them a little time, they’ll start moving around. Like mice trapped in a maze.”

  She wasn’t talking to me, or at least it didn’t seem like she was, not just then.

  “You can see them?”

  “Sure I can. So can you.”

  The room had six monitors inside: four on the wall directly in front of me, plus one on each of the side walls. Below the monitors there were control panels from what did look like a 1950s science-fiction movie. And there was the dial, below the center monitor on the far wall, just like she’d said. The monitor above the dial crackled to life and there was the bottom of the ladder, where we’d come in.

  “This is starting to feel familiar,” I said, walking to the dial and turning up the volume on Mrs. Goring.

  “Too loud,” she boomed into the room, and then with an audible click the screen changed and there she was, staring at me. The entryway on the screen was gone, replaced by wicked old Eve Goring. She controlled the monitors from the outside, or at least some of them.

  I cranked down the volume to a reasonable level, then spoke:

  “If you hurt Marisa—if you hurt any of them—”

  “You’re hardly in a position to threaten me. Better you listen and do as you’re told.”

  I screamed in frustration and pounded my fists on the metal door, then kicked it way too hard and screamed again from the pain. I sat on the concrete floor and felt like sobbing with anger. Sobbing from being controlled, for being dumb enough to fall into a trap, for fear I’d lost Marisa for good.

  “Stand up, you coward,” Mrs. Goring said. “You’ve got work to do.”

  I looked around the room once more and saw the dark, frosted glass above Mrs. Goring’s face in the monitor, where a camera had to be positioned so she could watch me. I made a mental note to find something heavy so I could bash the glass in if the need arose.

  You wanna play games? I’m good at games, I thought.

  I don’t know, bro. This ain’t air hockey. She’s a crafty old warhorse.

  Thanks for the vote of confidence, Keith.

  “Here’s what you need to know,” said Mrs. Goring. “It’s dangerous down there.”

  “Ya think?” I mocked. From what little I’d seen of the surroundings, there were a thousand different ways someone could get hurt. “What is this place?”

  “It was a missile silo, a long time ago.”

  “Liar.”

  “Oh no, I’m definitely not lying. You’d be surprised how many abandoned underground facilities like this there are. We were a jumpy bunch, back in the day.”

  “And I’m in the observation room?”

  I had managed to find the place where my key card would be inserted; unfortunately, the mechanism for accepting the card had been destroyed.

  “I hit it with a hammer. You can’t get out, Will. Not unless I let you out. And that’s not happening until you get what I sent you down there for.”

  “The vials.”

  “Yes, the vials. And like I said, it’s dangerous. There will be obstacles.”

  “Like what? Rats?”

  “Worse,” she said, turning my sarcasm into something I was actually worried about. I watched the monitor as Mrs. Goring disappeared and the screen returned to a view of the entryway. They’d returned there, and I tried to pick out Marisa in the group, but the camera was far away, so they were just bodies milling back and forth.

  “There are still some, shall we say, hot locations down there.”

  “What do you mean, hot?”

  “Nuclear. It’s why they put these things underground, Will. Also why I don’t swim in the pond.”

  “Are we being nuked down here, Mrs. Goring?” I couldn’t think of any other way to ask a serious question.

  “Only if you enter the wrong rooms or open the wrong doors. Watch the dials—they’ll tell you if someone has gone someplace they shouldn’t.”

  I walked up to the control panel and found a series of round dials like speedometers on a car dash with words under them.

  GREEN ZONE LEVELS

  RED ZONE LEVELS

  BLUE ZONE LEVELS

  O ZONE LEVELS

  The needles were all hovering softly around the number 2 out of a total of 10. At 6 the numbers turned red.

  “There are also some electrical problems,” Mrs. Goring said. “Look to the left of the door, there’s a schematic.”

  I turned and saw a tattered piece of paper about a yard wide with zones and rooms and passageways. There were hazard lines all over it.

  “The lines indicate places where the floor has caved. There’s a lot of electricity pumping through the water in those holes. Keep your friends clear.”

  When I turned back in the direction of the monitors, Mrs. Goring’s face had returned. She’d moved from being only heard to being seen again, which had an unexpectedly calming effect on my nerves. Seeing her made me feel closer to the surface, closer to getting out alive.

  “Look familiar?” she asked.

  Part of me wanted to put my fist through the glass surface of the screen. She was
staring at me like she held all the cards and knew it. And she was referring to the room she was in, which did look familiar. She was standing in the bomb shelter. Obviously she had more control over those monitors than I’d had a year before. My guess? There was a hidden panel of buttons I hadn’t been aware of, controls she would now use to communicate with me at the times of her choosing.

  “So you don’t see a problem with one or more of the six people you sent down here falling in a hole and getting fried?”

  “Not really, no.”

  “Is there a chance someone might find a drum of atomic sludge?”

  “Only if they open the wrong doors, and you control the doors.”

  That was interesting. Apparently I controlled the locks on the doors, which meant I could also limit where everyone could go.

  “Any bombs down here?” I asked, moving in closer to the monitor, trying my best to remain calm while I searched the space around her head for anything that might help me get out of an abandoned missile silo.

  “They’ve all been dismantled, but some of the parts are still down there. Someone much smarter than you might even be able to piece something together if they had the right tools.”

  Yeah, I thought. And shove it down your throat.

  “And you think I’m just going to agree to help you find these vials?”

  “It’s your call, Will.”

  “And it’s your war with this guy, not ours.”

  “I’ll find someone else to do it if you won’t. But your friends won’t last long without your help. There are a lot of wrong turns down there. I know the right turns; the ones that will keep them alive.”

  I yelled at her and fell heavily against the door with my back, sliding down to the floor, where I sat staring at the concrete.

  “Calm down, Will. They’re not going anywhere until you unlock the doors.”

  “Why are you making us do this?” I pleaded.

  “I already told you. So I can kill Rainsford.”

  “But you don’t even know where he went! This is insane.”

  “I have little doubt that he’ll be back. It’s only a matter of time.”

  I stood up, reached into my pocket, and felt the thing that I had found in the woods.

  He’s already back, you fool.

  He’s back and he’s going to kill you first.

  I didn’t know for sure he’d returned, but it was a possibility. One thing was for sure: Mrs. Eve Goring wasn’t alone at Fort Eden.

  She looked at her watch and then back at me, an icy resolve in her voice.

  “You don’t have a lot of time. Hours, not days, Will.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “There’s no water down there you’d want anyone to drink. And there is some radiation, trace amounts, but enough to cause some problems if you stay too long.”

  “I’m not telling them that.”

  “I figured as much. You do like your secrets, Will.”

  Maybe she was right. Maybe I did like holding my cards close to my chest, but what good would it do them to know they were gulping down mouthfuls of deadly air with every breath? It would be panic. Better they didn’t know.

  “How long do I have to finish this errand for you?” I asked.

  Mrs. Goring glanced at her watch again, and when I expected an answer, she turned to the left as if surprised by something. I thought I heard a knock, but I couldn’t be sure where it came from. Was it from outside the observation room door or from the bomb shelter?

  “I have to go,” she said nervously. “Open the blue door first and send two of them through. Only two, no more. Once they’re on the other side, lock them out. Don’t send anyone else yet. The controls are self-explanatory. Do as you’re told and this will all be over before you know it. I’ll check back in half an hour.”

  “Wait—I’m not locking anyone—”

  The screen went dead before I could finish what I was going to say, and I listened as the muffled pounding outside the door continued.

  Mrs. Goring was gone.

  * * *

  6 Alex was the third guy to get cured at Ford Eden. He was afraid of dogs because of an incident when he was a kid. If you want to see his cure, I posted it. After the cure his legs kept going to sleep on him, you know, like when you wake up and you can’t feel your big toe and when it comes back it’s needles and pins? Like that. It’s like he’s sixteen, but his circulation is seventy years old. Check it: www.willbesting.com, password throwmeabone.

  7 I spent a lot of time in Mrs. Goring’s bomb shelter. If you want to see what it looks like, I have pictures: www.willbesting.com. Password: bombshelter.

  3:30 PM–4:00 PM

  I didn’t really have a choice, at least that’s what I told myself. She’d leave us all to die if I didn’t get what she wanted. But I also didn’t think it was going to be useful to freak everyone out by getting into the actual gravity of the situation. If I managed to get everyone out alive, I could tell them later, when less was at stake, and they’d forgive me. At least I hoped they would.

  The control panel for the room was like a giant surveillance system switchboard. If it hadn’t been for the hazardous situation I was in, I think I could have spent all day checking that thing out. It was retro-cool, covered in mechanical doodads that hadn’t been touched in ages. There were clunky, round knobs begging to be pushed, and levers that looked like gearshifts for tiny race cars sticking out all over the place. Dials, meters, buttons, and red glass covering bulbs designed to light up and warn someone if the world was coming to an end. The door features were marked with helpful notations:

  OPEN BLUE ZONE DOOR

  BLUE LOCKDOWN

  O ZONE LOCKDOWN

  OPEN RED ZONE DOOR

  RED LOCKDOWN

  It was obvious that some of the controls opened doors while others automatically shut and locked them without anyone having to do anything on the outside. The reason for this kind of mechanism, I figured, was to act as a failsafe if an accident occurred and something nuclear needed to be contained, lest the whole place end up crawling with atomic energy. There were switches for the six monitors on the walls. Each had a number, and lining them up with the printed map against the wall by the door, I figured out what they were. These were communication devices, ways for not just me to talk to them but them to me. I switched them all on and found myself looking at empty corridors, wide open rooms, the entryway.

  “Hey, you guys, over here!” I yelled, trying to lure them to a communication station where they could hear me. But they just stood in the entryway, looking confused and scared. I started clicking random switches on the console, yelling into the monitors.

  “This way! Follow my voice! Hey! Hey!”

  I could see them all standing around the exit, looking perplexed and saying things I couldn’t hear, and then Connor seemed to understand as he pointed toward the red zone and ran off camera. Everyone followed but Ben Dugan. He watched them leave, then looked up the tube leading to the top of the way out.

  “Don’t do it, Ben,” I said, but he couldn’t hear me from where he stood. There was no audio, only visual at the entrance. “Don’t be an idiot.”

  Ben started climbing up the ladder and out of my line of sight just as one of the monitors filled with four angry faces staring back at me.

  “What the hell is going on, Will?” Kate asked.

  “This is good!” I said. “I can see you. I can hear you. Can you hear me?”

  “Where are you?” asked Marisa. She was curious and scared, her eyes focused on mine.

  “You can see me, that’s excellent,” I said. “I’ll be able to tell you where to go.”

  In hindsight, it was not the right thing to say at that particular moment.

  “You’re out of your mind if you think we’re taking orders from you,” said Alex. “Just answer the question—where are you?”

  I searched the different monitors for signs of activity and saw none. Ben was still missing.
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  “I’m locked in a room at the end of the green tunnel. I can’t get out and you can’t get in—it’s how she planned this. I had nothing to do with it.”

  “Oh really?” asked Kate, pushing Alex aside and filling the entire screen with her face. “It feels more and more like you two set this whole thing up. How’d you know to go down there?”

  “I didn’t—I mean, she gave me a green key card, but still—you guys left me . . .”

  “Yeah, right. Whatever you say, Will.”

  “Either way, we’re all stuck down here until we get the vials and bring them to Mrs. Goring. That’s the truth. I know as much as you do.”

  “Where are the vials?” Connor asked, leaning in close next to Kate, which made Kate move off as she rolled her eyes.

  “Everyone just listen carefully, don’t freak out—and first things first: if you see a hole in the floor anywhere do not—I repeat, do not get anywhere near those things.”

  “You’re scaring me, Will,” Marisa said. Everyone else started shouting about what a jerk I was and why didn’t I come out there so they could hold me down and take turns punching me.

  “I’m locked in, okay? I can’t get out or I would. And Goring’s not letting any of us out until we get what she sent us down here for.”

  “Why does this feel familiar?” asked Kate. “Us in the middle of a huge mess and you off somewhere hiding in a corner.”

  I didn’t have time to fight with Kate and figured my best play was to dive right into the instructions.

  “I have a map in here, it tells me where to go and how to get there. She’s giving me instructions as we go. I’ll relay them to you and before we know it we’ll be out.”

  “No way I’m trusting you or that lady,” said Alex. “No way.”

  He glanced around, searching for something, and mumbled to the others, “Where’s Ben?”

  “He’s trying to climb out,” I said. “I saw him go up, but he hasn’t come down yet. I have a feeling he’s not going to be very much use.”

  “Ya think?” asked Kate sarcastically. “He’s barely holding it together.”

  “Just listen to me!” I yelled. The only way they could hear me was if the S1 button on the console was switched to the ON position when I was talking. I knew this because the next thing I said was “Shut the hell up, Kate!” after I turned that button to OFF.

 
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