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Eve of destruction, p.6
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       Eve of Destruction, p.6

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “I can read lips, you know,” she said, and this, for some reason, made Connor laugh.

  I turned the audio back on.

  “While we’re on the subject of the area around the exit, I can’t hear you guys from that position—I can only hear you when you stand next to one of these stations.”

  “How many stations are there?” asked Marisa.

  “According to the map, there are five. Is there a metal box behind you, to the left?”

  I’d seen the box on the map marked emergency and wondered what was inside.

  “Yeah, yeah,” said Connor, vanishing from the screen. A few seconds later I could hear but not see him telling me what was inside. “Two flashlights, and they work! And a first aid kit, too bulky to carry around.”

  “Great, maybe take some basics out—Band-Aids or whatever—the flashlights are an awesome find.”

  Things were looking up.

  “Two of you need to go back to the entrance and follow the way toward the blue zone/O zone. That’s what Goring told me—just two people, the rest will probably be going in the red direction, I’m not sure. And before you ask, I don’t know why. On the blue side you’ll find a door, which I can open from in here. Once I’ve got two of you on the other side, I can guide you to another communication station.”

  “What’s on the other side of the door?” asked Connor. “What’s the map show?”

  “Hold on,” I said, because, really, I had very little idea myself. I’d only had a few seconds to look at the map and hadn’t really taken it all in. I backpedaled across the room while they took turns yelling instructions at me I didn’t listen to. The blue zone/O zone led through the door and down another round corridor.

  “I think maybe Alex and Connor would be best for this,” I said, hoping mostly to keep Marisa safe from two hazard areas that ran along the path behind the blue door. There were two pitted-out floors in that direction, two chances to fall in and die.

  “Must be bad,” Kate said fearlessly. “Or you’d send your girlfriend that way.”

  “I’m not his girlfriend,” said Marisa.

  “Oh, I think you are,” Kate said, grabbing Marisa by the arm and dragging her off screen.

  “Marisa!” I yelled, but Kate had either overpowered her or talked her into it, because Marisa didn’t return as Connor leaned his entire fat head into the screen.

  “You want me to chase after ’em or what?”

  A huge moment of indecision swept over me. Connor was the biggest and strongest of the group, so I wanted him with Marisa in case anything happened. But he was also vying for her attention, and being Connor, he presented a serious threat to my getting her back. And adding him would make three, which exceeded what Mrs. Goring had told me to do. It would be risky defying her orders.

  I watched as Kate passed in front of the camera at the entrance and Marisa willingly followed, the two of them quickly past my ability to see in a few short seconds. The blue door would stop them soon enough, so technically I had as long as I wanted to think.

  “Start by getting Ben Dugan out of that shaft before he falls and breaks his neck,” I told Connor. “Let me look at the map again.”

  “Roger that,” said Connor. He could be surprisingly agreeable when there was something important to do that required his attention. He and Alex took off down the hall and I used the few seconds I had to look more carefully at the red zone tunnel, which told me all I needed to know. That direction held even more hazards to fall into. I returned to the controls, trying to understand as fast as I could how everything worked. It wasn’t like the bomb shelter, where only one monitor could be on at a time, and with all of them on it was mostly disorienting, too much information coming at me all at once. I realized what it must feel like to be a night security guard watching a bunch of black-and-white monitors of what essentially amounted to nothing moving. The images were all grainy, oversaturated color.8 All six monitors projected views of haunted, unmoving space. Long, round passageways of rusted-out metal and missing sections of floor, empty rooms strewn with garbage and manuals and old office furniture, a wall of closed doors, giant empty spaces with looming, curved silos. It was the view of a place forgotten, filled with a hundred ways to die, crumbling slowly and silently into oblivion.

  I forced myself to look away from the monitors and focus my attention on the map one more time. I took a deep breath, really drinking in the whole of the underground facility.

  Marisa and Kate would be standing at the blue door, waiting for me to open it. Connor and Alex and Ben, they’d be leaving the main entrance and going back to the communicator near the red zone door.

  While I was lost in the details of the map, a familiar voice filled the observation room without warning.

  “Send the two girls together, they’ll be fine.”

  I felt a blinding urge to rip the door open, but of course I couldn’t, and turning around I saw that Mrs. Goring had returned.

  “I’d appreciate it if you could stop sneaking up on me like that. It’s freaking me out.”

  “You’ve been down there for almost forty-five minutes. Progress needs to speed up.”

  “I’m working on it,” I said, watching her but also watching the other monitors in case Connor and Alex returned. “Which way is safer, blue or red?”

  “Smart boy. You see by the map there are two ways around.”

  “Just answer the question, will you?” I asked, peering back at the map and running a finger along the red path.

  “Red is safest,” she said.

  I’d come to see Mrs. Goring as a liar and a cheat. I didn’t trust her.

  “Why do I have to close the blue door once they’re on the other side?”

  She wouldn’t answer me and seemed, once again, distracted by something I couldn’t see.

  “Only one door can be open at a time,” she finally said, her attention returning. “That’s the trick. Otherwise you get a wind tunnel full of something you don’t want to be breathing in. It’s especially true once you open the O zone.”

  As best I could tell, the O zone was comprised of a gigantic room at the end of the blue tunnel.

  Still, blue was safest, not red. I felt it in my bones.

  “Once you get two of them on the other side of the blue door, get the rest through the red door. Same thing, close it when they’re through. I’ll be back with more instructions. Don’t fail me, Will. I’m watching.”

  She was gone in a flash, and the central monitor switched back to a view of the entrance, which seemed to be its resting position when Mrs. Goring wasn’t bothering me with instructions. There I saw Connor and Alex, yelling up into the tube, trying to coax Ben back down to earth.

  “There has to be a way to turn on some audio in there,” I complained.

  I flipped switches and turned dials but there was nothing, just silence from the place where we’d entered, but I did discover something important in all my tinkering. The switches for the cameras swiveled, which I hadn’t realized at first. Each switch had a round knob sitting on the end of a metal rod—the shape and size of half a straw with a marble for a head—and swiveling one to the side like a joystick, the camera whirled slowly into a different position. It was like moving the side mirrors on my mom’s car back home.

  From looking at the map I knew there was a communication station on the other side of the blue door, so if I opened it and Marisa came through with Kate, I could move the direction of the S2 camera and I’d see them both. It was all I could do not to press the large, round button that would send them through, because I knew what I’d have to do once they stepped away from the door.

  I’d have to engage the BLUE LOCKDOWN option and throw the door shut again, sealing them off on the other side.

  My hand hovered over the blue button, big and round, like something the president would push in order to launch a missile attack.

  You have to get her through, Will, I thought. She’s safest on the other side. Just put her through!
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  My hand hit the button hard and I felt it click under the weight of my palm.

  Had it worked? Was the door open? I didn’t know for sure until I saw them stepping cautiously through. I saw them on a monitor, slowly inching forward into a long, empty tunnel.

  “Can you guys hear me?” I yelled, watching them in the S2 communication feed.

  “Take it down a notch,” Kate yelled back. “No need to scream at us.”

  “Sorry—move away from the door, but not too far. Don’t get near the broken-out flooring.”

  “Why not?” asked Marisa. God, she sounded tired. I knew her well enough to know it was only a matter of time before she slumped down in one of the tubes and passed out for an hour.

  “Because there’s electricity in the water down there. It’s not safe.”

  “Very nice, Will!” yelled Kate, but she and Marisa had moved away from the door, peering down into the muck of the first broken-out section. Kate had one of the two flashlights Connor had found and she pointed it down the tunnel in my direction.

  “Don’t move, just stay right there,” I said. “And don’t be mad, okay?”

  “Too late,” said Kate. But I was talking about what I did next and how angry I expected them to be. I pushed the button marked BLUE LOCKDOWN and heard the door slam shut behind them. Both girls screamed, then they returned to the door and tried to pry it open as Kate cursed me in a long, flowering echo.

  I couldn’t look from the shame of what I’d done, and I found myself staring at the entryway, where Connor and Alex were looking up into the exit, still trying to coax Ben Dugan down. They were waving and yelling, until something shifted in their perspective that made them stop what they were doing and jump out of camera range. About two seconds later I saw what it was: a falling body, which landed in a heap on the tile floor.

  Ben Dugan, with his arthritic hands, had lost his grip. And by the looks of the situation, it had happened quite a way up the ladder. Both Connor and Alex were quickly at Ben’s side assessing the damage, but I only got a brief look at them before the screen fluttered crazily and the feed went dead. I looked at Kate and Marisa and saw that Marisa had slumped down on the concrete near the door, her head hanging as if she’d fallen asleep.

  “Looks like we’re taking a little breather,” Kate said, and she sat down, too.

  The video feed on the main screen started popping back to life, accompanied by the sandpaper sound of static, but nothing could have prepared me for what appeared on the monitor.

  It was the bomb shelter, where Mrs. Goring had been. That part hadn’t changed, but Mrs. Goring wasn’t sitting there anymore.

  The world underground was in chaos, but up above, in the gloom of Fort Eden, someone else was staring back at me.

  * * *

  8 I did some research on this, and it turns out color TVs started arriving in the U.S. in 1953, but the programming lagged behind. Most people didn’t have color sets until the late ’50s, so networks just kept putting black-and-white shows on. The missile silo was built in the early ’50s, or so Mrs. Goring said. The color monitors down there must have been some of the first of their kind.

  4:00 PM–5:00 PM

  “Who are you?”

  That was the first question she asked me, and I asked her the same thing right back. We had a silent standoff for all of five seconds, her staring at me and me back at her. Even in the fuzzy glow of a fifty-year-old monitor, this girl was cute. Blond hair pulled back with a royal blue bandanna that matched the color of her eyes; brilliant white skin, like porcelain, and a delicate nose.

  “I’m Amy. Are you one of us?” She was looking around a lot, like she was nervous someone might find her.

  “Umm . . . I don’t think so. I’m Will. Why are you at Fort Eden?”

  “You wouldn’t understand,” she said, and it seemed like she was about to leave, but then she took a deep breath, letting it out as she stared at the floor. When her face came back up, it was different. There was fear in her eyes.

  “I don’t trust her, something’s not right.”

  I tried to ask what she meant but she just kept going.

  “Where are you? Where am I?” she looked around the bomb shelter as if she had fallen down a rabbit hole into an alternate reality.

  Amy was confused, and I had a feeling I knew what she was doing at Fort Eden. I wanted to talk to her, but there was no time—any second now Connor and Alex would show up on a monitor or Kate would start yelling at me. Or worse, Mrs. Goring would come back to the bomb shelter and catch Amy standing there.

  “Did Dr. Stevens tell you to come here?” I cautiously asked.

  “Yes! You are one of us!” She wasn’t yelling, she was whispering excitedly, so I read her lips more than actually heard her words. Amy moved closer to the monitor, still warily turning back to the door of the bomb shelter again and again. “She’s your doctor too, right? Are you getting cured?”

  “. . . Not exactly,” I said, trying to buy some time. “I mean, maybe. I don’t know.”

  “It’s scary, right? I’m not sure I’m doing it. She’s not what I expected.”

  “Who?”

  “Mrs. Goring. She’s, I don’t know. I mean she’s the best, right? Some sort of miracle worker. I just don’t know.”

  “How did you get into her basement?”

  “Easy, I walked.”

  Her answers left a lot to be desired.

  “How many of you are there?”

  “You have a lot of questions, Will.”

  “Sorry, it’s just . . . listen to me. Don’t let her know you found this place. She won’t like that you’re talking to me.”

  “Why? Are you bad?” She laughed nervously, but then she asked me again: “Where are you?”

  Before I could answer she was off the screen, as if someone had called her away; then she was back, but only for a second.

  “I have to go, but I’ll come back. Don’t go anywhere. And Will?”

  “Yeah?”

  “There are seven of us.”

  She reached up and touched the royal blue bandanna holding her hair back, then her hand hovered near the screen as she shut it off, and the place where Ben had fallen was back. The camera held a steady, unmoving eye on the place where we’d entered the underground missile silo. It was the same as before, only it wasn’t.

  Ben was gone. So were Connor and Alex.

  I glanced at Marisa and Kate on S2, where they were still resting, then threw every monitor switch into the off position as fast as I could. I needed a second to think, to piece things together in my head without being distracted. I couldn’t control the central monitor—that was on but silent, pointing at the exit. But other than that, it was a moment of complete isolation from the rest of the world.

  I reached into my pocket and fished out the thing I had found in the woods and stared at it. It was soft, torn at the edges, not very big: a royal blue strip of bandanna, same as the one holding back Amy’s hair.

  They can’t be serious, I thought.

  The only explanation I could fathom was that Mrs. Goring had figured out how to use the fear chambers and the equipment in order to do for herself what Rainsford had done so many times before. She’d instructed Dr. Stevens to bring seven more subjects to Fort Eden. Amy was one of the seven, she would be the first to be cured. And over the next seven days, Eve Goring would use Amy and the other six to get what she wanted.

  She would use them to become young again.

  There were gaps in my understanding as I stood in the surveillance room staring at the floor. Big questions lurked in the dark corners of my mind as I prepared to turn the monitors back on again.

  How long before Amy and the other six would start getting cured? If it was like it had been for us, Mrs. Goring would start the cures as early as that night, six or seven hours later. That didn’t leave me much time to sort things out.

  Had Mrs. Goring really figured out how to use Rainsford’s twisted tools of immortality, or was
she simply going to experiment on these people and hope for the best? It was a tragic situation either way, because they’d all end up in the fear chambers regardless. Could I let that happen?

  And why, really, were we being held captive in an abandoned underground missile silo? I was beginning to doubt Mrs. Goring had any intention or ability to actually help us. All she wanted was the vials. Did she need them in order to complete some part of her own process? Or did she really intend to cure us and kill Rainsford if he ever came back?

  All these thoughts and many more washed over me as I was jolted back to reality by the muffled sound of someone pounding on the door outside. The door had the echo of something ten feet thick, the deadened hum of Connor’s voice barely piercing the space between us.

  He was mad, that much I could tell.

  I switched on all the monitors and saw that Kate was standing again, pulling Marisa up with her.

  “Just leave me here,” I heard Marisa mumble in a half-stupor.

  “No such luck, sleepyhead. Wake up!” Kate shook Marisa and yelled over her shoulder. “You back, Will?”

  “Yeah, I’m back. Hang on a sec.”

  “We’re moving with or without you, so you better hope she doesn’t fall asleep on her feet and end up in one of these holes.”

  “Hey, I’m not that bad.” Marisa was waking up, coming out of her cocoon.

  The S1 monitor, where I’d first called everyone, was filled with Alex’s face. He said something about what an ass I was and ran off screen in search of Connor. With Alex’s head out of the way I saw Ben Dugan sitting against the metal tunnel, his head slumped to one side. They’d dragged him down the passage while I wasn’t watching.

  “Ben, buddy, how you doin’?” I asked.

  “What’s wrong with Ben?” Marisa asked from S2, and I was happy to hear some spunk had returned to her voice. The ten-minute nap had revived her.

 
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