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Eve of destruction, p.7
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       Eve of Destruction, p.7

           Patrick Carman
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  “Idiot smashed both of his ankles and messed up his back.” Connor had returned, and hearing the question, he’d answered it for me.

  “How bad is it? Can he walk?” I prodded.

  “No way. We’ll have to carry him out of here.”

  “If we get out at all,” said Alex. “It’s starting to feel like there’s no reason for us to even be down here. Did she tell you anything else?”

  “Wait, so Ben is okay, just incapacitated?” I pressed.

  “I’m fine, Will. Just get us out, okay?” Ben had lifted his head with some effort, staring up at me. “It’s mostly my feet that hurt, like I sprained both ankles at one time playing soccer or something. I can just sit here.”

  Alex’s face tipped into the monitor from the side: “Let’s finish this thing so we can vacate before someone else gets hurt.”

  “Answer Connor’s question,” Kate insisted. “Did she give you any more instructions?”

  “There are two wide holes between you and me, or you and the monitor anyway. There’s a corner at the S2 monitor, and beyond that, another door I can unlock. I need to get you guys behind that door.”

  “So you can lock us even deeper down here?” Kate mumbled, but she didn’t push it and I didn’t answer. Instead, I turned to Connor and Alex, who stood next to each other staring at me.

  “You guys need to get through the red door, down the hall. Once you go through I’ll close it automatically, so step aside. And don’t give me any grief about locking it behind you—it’s what I’m being told to do. I’m only following instructions, which is our best chance of getting out of here. Keep going once you clear the door, avoid holes full of water or anything that looks like it might electrocute you, and eventually you’ll come to another doorway to your left and a hall to your right. Skip those and keep going. I’ll see you coming.”

  I’d seen the doors I described on the map and didn’t really understand where they led to. One entered an unmarked space about the same size as the room I was in, the other to something more mysterious, a large circle and a square behind that. It didn’t matter, because Mrs. Goring’s meaning had been very clear: Don’t open doors I don’t tell you to open. Some are better left closed.

  “We’re past the first hole, Will, no worries,” said Kate, sounding closer in the echo chamber of the tunnel at S2. “But the next one’s bigger.”

  They were standing on the edge of a space of tiles that had crumbled apart and fallen into darkness below. Swiveling the camera I could see pipes and frayed wires poking up through the rust-colored water.

  “Give me a second to think, don’t go yet.”

  I slammed the knob that opened the red door and got the salute sign from Connor as he moved off camera and Alex took chase.

  “Tell me when you’re through!” I yelled.

  “Hell yeah!” Connor answered. The more I worked with this guy, the more I envisioned him as a sergeant on the ground, guiding a battalion into all sorts of trouble on sheer adrenaline. He was the kind of guy I’d likely be in favor of having as my captain in a situation like that. Too bad he has senile dementia and won’t get into the Marines no matter how hard he tries.

  “Hey, Will.”

  It was Ben, from the floor, his eyes a vacant stare.

  “Yeah, I’m here.”

  “Do you think we’re getting out of this situation alive?”

  He said it loudly enough for Marisa and Kate to hear it from where they stood, the audio feeds bouncing in and out of the room to other parts of the facility. It was a lesson learned: not everyone needs to hear everything.

  “Wait, what’s wrong with Ben?” asked Marisa, alarmed and confused. “Ben? Ben! What happened?”

  “He’s fine. Banged up a little bit, nothing to worry about.”

  “What do you mean, banged up?” asked Marisa. “Will, this is crazy. What are we doing down here? Tell her to let us out!”

  “I demand that she let us out every time I see her stupid face!” I yelled, frustrated by the position I’d been put in. “And just as soon as she shows up again, I’ll ask her another time. But I can tell you based on what I’ve been dealing with—it’s not going to change her mind if she knows one of us is hurt.”

  “So banged up is hurt. What happened?”

  “Marisa, he’s fine—right now I need you to focus on getting down that hall as slowly and carefully as you can.”

  “Stop treating me like you’re in charge or something. I’m just worried about Ben.”

  “Ben!” I yelled, and he nodded his head toward me, staring up into the camera like there was a flashlight in his face. “How you doin’? You okay?”

  “Yeah, I’m good. Just tired. Back hurts. But I’m fine.”

  I turned to Marisa in her monitor and made a face that asked whether or not this was sufficient enough evidence for her.

  “This isn’t easy for any of us,” Marisa said, and then she turned away, putting her hand against the curved wall, staring off toward Kate. Without my consent, Kate had started working her way along the edge of the watery, electric hole of death.

  “Take it easy, Kate,” I said.

  “We’re on the other side, Will!” shouted Connor. “We’ve cleared the door!”

  “Standing clear!” said Alex, attempting to fit in or mocking Connor, I couldn’t tell which.

  They sounded like they were on a mission with a stated objective of setting off major explosives and blowing things up.

  I engaged the red zone emergency lock and heard the door slam shut, losing contact with Connor and Alex until they wound their way through the labyrinth of tunnels and found the next station.

  “Kate!” Marisa screamed.

  When I looked back at S2, Kate was wobbling along the edge of the tunnel, having lost her balance. Marisa had gone along the other side of the long hole in the floor, and leaning out, caught hold of Kate before she was forced to step forward into an electric charge she’d never recover from.

  “Marisa! Don’t move!”

  The two girls were holding each other’s shoulders, leaned in, facing one another as they stared down into a wide mouth of death.

  “Just take it slow. Reeeal slow,” I said.

  “You didn’t answer my question,” Ben said from S1. “Do you think we’re getting out of here alive?”

  “I’m a little busy right now, Ben. Gonna have to get back to you on that.”

  I shut Ben’s monitor off and focused every ounce of my attention on Kate and Marisa. I zoomed the camera in at their feet, panning back and forth over the water.

  “I think you should keep going, just like that. Pushing off of each other might not work.”

  “Don’t go falling asleep on me,” Kate said to Marisa, and she took one tentative step sideways, then another. Marisa mirrored her movements, but on the third step the tile broke free and fell heavy, like a flat boulder, into the hole. Sparks of electricity flared up and water splashed on Marisa’s foot. Both girls went into a brief spasm as an electrical charge jumped through the water and died, but not before giving them both a jolt.

  “Don’t let go!” I yelled as the side Marisa was on gave way and vanished in front of her. More sparks flew, more water splashed on both girls, more jolts held them together like electrified glue.

  The center monitor crackled alive and Mrs. Goring appeared, calm and elusive as ever. The timing of her arrival was maddening, but her demeanor ticked me off even more: totally calm, as if nothing terribly important was going on.

  “Looks like you’re not doing too well. Maybe I picked the wrong guy for the job.”

  I ignored her.

  “You guys back? You okay?” I asked. They were both breathing heavy as Kate looked up at Marisa.

  “Your fingernails are digging into my skin. Mind backing off on the grip of steel?”

  “Sorry—it was—sorry,” Marisa said.

  “She’ll have to jump to the other side. It’s the only way,” said Mrs. Goring, again with a voice lik
e she was doing her nails on the other end, bored out of her skull.

  I hated to admit it after looking at the situation, but she was right. The floor on Marisa’s side of the tunnel had collapsed entirely, and there was no place else to go.

  “The walls are curved out, she’s got room. Just tell her to jump.”

  “We can hear you, Mrs. Goring,” said Kate. “Can you hear us?”

  “I can.”

  “When I get out of here I’m going to beat the hell out of you.”

  “Better bring a baseball bat. I’ll have my ax.”

  “Shut up, you two! Just shut up!” Marisa screamed. She was crying as she screamed, not hysterical, but close.

  “It’s only three feet across. Jump. It’s easy.” Mrs. Goring was nauseatingly calm about the possibility of my girlfriend getting electrocuted to death. But it sort of helped settle Marisa down. I could see her and Kate whispering quietly, probably about how they were going to kill me and Mrs. Goring when they could get their hands on us and how Kate wouldn’t bring a baseball bat to do it—she’d bring a chain saw.

  All at once Marisa was airborne, jumping over the hole and landing hard with her face against the curved metal side next to Kate.

  “Will, listen to me,” said Mrs. Goring. “Shut off their monitor.”

  “No way I’m doing that!”

  “Shut it off or I’ll never let them out. Do it right now.”

  “Marisa, you’re close! A few more steps is all. I’ll be right back.”

  “What do you mea—?”

  Her eyes were pleading, looking at me like she couldn’t believe I was about to leave her out there on her own. It was one of the hardest things I ever did, cutting that feed.

  “I hope you know what you’re doing,” I said. “If she dies down here—”

  “What, Will? What will you do? You’ll stay down there, too. It doesn’t do me much good if someone gets killed down there either, you know. You all get out alive or I’ve got a murder on my hands. More mess to clean up. It’s a lot of work. Do you understand what I’m saying, Will?”

  I did, and I couldn’t believe the thought had only just occurred to me.

  “If one of us dies, we all die.”

  “Bingo. Can’t have the rest of you up here giving me grief about a dead body in the basement.”

  “You’re sick, you know that?”

  “I’m not the one in need of a cure.”

  I was trading insults with a seventy-year-old woman and it was getting me nowhere.

  “We’re all going to live, I can promise you that,” I said. “Tell me what to do next.”

  Mrs. Goring appeared to be looking at a different monitor, her attention split as she mumbled to herself, then turned her gaze back on me.

  “Go to the map, I’ll tell you a few things.”

  “Not until I see if they made it.”

  “Fine, make it fast and then turn the damn thing off again. I need your undivided attention.”

  I switched on the monitor just long enough to see that both Marisa and Kate had made it across, then shut it off again before they could start yelling at me. After that I took a quick look at the S4 communication station in the red zone and saw nothing but a long, round corridor with intermittent light. Connor and Alex had two holes to maneuver before turning the corner, and there was an added problem of water dripping everywhere. It would be slick, slow, and dangerous. I might not see them for a while or ever again.

  “What am I looking for?” I asked, turning my attention to the map.

  “Send Marisa and Kate into that big room, the one with the silos. It’s also called the O zone.”

  So that’s what those circles are, I thought. Places where they used to keep bombs.

  Then she said, “The floor in there isn’t safe.”

  “I’m not following. You mean more holes or what?”

  “They’re not going to want to go in there when they see it, and I don’t think you’re going to be able to convince them. You don’t have it in you.”

  Mrs. Goring was basically driving me insane. Cool, collected, and completely off her rocker. I tried to veer the conversation back to the floor.

  “Mrs. Goring, what’s wrong with the floor in that room?”

  It was more of a hangar than a room, ten times as big as any of the others, a vast football field of empty space.

  “Time’s running short,” she said, glancing at some relic of a watch on her pale, thin wrist. “I’ll have to tell them what to expect, but first, before you bring them back online, about Connor and Alex.”

  “Yeah, about them,” I said, moving my line of vision to the section of the map where they’d be arriving soon. “They should be showing up in that long corridor with the rooms any time now.”

  “There are two rooms on that hallway. It’s very, very important that you get this right, Will. Your life depends on it, and so do theirs. The room on their left can be unlocked from the outside. It was designed that way, to keep things in, not out. Don’t let them go in there. You don’t want what’s trapped behind that door escaping into the hall. The door is vacuum-sealed, tight as a drum. As long as you don’t bother it, you and your friends will be fine.”

  “Great, more nuclear waste, just what we needed.”

  “The door on their right will lead to an important place. It’s marked Silo 3. Do you see it on the console?”

  I returned to the console, leaving the map behind, and saw a flashlight beam at the end of the long tube where Connor and Alex were scheduled to appear.

  “They’re getting closer,” I said, and crossing the room to the console, I found what Mrs. Goring had mentioned. “And I see the door lock release for Silo 3 marked with an X.”

  “Good boy. You might work out after all.”

  God, I hated Mrs. Goring.

  “Now, put the girls back on. I have something I need to tell them that will interest you as well.”

  Against my better judgment, mostly to see Marisa and make sure she wasn’t too mad at me, I opened the signal again. I could hear Connor and Alex yelling from down the hall, an echo of We’re coming! Hang tight! Etc. etc. The good news was that Kate and Marisa were actually laughing. Seeing and hearing two multiple feeds at once was a little like standing in the hallway of an insane asylum: laughter and shouted words carried in from reverberating corridors, and the horrible Mrs. Goring overseeing it all.

  “Turn Connor and Alex off,” said Mrs. Goring. “Their lack of common sense is distracting me.”

  I complied, at least in part because I couldn’t concentrate with Connor and Alex yelling about their slow progress every two seconds either.

  “I’m glad to hear you’re having such a good time, girls,” said Mrs. Goring, and this put a quick end to Kate and Marisa’s celebrating over cheating death or whatever it was they were laughing about. “I need you both to keep going, through the next door, into the O zone. It’s just a few steps farther down the hall. There’s a second camera there, in the big metal box on the wall. It’s attached to a cord that will run about a hundred feet. Take the camera with you or I won’t be able to tell you what to do once you’re on the catwalk. Will, when they turn it on, it will replace the feed. If they turn it off or it dies for some reason, the feed will reconnect with the S2 station. Understand?”

  I nodded, yeah, but Marisa said what we were all really wondering about.

  “Catwalk?” Marisa asked. “You mean like up in the air?”

  “Clever girl. You can’t walk on the floor in the next room. You’ll see why when you get there.” Mrs. Goring thought twice about what she’d said and added a little more: “You two don’t always hear me loud and clear, so here it is one more time: do not walk on the floor in that room.”

  “Let me ask you something, Mrs. Goring,” Kate said. She put her face right up in the monitor so her striking features warped in weird directions. “On your mother’s grave, which I imagine is located somewhere out behind the Bunker where you bury all the b
odies, do you swear these vials will actually help me get rid of these headaches? Because you know what? They really, really hurt. And this little errand you’ve got us on isn’t helping any.”

  “And yet you laugh,” said Mrs. Goring. “Such a strange girl.”

  “Laughing keeps me sane, but it won’t keep me from killing you if this is all for nothing.”

  “I do love your spunk, Kate Hollander. And here’s your answer: I’m telling you the truth. Bring me the vials and I’ll end your pain. I can do it, but I need what he took from you.”

  Kate paused meaningfully, as if she was trying to discern the hint of a lie in Mrs. Goring’s answer, and then she looked steely-eyed into the camera. “Lead on, Mrs. Goring. Me and sleeping beauty here are itching to open that door.”

  “Yeah,” said Marisa, and though it was a tired yeah, it was deep and sincere.

  “On the other side of the door, you’ll find a vast, open room. Breathe softly when you enter and climb the ladder attached to the wall at the door. The ladder empties onto the catwalk. It’s not in very good condition, so choose your steps wisely. And watch the cord from the camera; don’t let it touch the floor.”

  “If there are rats on the floor I’m not doing it,” said Marisa.

  “There are no rats. They wouldn’t last five minutes in there.”

  “That’s encouraging,” Kate said, staring in the direction they were expected to go.

  “There’s a smaller room on the ground floor, under the catwalk. It’s the only one. Two silos extend out of the room and through the ceiling. Get as close to the silos as you can with the camera, then wait.”

  Kate reached her hands above the screen and jostled my view back and forth a few times, freeing the mobile camera from whatever held it firm against the wall. I watched as Marisa coiled the long black cord around her arm like a sleeping serpent.

  “Oh, and ladies?” Mrs. Goring said. She couldn’t see them because their monitor was on the same flat wall as Mrs. Goring’s, but she could hear them preparing to leave. “If you turn back or try to trick me, I won’t let you out. Not ever. And I’ll cut off communication between you and Will.”

  Marisa didn’t say a word, but the resolve on her face grew tenfold. I, on the other hand, was in the mood to throw up. What would it be like to die alone, completely isolated from anyone else? It’s moments like those that make me realize who really matters. I’d be okay right up to the end if I could get there with Marisa. She’d make it okay, but I’d have to die first. I was lost in this idea of dying alone or dying with the one person I loved the most when Marisa spoke.

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