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Eve of destruction, p.8
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       Eve of Destruction, p.8

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “We’re going to do exactly what you ask,” said Marisa. “And then you’re going to let us out of here and we’re never coming back.” She looked straight into the camera and gave Mrs. Goring the finger. And by finger, I mean the finger. Mrs. Goring turned off her connection, and the laughter vanished abruptly as the screen turned empty and still.

  “Marisa—” I started to call.

  “Don’t, Will. Just don’t.”

  “You heard the girl,” Kate said, leaning her face down into my view. “Leave her alone. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re about to enter a room where the floor might eat our legs off. She doesn’t need your drama right now.”

  Things were bad enough without me getting into deeper trouble with Marisa, and even though I was mad at how unfair I thought they were treating me, I focused my attention on other things and left them to their task alone.

  Mrs. Goring was gone, but in my head I could still hear the tone and the quality of that horrible voice. It was not a pleasant recollection bouncing around in my head as I fired up S4, expecting to see Connor and Alex making their way toward me.

  “They should be really close by now,” I pondered. “Where the heck are they?”

  Seconds passed in which I looked at the map, the door, Ben Dugan, the tunnel where Connor and Alex should have been.

  “Will? Hey, boy in the locked room, out here.” It was Kate, waving at me, close and wobbly.

  “Where’s Marisa?” I asked, because I couldn’t see her.

  “Just shut up and listen. Is the old bag gone?”

  “Yeah, she’s gone,” I said. I thought of telling Kate about Amy, but there was so much going on so fast I couldn’t imagine getting into it with her. Who I really wanted to tell was Marisa, but she was never alone.

  “I’m done trusting her. And so is Marisa. She has no intention of letting us out.”

  “I’m working on that,” I said, thinking of Amy and how she might be able to help us if I played my cards right.

  “She likes you best,” Kate said. “Try and trick her into letting you go and then hit her over the head with a rock or something. Use your charm on her.”

  “Is that like a joke?”

  “It’s the best I could come up with on short notice.”

  Marisa came back into the screen, and I smiled unexpectedly. She glanced away, then back at me.

  “You doing okay?” she asked without a trace of a smile.

  “I’m fine, and I’m going to get us out of this. I promise.”

  Another pause, a deep breath.

  “You better. How’s the hearing holding up?”

  “Huh?”

  “Funny boy. No really, okay?”

  “Yeah, not bad. I can crank the volume in here pretty good.”

  It felt good to talk to her, but she was guarded. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to forgive me or if Kate had put her up to being nice so I’d get my head on straight.

  I looked at the monitor where Connor and Alex would soon appear, but they were still a no-show.

  “Hang on a sec,” I said.

  I pressed the audio feed into the lock position for S4, so Connor and Alex could hear me yelling.

  “Where are you guys? Hey! Connor?”

  “We’re going,” Kate said impatiently. “We’ll take you with us as far as we can. And Will—get us the hell out of here, okay?”

  “I’ll try my best. Remember what she said—don’t drag the cord on the floor.”

  “I think she’s trying to scare us is all,” said Marisa.

  “Yo, Will!”

  It was Connor Bloom, calling from somewhere down the tunnel, but I couldn’t see him. What the heck was going on?

  “Hang on you guys, I’ll be right back.”

  I killed what was now the mobile S2 feed that Kate was carrying around with her and stood directly in front of the S4 monitor, searching for Connor and Alex.

  “Where are you guys?” I yelled. “I can’t see you.”

  “Hang on, bro! We’re checking something out.”

  Checking something out? What did he mean, checking something out? There weren’t very many things to check out, just the long tunnel, holes of death in the floor, sputtering lights, and . . .

  “Connor! Alex! Show yourselves! Where are you?!”

  I ran back to the map, searching for anything I’d missed, some cavernous tunnel that branched off the main line or a hidden room. But there was nothing.

  Connor and Alex were either down the short hall that led to the circle and the square behind it on the map. Or they’d done something really, really stupid.

  Hadn’t I told them not to open any doors on the way? I thought I had, but there was so much happening. Maybe I’d forgotten to do it. I looked at the radiation level dials and saw that they hadn’t moved.

  Two figures stepped out from the shadows just as I was about to reconnect with Kate and Marisa and tell them that I’d probably managed to unleash a major nuclear catastrophe in the underground missile silo.

  “You guys scared me half to death! Please tell me you didn’t open that door.”

  Neither Connor nor Alex answered me as they kept coming closer. It was really dark in that last stretch leading to the monitor, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t hear me. I tried again.

  “If you opened that door go back and shut it! Answer me!”

  “You can stop yelling, Will. It’s not going to be a problem with the door. You worry too much.”

  They were close now, within ten feet, and the tunnel made the voice sound eerie and unfamiliar. Something wasn’t right. The next thing I remember was how close his face was, how he looked happy to see me, how he thanked me for letting him out of the room.

  It was Davis who stood there, the man who was once Rainsford, not Connor. And not Alex, either. It was Avery who stood next to Davis. Avery Varone.

  Connor and Alex had opened that door and let out something dangerous, all right. Had I told them not to open that door? Did I somehow confuse them so they thought they were supposed to open it? Really, it didn’t matter.

  Rainsford and Avery Varone were in the underground missile silo with us.

  And we’d just let them out into the open.

  5:00 PM–5:30 PM

  Two hours.

  120 minutes.

  7,200 heart-pounding seconds.

  That’s how long it took me to accidentally let the vilest person on the planet out of a room that, obviously, Mrs. Goring had somehow managed to lock him inside of. It would have helped if she’d been straight up with me about what was in that room. Then again, she’d been pretty clear in her own twisted way:

  Your life depends on it. . . . You don’t want what’s trapped behind that door escaping into the hall.

  How she’d gotten Davis-who-was-Rainsford and Avery in there was kind of beside the point. They probably came back to check on things, she held Avery at gunpoint, she forced Rainsford to open the door for her, she made them climb down the ladder into the room, she locked the door—something along those lines made pretty good sense. I know I wouldn’t mess with Mrs. Goring if she were pointing a shotgun at Marisa. Chances are Rainsford would have been the same as me in that regard.

  What really mattered, what ate away at my soul while I stared at his perfectly chiseled face, was that I’d let him out. I’d let him out where he could get to Marisa, where he could get to everyone.

  I’d been able to hold it together for two hours as things unfolded in unexpected ways all around me, and standing there I took command of the situation in the only way I knew how: I turned Rainsford’s monitor off before he could infect me with his lies.

  For a brief moment the observation room was silent and I took stock of the situation.

  Ben had fallen and lay half comatose on the floor of a tunnel. I had to get him aboveground soon or risk having him go into shock. I remember thinking I could actually lose this guy if I screwed things up. He was saying he was fine, but all evidence was to the cont
rary. He was in some trouble and getting worse.

  Marisa and Kate had narrowly avoided electrocution. They had a mobile camera in a room with a floor that could not be walked on. As bad as that sounded, they were maybe in the best shape of anyone in the underground missile silo.

  Connor and Alex, my crack commando team, had lasted all of twenty minutes on the move and ended up locked inside a room where they were completely useless. I couldn’t help thinking Davis—who was really Rainsford—had done a lot of bad things. And he was desperate, looking for a way out just like us. Could he have already killed Connor and Alex? The guy had been alive a long time. He probably knew ten different ways to kill two teenagers with his bare hands. It was possible.

  Mrs. Goring could return to the observation room main monitor at any moment. I had to be cagey, clever, on my best game. Above all, I couldn’t let her know that Connor and Alex had accidentally let Rainsford and Avery out of that room. She’d be furious. And I couldn’t let her know I’d discovered her diabolical plan. Seven new subjects, only this time, she’d try to work the same trick on herself.

  I was in contact with a girl named Amy. She was oblivious to what was really going on, but she was on the inside. She might show her face again, she might not. Amy was a wild card, maybe my best chance at getting everyone out alive.

  As I stood there breathing, staring at the switch that would bring Rainsford back, I thought about Amy. I wondered what her fear was. And what about the other six? What were they going to be cured of? And then I had another, far worse string of thoughts.

  Mrs. Goring isn’t going to let us out of here. She’s trying to get rid of us, to erase all evidence. There are no vials.

  I hit my palm against my forehead four or five times, trying to shake the bad thoughts out of my head.

  You don’t know what Mrs. Goring is up to. Be careful, Will. Don’t do anything foolish. Don’t fill in blanks where you’re not sure of the answers.

  Being locked inside the central nervous system by a madwoman did have one advantage: I knew everything while no one else did. But it was a big responsibility. I had to be careful with what I knew and who I told. Rainsford didn’t know about my special knowledge. He would assume I was like all the others—a blank slate when it came to the cures. He would play it as if he was Davis, a guy who’d been through the program himself. But I knew the truth: Davis and Rainsford were the same guy. And this guy could not be trusted. No matter what happened, I had to remember some basic facts: Rainsford was a liar and a cheat. He was clever. He’d tricked a lot of people before. He might kill me if I let him get too close.

  I had to think about every word I said, connect all the dots, find a thread that would lead up and out of the missile silo.

  And so it was that when Rainsford spoke to me for the first time in the missile silo, I was not forthcoming with information. I turned the monitor back on, watched as he gazed up at me with piercing eyes, and prepared to be evasive.

  “Hey, he’s back!” Rainsford said, calling Avery to his side. “We thought we’d lost you.”

  “No, I’m here. Just a glitch with the wiring—it happens.”

  The faulty wiring would be an excuse to go offline whenever I needed to.

  Nice thinking, bro. You’re smarter than you look.

  Thanks, Keith. You don’t know how good that makes me feel.

  Don’t mention it.

  “Where’d you come from?” I asked.

  “I don’t even know where to start,” Rainsford confided, and I felt the stream of lies coming before he even said them. “We came back, you know, to see how Mrs. Goring was doing. She freaked out, something about vials down here we had to retrieve for her.”

  “And she locked you in?” I asked.

  “Looks like she tricked you, too,” Rainsford said. “I think she’s unstable.”

  “What was your first clue?” I joked.

  His voice didn’t have the Rainsford hypnotic quality I remembered. Maybe his powers of persuasion were locked inside a much older version of himself.

  “Hi, Avery,” I said, looking past Rainsford to the shadowy figure behind him. “You doin’ okay?”

  She wouldn’t speak, just a nod and half a smile. Avery Varone didn’t look well. She was pale as a ghost, except for the circles under her eyes. Those were dark. Everything else about her face looked like the blood had been sucked clean out of her, leaving only a fragile shell for holding a confused girl. And it wasn’t just her face, it was her hair, too. That was the most shocking part about the new Avery Varone. The streak of white had spread. All of her hair was white. The dark eyes, the pale skin, the white hair—she was a ghost, or something like one.

  “How long have you been down there?” I asked. Avery looked up doe-eyed at Davis like she needed approval to give the answer, and he reached out, holding her frail hand.

  “Long enough,” he said. “I’m doing okay, but Avery, she’s not taking to the surroundings. We need to get her out of here.”

  “What’s wrong with her?” I asked. Avery leaned forward into the camera before Davis could stop her.

  “I’m fine, Will. You worry too much.” Her papery voice and vacant eyes made me nervous. She was even weaker than she looked.

  “What did Goring tell you?” asked Davis. “Did she say she would let you out?”

  “If we get what she sent us down here for, she will.”

  “I can help with that,” he said. “I know where the vials are. Rainsford told me. Tell me where you are and I’ll come to you. We can figure it out from there.”

  Yeah, right. Like I’m going to trust you. Nice try, I thought.

  It was bizarre knowing Davis was Rainsford, hearing him talk about himself in the third person.

  “Can I ask you something?” I said.

  “Sure, anything.”

  Davis kept glancing at Avery, then back at me, like he was trying to make sure she didn’t give me a signal of some kind while his back was turned.

  “Where are Connor and Alex?”

  There wasn’t any getting around the fact that two people were missing, and I began to wonder why Rainsford wouldn’t have just brought them with him to the monitor. Something wasn’t right.

  “Insurance,” said Davis, his face changing ever so slightly in the monitor. The old Rainsford was in there, screaming to get out. He didn’t like having to hide.

  “I don’t follow.”

  “I know you have special awareness, Will Besting. I can see it in your eyes. You know who I really am. Avery does, too. Don’t you, sweetheart?”

  My cover was blown, but the cool thing was I didn’t care. There would be no pretending, no dance about what he knew and what I knew. He’d dropped all pretense of being Davis, so I’d be dealing with the real Rainsford, straight up, no games. I doubted he’d planned to drop his cover so fast.

  “Okay, Rainsford. I’m going to ask you once more,” I said, trying to gain the upper hand. “Where are Connor and Alex?”

  “I didn’t expect such bravado, but you always were unpredictable.”

  “Just answer the question.”

  “They’re in the room where I left them.”

  “So they’re alive?”

  “Did I say that?” he looked at Avery, a dark smile on his face.

  “Avery, you know this guy is like a thousand years old, right?” I looked past Rainsford’s hypnotic stare, trying to rouse Avery’s attention. “He’s not Davis. There is no Davis.”

  “It’s not what you think, Will. He helped you, he helped all of us. He watches over me.”

  “Yeah, looks like things are going really well for you. Did you help him kill Connor and Alex?”

  “They’re not dead. He’s not like that.”

  Avery looked at young Rainsford like he was all she cared about in the entire world. She’d fallen under his spell. But she’d tipped their hand, too. Connor and Alex were locked in a room, a room I might be able to get to if I played my cards right. I looked at the locke
d door behind me and the smashed card reader hanging from the wall.

  Leaning forward into the monitor, I put my hand on the switch that would kill Rainsford’s feed.

  “Don’t go anywhere.”

  Rainsford tried to answer, but the signal went dead before he could say a word. I was in control, not him, and I planned to keep it that way. I switched on Kate and Marisa’s feed and dialed up the volume.

  “How you guys doin’? Everything okay? Can you hear me?”

  I could see they still had camera cord to spare and that they’d made it into the vast chamber and up onto the catwalk above. There was a weird hue of hot color rising off the bottom of the lens as Marisa’s face appeared close and fast.

  “Stop leaving like that!” she yelled. “We’ve been sitting here waiting for you for like an hour.”

  I looked at my watch—it had been nine minutes—but it didn’t feel like the right time to argue about where I was or how long I’d been gone.

  “Sorry, it’s just . . . well, it’s complicated is all. There’s a lot to keep track of.”

  “Show him,” Marisa said, looking over the lens where Kate held the camera. She was obviously upset, but I didn’t know why until the camera tilted downward and I saw why the bottom of the lens had been glowing with radiant light.

  “Welcome to the fun house,” said Kate. “Got any advice?”

  “What the hell is that?” I asked.

  Kate was quick with an answer that wasn’t very useful: “From up here, it looks radioactive. You want me to throw my shoe down there and see what happens?”

  “Not funny,” I complained. Sometimes I wished Kate would either shut up or get serious. The constant smart-ass treatment got old.

  “We think it’s some sort of sponge because it has that, you know, squishy look to it. Like it’s been soaking up nuclear gunk for fifty years and it’s just sitting there, waiting to be disturbed.”

 
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