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Eve of destruction, p.9
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       Eve of Destruction, p.9

           Patrick Carman
 
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  It did look like there was a layer of dust on the surface of the entire floor, but something was underneath that showed through in some places. The whole thing had a bizarre orange hue that glowed with toxic energy. It was like the moon, with mounds of dust piled up in some places, lunar-like craters of spongy flatlands in others. Now I knew why it was called the O zone. O was for orange.

  “This is a bad deal,” I said, furious all over again at Mrs. Goring for sending us down there. “Why on earth would she even need to be in here?”

  “What else did she say, Will? Can you call her or something?”

  Marisa had taken to lying down on the catwalk, speaking straight up into the air.

  “She said something about getting into the silos, remember? But not how we’d be able to do it. Can you see the room?”

  “We’re right over the top of it,” said Kate. “We got that far on the catwalk. But we can’t get inside. Oh, and your girlfriend just fell asleep, so there’s that.”

  “Let her rest for a few minutes, I’ll be right back.”

  “Will, no! Don’t—”

  It was a pleasure cutting Kate off in mid-sentence, something I could imagine enjoying all day long if I had time to kill. I was sorely tempted to do it just one more time—it would have lifted my spirits. But then I thought about Marisa and how she needed those little catnaps. Having Kate yell at me might wake her up.

  I stared at the map for a few seconds, trying to see a way into the silo room, but it was a fairly basic construct that neglected to show anything other than the one doorway in. Mrs. Goring had to know of another way, why else would she send them in there to begin with?

  I had thought Kate and Marisa were in the safest place, farthest away from a monster who had been set loose underground. It turned out they were perched over a radioactive ocean, twenty feet above the most dangerous place in the whole missile silo.

  5:30 PM–6:00 PM

  I crossed to the door and pulled out my Recorder, which included a small compartment along the side where I kept two tiny tools, important when you’re a guy that’s constantly tinkering with electronics. Both tools were long and skinny, made of titanium, with hard rubber grips in the very middle. On one end of the first tool there was a minuscule Phillips screwdriver, on the other end a star-shaped pattern with a flat end. The other tool was the same, but the ends were a flat-blade screwdriver and a sharp, razor-thin knife. I couldn’t help thinking about the ways in which I could put these tools to use as weapons against Rainsford and Mrs. Goring if given the chance.

  You’re not much for blood sports, bro. Put the knife down.

  Not now, Keith. I’m busy.

  You know it’s true. Mowing down soldiers on my Xbox was a stretch for you back in the day.

  It was true. I wasn’t a killer, not even in a video game. For all my talk I knew it would take everything I had to stick a knife in someone, even if that someone really deserved it.

  “Let’s see what we’re dealing with,” I muttered, switching my attention to something I could actually do as I slid my Recorder back into my pocket and approached the busted door-lock scanner. It hung on the wall by one wire, the others having been cut, and the mechanism itself had been hit with a heavy object enough times to render it useless. The casing was pretty well smashed and the insides were tumbling out of one side like cooked spaghetti. There was also an exposed circuit board, which had been broken into two halves, and a fuse with the glass broken out.

  “Interesting,” I said.

  Without a working fuse, no amount of power would find its way through the wires even if I could reattach them correctly, but overall, the situation was not insurmountable. I got the Recorder out again and used the star bit to remove a section off the back, revealing a series of tiny colored wires attached to a circuit board on my homemade device.

  “What are you doing?”

  I whirled around, scared half to death by the sound of a voice, and expected to see Mrs. Goring watching me. She’d figure out what I was up to and threaten to leave me down here forever if I didn’t stop. But as I turned, stuffing things in my pockets as fast as I could, I saw that it wasn’t Mrs. Goring after all. It was Amy, the girl from before. The girl with the blue bandanna.

  “Nothing, I’m—I’m just bored I guess,” I lied, still not knowing if I could completely trust her. “Just wishing I could get the door open, looking at this broken card reader. But it’s a total loss.”

  “It’s Will, right?” she asked. “That’s your name?”

  “Yeah, Will Besting.”

  She got very quiet, so I walked closer and asked her a question.

  “Amy, when do the cures start? Did she tell you that much?”

  “Yeah, she told us. They start tonight, I don’t know what time though.”

  I looked at my watch, already after five PM. I had a few hours to get aboveground.

  “I said I’d go first,” she said, laughing softly. “Crazy, right?”

  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Let someone else have a go, then you can see what they say. There’s always tomorrow.”

  “Yeah, we’re here for a week, so I guess there’s no rush?”

  “Totally. No rush at all.”

  “Actually, Will?” she said.

  “Yeah?”

  “I’m kind of thinking of not doing it. She scares me.”

  “Look, Amy, just hold tight, okay? And come see me as often as you can as long as you’re sure she won’t catch you. And keep an eye on things up there, watch what she’s doing.”

  “Did it hurt?”

  Our eyes locked. She wasn’t ready to get off the subject of the procedure, and I knew what she meant: had it been painful when I was cured. It was a hard question to answer, but I’d thought about it a lot over the previous year and I had strong enough opinions about it.

  “My fear was about something painful I couldn’t face. I buried it, but it was there. For me the procedure itself wasn’t painful, but it made me face painful things I didn’t want to. So I guess the answer is yes—it hurts—but not like you think it will, and not necessarily when you think it will.”

  She nodded a few times, slowly, like she was chewing on my answer. I didn’t want to rush her, but I also couldn’t stay offline with everyone else much longer.

  “We might be able to help each other,” I said, which brought her eyes back up to mine.

  “How? I don’t even know where you are.”

  “Have you been to the pond yet?”

  “Only once, when we got here yesterday. She stuffed us in that stupid Bunker for an hour when you and your friends showed up, and now she makes us stay in the Fort and just sit around. She’s in the Bunker right now, upstairs, making lunch or something.”

  “How’d you find the bomb shelter?”

  “She goes back and forth all the time through the tunnel, it was actually pretty easy to find. I’m kind of a loner and there’s a lot of dead time. People don’t seem to mind when I go missing.”

  Amy and I had a lot in common, it seemed.

  “Listen, Amy, I have to tell you something. Mrs. Goring calls me from that same room like once every hour. She might catch you if you’re not careful.”

  “Thanks for the warning. I’ll stay alert. She’s not exactly quiet when she moves around in those boots, pushing that cart around. And she’s always preoccupied anyway. I swear she could walk right past me and not even notice I was there.”

  Yeah, I thought, Mrs. Goring has a lot on her mind. Preparing for seven cures while keeping a bunch of people locked underground.

  “Maybe sneak down to the pond once more, see if there’s a padlock on the door to the pump house. Could you do that?”

  Amy shrugged like she didn’t have a clue.

  “If I can get out, I’ll do it. And Will?”

  “Yeah?”

  “Thanks for talking to me. I feel better.”

  “No problem.”

  “I better go.”

 
Yeah, okay—check back if you can on that pond thing, right?”

  She nodded and the signal died.

  I wanted to go back to work on the door lock, but I’d kept a lot of people waiting too long already. Before I turned anyone back on, I thought about Mrs. Goring and the cures again. I looked at my watch and worried about how little time I had before Amy might be in her own fear chamber, undergoing the procedure. I didn’t have much time and there was a lot to do. One more glance at the door—it would have to wait—and I fired up S1 so I could check on Ben Dugan. His chin lay heavy on his chest and he’d slumped into the corner like a rag doll. At first I thought he might be dead, a line of reasoning that put my brain into a tailspin.

  No one can die down here, I thought. That can’t happen.

  I’m thinking it already did and now you’ve got a body to get rid of. Better hope a pack of rats don’t show up.

  Not now, Keith.

  Hey, your problem, not mine. Just trying to help.

  I yelled Ben’s name three times before he jerked awake and stared up into the camera all bleary-eyed.

  “You scared me half to death,” I said. “Don’t do that!”

  “Sorry, just tired. And bored.”

  “Well, don’t sleep too much. I think that might be bad, like you might not wake up or something.”

  “Whatever you say, Will. You’re the boss.”

  “Making progress. I’ll have you out of here before you know it. How’s the back and the ankles?”

  Ben didn’t answer and it seemed like he was drifting off to sleep again. I started yelling at him to wake up as Mrs. Goring appeared on the main screen with an impatient look on her face. I switched Ben’s monitor off and let my hand hover over the control for S4, thinking about putting Rainsford back into play.

  “You need to let us out,” I said coldly. “I don’t think Ben can walk and he’s in a lot of pain. Plus he won’t stay awake.”

  “Sounds a little bit like your ex-girlfriend. Maybe the two of them should date.”

  Something about her voice, the way it turned on the word them, pushed me over the edge. I slammed my fist down on the lever for S4 and brought the hallway to life. I was surprised to discover that Rainsford and Avery were gone. The hall was empty.

  “Have the girls made it to the silo room yet?” asked Mrs. Goring.

  “Uhh . . . yeah. Yeah, they’re stuck.”

  Rainsford was coming up the hall toward me again, but this time he was walking fast, with purpose. He could hear Mrs. Goring’s voice. He was holding one finger to his lips. Shhhhhhhh.

  “Focus, Will. Focus!” yelled Mrs. Goring.

  “Get us out of here, Mrs. Goring. I mean it. We need out.”

  Damn Rainsford! He’d come right up to the monitor, shaking his head slowly back and forth.

  I’m not out here. Don’t tell.

  I felt like a pawn stuck between two competing monsters.

  “You’re distracted,” said Mrs. Goring, “and demanding. I’m not happy about it. Put Kate on.”

  Mrs. Goring couldn’t see Rainsford because the S4 monitor was on the same wall, she could only hear what was happening. I stared at them both, in possession of knowledge Mrs. Goring didn’t have. He was right there, boring into the room with those powerful eyes of his, and Mrs. Goring didn’t know it. As far as she knew, Rainsford wasn’t holding a piece of paper up to the camera, close so I could read the words he’d written:

  OPEN R1 NOW

  He was asking me to open the door I’d used to let Connor and Alex in there in the first place. Opening that would give Rainsford access to the main exit, but he’d still be locked underground like the rest of us. There was something about Rainsford that close to the outside that made me nervous. Who knew what tricks he had up his sleeve?

  “Turn S4 off, Will,” Mrs. Goring said. “It’s distracting you. I need you to concentrate on Kate and Marisa.”

  She was asking me to kill the signal at S4, and just as I was about to do so, Rainsford slid the piece of paper up on the lens so I could see the entire message he’d written.

  OPEN R1 NOW

  OR CONNOR DIES

  I wasn’t about to have someone else’s blood on my hands. I hit the camera switch for S4 and the door-open knob for R1 at the same time, which turned Rainsford’s feed off and opened the R1 door simultaneously.

  I’d done what both of them had asked of me. Whatever happened next, at least I’d complied with their demands.

  “Focus, right here,” Mrs. Goring said, pointing a jagged finger at her temple. “Just keep Connor and Alex where they are for the moment. They won’t be waiting long. Unless Kate and Marisa have fallen off the catwalk, they should be ready for instructions.”

  “They’re fine, they’re waiting.”

  I fired up the mobile camera, which had been set down. It gave off a view of the orange glowing floor through metal grating, but Kate and Marisa were a blur off in the distance.

  “Kate?” Mrs. Goring yelled. “Tell me exactly where you are.”

  “Don’t drop me!” Marisa screamed, and I suddenly realized what was going on. While I was gone they’d ventured farther out on the catwalk than the cord would take them. From what I could tell, Kate was lying down on the metal grate, reaching down into the open air.

  “Grab my other hand!” Kate shouted.

  “I told them not to go past the length of the cord,” said Mrs. Goring. “I did tell them that. You heard me.”

  “Shut up!” I screamed. “Kate? Where’s Marisa?”

  She wouldn’t answer, but I could see something moving below Kate, legs dangling in open air above a sea of radioactive gunk. It would swallow Marisa whole if Kate dropped her. Her skin would melt off, she’d go into a seizure, and the floor of this disgusting room would eat her alive.

  Keith’s voice boiled up in my head.

  Bro, that is some sick thinking.

  But it could happen. What should I do? Keith, you’re the gamer. What should I do!

  No instructions for this one. No cheats. Your girlfriend is about to go zombie big-time.

  I watched in horror as whatever section of grating Kate was lying on top of lurched downward about two feet, sending Kate sliding forward with it. She wrapped her legs around one of the metal pipes holding the catwalk to the ceiling and jerked to a stop. I waited for the plume of orange dust that would rise into the camera lens as Marisa fell and hit the lunar landscape of death.

  “Stop moving!” Kate screamed. “I’m not letting you go!”

  “Hold on, Kate!” I shouted, then I turned to Mrs. Goring on the main monitor. “Can you get me out of this room? Let me save them!”

  “You’ve got the only key card,” she said matter-of-factly. “Send Ben in there, see what he can do.”

  “Ben can’t walk! I told you that. He’s useless.”

  Mrs. Goring looked to her right and then back at me.

  “If you can get this mess under control, there’s a sliding door on the side of the first silo. Inside that there’s a ladder down into the room. Have them look on the side of the mobile camera—there’s a key duct-taped to the bottom—that key will get them into the silo room once they climb down.”

  I was barely listening as she said these things. My attention was mostly on the fact that Kate and Marisa were not moving. They appeared to be holding firm in one position, quietly talking to each other. The catwalk ran the entire length of the giant room, with the exception of the huge round silos shooting up through the middle. If the map was correct, then there was another room on the ground floor, below the catwalk. It would be smaller, big enough to hold the base of both silos. A quick glance at the map gave me the lay of the land once more.

  “I have to go, but I’ll be back. Look at me, Will. Will.”

  I shook my head as Mrs. Goring got my attention back and I stared into her stonelike face. She wasn’t moving, just staring, and when she did speak, it was void of emotion.

  “If Marisa doesn’t make it, w
e’ll have to regroup. I need two people in that room one way or another.”

  And just like that, she was gone. The idea of losing one of us hadn’t registered at all, except as a possible alteration to her plan.

  “How long can you hold on, Kate?” I yelled.

  There was a long pause, then a breathless response.

  “Hang on!”

  I waited for about five seconds, watching as Kate slowly worked her way back around like a gymnast on the slanted section of grating.

  “No, no, no. Can’t be . . .”

  Kate was up on her feet, walking rapidly toward the camera. Soon, all I could see were her feet.

  “I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “But she’s not dead. Not yet anyway.”

  “Then where is she?”

  “She’s hanging on, Will. And I heard everything Goring said.”

  She leaned her head down into the camera as she picked it up.

  “Now I gotta go. I’ll see you when I see you.”

  And with those words, Kate vanished. She’d either ripped the camera cord out or simply turned it off. Either way, I had no idea what her plan was or whether I’d see her alive ever again. Kate was either going to save Marisa or she wasn’t, and I wasn’t being invited to watch the proceedings.

  I screamed into the room, angry and frustrated beyond anything I’d ever felt. I went to the door and pounded on it, kicked it, yelled at it. If I could just have gotten out I could have gone to her, gone to them both, maybe done some good. But I was trapped without a prayer in the world of getting out on my own. Marisa’s feed had gone dead, and no matter how many times I pushed the lever to bring her back, she wouldn’t return.

  I switched on the S4 station and gazed at the dripping walls of the tunnel. It was empty for a moment, cold and silent. Rainsford’s face drew into the screen from the side, fast and close, and he yelled sharp and quick. Then he laughed, because I had screamed, too, taken by surprise. I wanted to kill this guy but knew I couldn’t. Mrs. Goring had tried many times over many years. He’d lived ten lives, maybe more, and no one had ever been able to bring Rainsford to an end. It was maddening to think about. I would grow old, I would suffer death. In the end, he would always have the last laugh, which was what his laugh sounded like, a reminder of the facts.

 
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