By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

12. The Passage, by Justin Cronin, pp. 541-611

The PassageVIII. The Haven
They ride for hours. Michael wakens from his fitful sleep in the jouncing van to remember that Sara has been lost, carried off by a viral. It was Amy who, with surprising strength, had pulled him on board the van. A man and a woman, enter the compartment where they have been kept to tell them to hand over their weapons. Through the window they can see a large building in the distance.

Michael faints when they reach their destination, but remembers the man introducing himself as Olson Hand and then somehow turning into Theo. He awakes in an infirmary, having dreamed of the fat woman breathing smoke. Peter appears, accompanied by the woman, who is named Billie, and tells him that he has suffered from heatstroke and has been out for four days. He also tells Michael that they are in a place called the Haven, where there are almost three hundred other people and no virals. But Michael notices that there is something false about Peter's cheerfulness.

Alicia then appears, accompanied by a blue-eyed man whom she introduces as Jude Cripp. And Peter informs him that Sara has been rescued and is with them. Hollis and Billie had driven back to Las Vegas and found her in a room at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Sara tells Michael that she doesn't remember anything from the time she was carried off by the viral to when she awakened in the truck. Sara and Hollis join the others at Michael's bedside, but Michael is still struck by "the way everyone was acting, as if they had no worries in the world."

Jude explains that they send regular patrols to Las Vegas for supplies, and that they were in their shelter in the ruins of a casino when they heard the explosion and found them when they went to check on it. But Michael is puzzled: "I remember it distinctly. The hotel blew up after we got out. You were already there." Hollis, however, insists that Michael is wrong; he also tell Michael that he was the one who pulled him into the truck, not Amy. Michael can't shake his skepticism: "Who would leave the safety of a fortified shelter at night and drive toward  a burning building? And why was everyone going along with it?"

They leave him to get some rest, but Sara comes back in to give him a kiss and slips a piece of paper in his hand. It says, "Tell them nothing."

The others have been aware from the start that there's something fishy about the story they've been told about the Haven, especially the fact that there are no virals nearby. The Haven has a large herd of cattle, and there's no way virals wouldn't attack it. And they claim to have no ammunition other than the flamethrowers on the vans. Olson tells them that it was settled by refugees from Las Vegas who made their way to what had been the Desert Wells State Penitentiary and the low-security Conservation Camp for juvenile offenders.

Peter and the others have been "quarantined" in some outlying buildings of the Conservation Camp. On Peter's maps, they find the prison, which is next to Nellis Air Force Test Range and the Yucca Mountain National Repository. Hollis had been able to examine more of the surroundings when he went to Las Vegas with Billie and a man named Gus. He had seen only two gates, and there were guard towers at the main one. They had also crossed railroad tracks heading north-south; in the north there was a range of mountains. Peter had already realized that they would have to steal a vehicle to escape.

On the third night they were taken to a reception to meet the residents of the Haven. Peter found the people "childlike," with "a look of wide-eyed innocence, almost of obedience." He talks to Olson and his daughter, Mira, about Amy. Olson has never heard of anyone who can't speak, but he asks if she's "otherwise ... all right?" When Peter is puzzled, Olson explains that "a woman who can bear a child is a great prize. Nothing is more important, with so few of us left. And I see that one of your females is pregnant." Peter thinks "your females" is an odd way of putting it, and he notices that many of the women who are gathered around Mausami are pregnant, too.

In addition to his sense that the women were being treated like livestock, Peter is bothered by something else at the reception: There are no boys and no older children. No one asks him anything about the Colony. When he gets together with the others afterward, they confirm his impressions. They decide they need to find a vehicle and some weapons and ammunition. Sara thinks it will take Michael several days longer to recover, and that he's not really suffering from heatstroke. Alicia is concerned because Jude seems to have taken a serious interest in her, and she doesn't know how much longer she can "hold him off." She also hesitantly brings up something else: On a visit to the dairy barns with Jude, she thinks she spotted a former member of the Colony named Liza Chou. They also remark on the absence of boys and older children, and realize that the small group of children who have been playing outside their residences are the same ones every day. And Sara, Alicia, Hollis and Caleb discover that they've all been having the same dream: the one about the fat woman. Only Peter has been spared.

In the infirmary, Michael is brought some food by Mira, who begins to flirt with him, then kisses him. She tells him, "If I have a baby, I won't have to go to the ring." But then Billie and a group of men enter and order Mira to go home. "'He's not for the ring!' Mira cried. 'Poppa said!'" Then Billie puts a pinch of powder into a cup of water and orders Michael to drink it. "You won't like the taste, but you'll feel better fast. And no more fat lady." Michael gives in and drinks the mixture. Billie says that Peter told them Michael was an engineer who can fix anything, and after thinking about the warning to "tell them nothing," he admits that it's true. They give him his clothes and leave with him.

Mausami awakens to find Amy sitting on the next bunk. She wants to feel the baby moving inside Mausami. And then Amy communicates to Mausami: "He's here.... He's in the dream. With Babcock. With the Many.... Theo. Theo is here."

Babcock remembers growing up in Desert Wells, and the abuse he suffered from his mother who not only beat him but also burned him with her cigarettes when he made too much noise and disturbed her as she sat smoking in the kitchen and watching her soap operas. So he stabbed her to death and was sent to prison for her murder. Then Wolgast took him to the facility, where he became "one of Twelve, the Babcock-Morrison-Chávez-Baffes-Turrell-Winston-Sosa-Echols-Lambright-Martinez-Reinhardt-Carter -- one of Twelve and also the Other, the Zero." And after he escaped, he infected every tenth victim with the virus, making them part of "His great and fearful company. The Many. The We of Babcock." He eats when they eat and sleeps when they sleep.

He hears the voice of Fanning say, "Brothers, we're dying." They have begun to deplete the world of people and animals. So he commands the Many to bring the remaining people to him at Desert Wells. He makes the people dream about his mother.
And those that did not bend their wills to his, that did not take up the knife when the time had come in the dark place of dreaming where Babcock's mind met theirs, they were made to die so the others could see and know and refuse no longer.
So he has built "the City of Babcock, first in all the world." But now he feels Amy's presence -- "Not the Zero or the Twelve but Another." She makes the virals, his Many, remember who they once were, which makes them want to die. "He knew that through her, all that they had done could be undone, all that they had made could be unmade."

Peter has discovered that Michael is missing from the infirmary, and Sara, Hollis and Caleb go in search of him. Peter and Alicia go to ask Olson what happened to Michael, but he's evasive. Peter sends Caleb to fetch Mausami and Amy so they can make an escape plan, but Caleb reports that they're missing, too. Alicia undoes the bandages that Sara had used to bind up her leg, wounded when the hotel exploded, and reveals that she has concealed a knife underneath them. She has only pretended to need her crutches.

Michael has been taken to a huge shed outside the fence around the Haven, where he finds them working on a diesel locomotive. Billie and a mechanic named Gus tell him they've been working on the engine for four years, but can't find a way to get current from the batteries to the pump. They want him to fix it in three hours.

Theo has been fighting sleep for days, trying not to dream about Babcock's mother. A man is outside his cell urging him to give in to the dream and, while in it, to kill the woman. He tells Theo that no one has ever held out this long without killing her. Theo isn't sure whether the voice is real or not, and whether he's asleep or awake. Then the voice begins taunting him by talking about Alicia, making sexual references. Then he mentions Babcock: "He's you. He's me. He's everyone, at least in these parts. I like to think he's kind of like our local god. Not like the old gods. A new god. A dream of god we all dream together. Say it with me, Theo. I. Am. Babcock." Theo resists: "I am Theo Jaxon.... I am not in the kitchen with the knife."

Finally, he can't resist and falls asleep, but in the dream he sees Amy as a little girl, sitting at the kitchen table with her stuffed rabbit called Peter. Then she becomes a beautiful woman and the scene shifts to the library where the virals are coming up the stairs. Then she becomes "an old woman, wizened and toothless, her hair gone ghostly white." She urges him, "Don't kill her, Theo." He wakes up and tells the man outside that he won't do it. The man angrily goes away, saying, "You won't like this next part very much, I don't expect." And he says, "We're going to have them, Theo. Maus and Alicia and the rest. One way or another, we're going to have them all."

Sara propositions the men guarding them, one of whom follows her while the other leaves. When Sara and the guard reach where Hollis is hiding, he knocks the guard out with a chair leg and Caleb ties him up. Hollis checks the guard's gun and finds three rounds in it, then gives it to Alicia.  They head toward the prison and break into the garage behind it, but are discovered by Olson Hand and six other men. There is a standoff in which Alicia points the pistol at Olson while the others raise their rifles. When Peter asks where the missing members of his group are, Olson is puzzled. He doesn't know about Amy and Musami, but he says Michael is with them. Finally he says, "You don't know about Babcock."

Michael figures out what's wrong with the ignition for the locomotive. Meanwhile, the others have formed an alliance with Olson, who has explained what's going on: The residents of the Haven sacrifice four head of cattle and two humans to Babcock every new moon, which is tonight. They do this in exchange for Babcock keeping the virals under his control away from the Haven. The blocked streets in Las Vegas were designed to trap any humans who might wander into the city, as they had done, and the Haven regularly sends out patrols to seek for them. Sometimes, as had happened with Sara, people were captured by the virals and left for the patrol to find. The dream of the fat lady is a memory of Babcock's, and if you kill her in the dream, "you belong to him. You belong to the ring."

Alicia is infuriated by Olson's excuse: "It was a our only way to survive. For most, the ring seems a small price to pay." But Olson tells her that in addition to Mira, he had once had a son. When he was chosen for the sacrifice, his mother protested and Jude, who is in charge of selecting the people for the sacrifice, sent her into the ring with their son. Now, with the help of Peter and his group, Olson and the other men with him hope to make a stand against Babcock.

Peter is convinced that Amy and Mausami are the ones to be sent into the ring tonight, but Olson says Jude wouldn't send a pregnant woman. When Peter asks how many supporters Olsen has, he admits that there are only him, the six other men with him, and four who will be in the balconies during the sacrifice. "Babcock is stronger than any viral you've ever seen, and the crowd won't be on our side. Killing him won't be easy," he warns. This kind of attack on Babcock has only been tried once before, and it was unsuccessful. They must kill Babcock or he'll call the many and pursue them, even if they get the train to run.

Babcock is ready for the sacrifice, sending the message to Jude that it's time. Jude is "his Best and Special, ... who dreamed the dream better than all others." Now Jude is leading the crowd in a kind of hymn before the sacrifice, when Babcock senses the presence of Amy, "The one who carried the seed of forever but was not of his blood, was not of the Twelve or the Zero."

Peter makes his way through a ventilation shaft but falls onto the catwalk above the arena, losing his handgun in the fall. He is shocked to see that one of the men waiting to be sacrificed is his brother, Theo. Babcock, who is feasting on the cattle, is "not like any viral Peter knew. It was the largest he had ever seen, that anyone had ever seen. Then Jude is there, aiming a shotgun at him, but Hollis shoots Jude just in time.

Mausami and Amy are also in the building, but they get separated in the crowd. Mausami is amazed and thrilled to see Theo there, too. Then she recognizes the other sacrificial victim as Finn Darrell, who had been taken from the power station. At the same moment, she is recognized by Liza Chou, whom she had spotted earlier. There is a wall of flame between her and Theo, but she spots the man who controls the pump feeding fuel to the flames, kills him and shuts off the fire. She feels a bullet enter her leg as she looks up at Babcock, who "stood at least three meters, maybe more." Then Amy rushes into the ring and stands between Theo and Babcock.

Hollis, Alicia, Caleb and Sara appear. Alicia has the RPG, but because Amy is between her and Babcock she can't get a clean shot. Babcock remains mesmerized by Amy until Mausami runs into the ring and attracts his attention. He leaps into the air, and Alicia fires the grenade. The catwalk collapses under Peter, Alicia and Hollis. Sara and Caleb run up to them, and Amy, helping Mausami, who is bleeding from the gunshot wound, joins them. Peter and Caleb together help Theo get to his feet and run to the exit, which is crowded with people. Outside, Olson is directing everyone to the train, which is arriving. There are three open boxcars in addition to the engine. Michael reaches down from the engine to help Mausami get on board. Amy is behind her. Peter and Theo manage to catch up and get on as well.

Michael and Billie are at the controls, and Billie hands Peter a first-aid kit so he can bandage Mausami's leg. Caleb and Hollis had been seen helping a woman on the train, but no one knows where Sara and Alicia are. Billie, learning that Babcock isn't dead, knows that the Many will soon be attacking, so she and Gus get on top of the train, followed by Peter, who sees the approaching virals as a "pulsing green light" at the rear of the train. "Peter understood what he was seeing -- that it was not just ten or twenty virals but an army of hundreds. The Many. The Many of Babcock." Billie and Gus fire into the crowd, but the movement of the train causes Peter to lose his grip on his shotgun as Billie and Gus disappear. He falls from the roof but manages to grip a ledge as they enter a tunnel in the mountain. Caleb and Hollis pull him into the boxcar.

The car is nearly empty, but Olson Hand is in it. Enraged, Peter attacks Olson, realizing that they had been used as bait. Olson admits that when Theo had been brought to the prison, Jude knew that others might follow, which is why they were waiting for them in Las Vegas. When they leave the tunnel, Peter sees Sara driving the Humvee alongside the train, with Alicia on top firing at the pursuing virals. Olson pushes Mira forward and tells Peter to get her to the engine. Sara maneuvers the Humvee closer to the train and yells for them to jump onto it. But Peter can't persuade Mira to make the leap and the Humvee has to dodge debris between it and the train, so Peter decides that they should go forward by way of the roof.

Hollis gives Caleb a boost up, then Peter, who pulls Mira up. Caleb goes ahead and makes it to the engine, but Peter is unable to get Mira to move forward. A viral grabs her leg and pulls her away, so Peter heads forward to the engine. He looks out and sees the Humvee, with Hollis and Olson now aboard it, racing toward them. Meanwhile the virals are swarming over the boxcars. Sara gets close enough for Hollis and Olson to get on the train, then Alicia makes the leap. Finally, as a viral makes a leap for the Humvee, Sara gets close enough for Alicia to pull her on board. And when she does, Amy blows the coupler that links the engine to the boxcars, which jackknife and derail.

Half a day later, they reach the end of the line in the town of Caliente. They take stock of what supplies they have left and try to decide what to do now. Peter of course wants to go on, but Hollis raises the possibility of going back to the colony and warning them. "Whatever was happening with the virals -- and obviously something was happening -- it appeared that they wanted people alive." And the pregnant Mausami will not be able to walk all the way to Colorado. Moreover, "Babcock, whatever he was, was still out there, as were the Many." Finally, they put it to a vote, and agree that they should keep going forward.

That afternoon, as they're packing up their supplies, Caleb finds a panel beneath the train that Michael says is a crawl pace. Caleb opens it and Jude emerges, carrying a pistol. Everyone reaches for a weapon, but Jude shoots Caleb just as Peter and Hollis open fire on him. Enraged, Alicia takes a gun, approaches Olson, and hits him in the face with it, then aims it at his head. Olson makes no effort to defend himself, but says of Jude, "He was familiar.... It means ... you can be one of them without being one of them." The next morning, Olson has gone.

They bury Caleb and get ready to leave. Michael, discouraged, worries about what chance they have against "Forty million smokes." But then Amy speaks for the first time: "He's wrong," she says. After they get over the shock of hearing her speak, she explains that there aren't forty million. There are twelve.

[The pell-mell action of this section is full of implausibilities, especially the leaps from Humvee to train and the ability of the group to manage to wind up together after being separated first in the crowd at the ring and then on the train. And I'm still not clear about the disappearance-reappearance of Mausami and Amy. The shooting of Caleb also seems gratuitous, though of all the company he is the one who had been given the least narrative attention. Once again, Cronin's action scenes play out more as scenarios than as literature.]

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