By Charles Matthews

Thursday, October 14, 2010

7. The Passage, by Justin Cronin, pp. 247-348

The PassageIII. The Last City, 2 A.V.; IV. All Eyes, First Colony, San Jacinto Mountains, California Republic, 92 A.V., Nineteen-Twenty-One
A flier posted by the U.S. Military Forces Command, Easter Quarantine Zone, Philadelphia PA, orders all children between the ages of four and thirteen to report to the train station for evacuation.

An excerpt follows:
From the Journal of Ida Jaxon ("The Book of Auntie")
Presented at the Third Global Conference on the North American Quarantine Period
Center for the Study of Human Cultures and Conflicts
University of New South Wales, Indo-Australian Republic
April 16-21, 1003 A.V.

Ida tells of the panic and chaos that followed the arrival in Philadelphia of the "jumps. Not vampires, though you heard the word said." She was eight years old when she was taken by her father to the train. She was swept away by the mob at the station, but manages to board one of the cars. Along the way, there were loud booms that she  learned took place whenever the "jumps" managed to board one of the cars. The procedure was simply to release the invaded car and leave it behind. When they arrived in California, she found that her cousin Terrence had also been on the train. "He was the first Jaxon who was Household and a Jaxon's been Household ever since." We will soon learn that Household is the term for governing body in the colony.

They were taken to the Sanctuary in the new colony. When she asked Terrence, who was three years older, where they were, he tells her, "It's like the story of Noah, and this here's the ark." She made friends with Lucy Fisher, who later married Terrence, and with Lucy's little brother, Rex. Terrence, she tells us, was "taken up" (i.e., turned into a vampire) when he was twenty-seven, and Lucy died in childbirth soon after. She outlived others to become the colony's oldest resident, known as Auntie.

She recalls when the Army left and the gates were sealed. That night, to be later known as "First Night," the lights came on, "so bright they blotted out the stars.... And in all the years since then, the years and years and years, I never have seen those stars again, not once."

A map of the colony and the "DOCUMENT OF ONE LAW" -- essentially the colony's constitution -- follow. Among the rules of the colony:
Children in the SANCTUARY are to know nothing of the world in its present form outside the COLONY's walls, including any mention of the VIRALS, the duties of the WATCH, and the event known as the GREAT VIRAL CATACLYSM. Any person found to knowingly provide such information to any MINOR CHILD is subject to the penalty of PUTTING WITHOUT THE WALLS. 
We learn later that children stay in the Sanctuary until the age of eight, blissfully innocent of what's happening in the world. And that another infraction that is punishable by "putting without the walls" is the operation of a radio -- i.e., anything that could attract the attention of the outside world, viral or otherwise.

The Household, the governing body, comprises the oldest members of each of the eight remaining First Families. There are also Walker Families -- people who arrived after the construction of the colony and were admitted. The last Walker had arrived nearly thirty years ago. He is known only as the Colonel, and his survival is considered impossible. 

Peter Jaxon is a twenty-one-year-old descendant of Terrence and Auntie's great-great-nephew. He is a Full Watch, which means he stands guard on the walls, armed with a crossbow and a blade. He is getting ready to kill his brother, Theo, who has been "taken up." The act of killing an infected member of the colony is known as "the Mercy." As he looks out from the wall to the west, he thinks about the ocean he has never seen except in books when he was "a Little and still living in the Sanctuary." His father, Demetrius Jaxon, had seen the ocean when he had gone on the Long Rides, which were discontinued after an ambush in which three members were lost. Peter had watched his father the last time he left the colony, never to return and thus presumed dead because members of the colony who had been "taken up" usually returned for the Mercy: "Most just stood there at the gates, waiting for the shot." But Theo hasn't returned yet when his shift on the watch ends.

Before Theo's loss, a viral had been killed in one of the steel nets that hung below the platforms where the Watch stood to fire on them if they were able to scale the wall, which was too high for them to jump. The virals travel in "pods" of three, and the one that had made it to the net was thought to be a large female, "a detail Peter always found it curious to note, since the differences seemed so slight and served no purpose, as virals did not reproduce, as far as anybody was aware." She also had a shock of white hair, which was unusual, as virals were usually bald. Arlo Wilson, a powerfully built man, had made the kill. Arlo had an identical twin, Hollis, who was clean-shaven. Arlo had married Leigh Jaxon, Peter's cousin.

Arlo and Peter had been the Watchers accompanying two mechanics on the Heavy Duty or HD crew, Rey Ramirez and Finn Darrell, on their trip to the wind turbines that power the lights. Theo and Mausami Patel were scheduled to be the other Watchers on the trip, but at the last moment Alicia Donadio, a captain, had stepped up to pull Mausami off the detail. Mausami, who was married to Galen Strauss, was pregnant.  Alicia would take her place.

Alicia had been raised by the Colonel after her parents were killed when the power failed during an earthquake now called Dark Night. "By morning, 162 souls had been lost, including nine whole families, as well as half the herd, most of the chickens, and all of the dogs." No one, except possibly Alicia, knows anything about the Colonel, who lives alone and tends to the apiary. The story has it that he showed up at the main gate one day, wearing a necklace of viral teeth. During Dark Night he had saved almost two dozen people, and afterward proclaimed that he would take care of her. Her parents had also been Walkers. He had trained her to fight so well that when she was fifteen she killed three virals, something never done before.

Just as the group were ready to leave, Michael Fisher, one of the engineers, ran up with a motherboard in his hand to ask them to try to find a replacement for it. He quarreled with Alicia, who mocked his technical jargon, but told Peter that his sister, Sara Fisher, had sent word for him to be careful. Along the way, they spotted a movement in the trees a couple of hundred meters away, which they took to be a very daring viral hunting for squirrels. And as they neared a highway overpass, they spotted a pod of virals asleep underneath it, forcing them to make a detour. Finally they reached the power station, which was surrounded by an electric fence. Theo had a key that switched off the fence and opened the gate. But they found no one in the bunker, which was staffed by the station chief, Zander Phillips and his assistant, fifteen-year-old Caleb Jones.

Peter had always felt overshadowed by his brother. On her deathbed, she seemed to mistake Peter for Theo, telling Peter, "Take care of your brother, Theo, she said. He's not strong like you.... He had never told his brother about this ... it was Theo she had placed at her bedside in her final hours; Theo to whom she had given the last words of her life."

Peter awakened in the night and, finding everyone else asleep but Alicia's bunk empty, went to find her in the control room, reading a copy of Where the Wild Things Are that she had found. She took him to a hidden storage area she had found, where there was a stash of unopened boxes of rifles: "Twelve boxes, six guns apiece, a little over a thousand rounds. There are six more crates up in the crawl space." There is a ladder to the roof. "He stepped out into the stars." He was surprised when Alicia brought up the subject of "pairing," and asked if he ever thought about pairing with Sara. But when he asked her why she was asking this, she was distracted by movement outside the fence line. It was Caleb, being stalked by a pod that, uncharacteristically, wasn't making a direct assault on him. Caleb yelled for them to open the gate, but they didn't have the key. Alicia fired flares to give him a moment's lead, then shoots out the control panel to turn off the electric fence so Caleb could climb over. The virals leaped the fence and attacked as Peter, Alicia and Caleb scrambled to the hatch. When Peter jumped into the hatch after the others, he hurt his ankle. Unable to close the hatch because a viral outside was pressing on it, Peter fired into the viral's open mouth and "shot Zander Phillips through the brain."

Michael Fisher calculated, from the documents he has found,  that there is a population of at least 42.5 million virals. And he had also calculated that they won't be able to maintain the electric power they need forever: "the lights were going to fail. A year or two at the outside." The only person he had confided this to was Theo. Then he found a radio log compiled by his "great (great-great?) grandfather, Rex Fisher, First Engineer of Light and Power, First Colony, California Republic." It had been seventy-five years ago that radio had been banned and the antenna destroyed to keep the colony from attracting too many Walkers. It was another engineer, Elton, a blind man at least fifty years old, who had put the log there for Michael to find. Elton rarely left the Lighthouse where they maintain the power. He had worked with Michael's father, who had also seen the coming failure of the power: "brownouts within the next six months, total failure within thirty." So Michael and Elton scrounged enough materials to make a forbidden radio, which Elton listened to all the time.

Sara Fisher came to call her brother to dinner. She had caught a jackrabbit, which was rare because the virals had eaten everything warm-blooded except for squirrels and a few smaller birds. They made a stew of the rabbit. Michael tried to reassure her about Peter and the rest of the party, which was a day late. While Michael rested, Sara took the leftover stew to Elton, stopping to visit the Sanctuary, remembering ruefully how excited she had been on her eighth birthday to be leaving it.  Sara was also a nurse, and she stopped at the infirmary to see about Gabe Curtis, who was dying of cancer. Finally, she went to the Lighthouse, where Elton had her listen to The Rite of Spring:  "'I just thought you should hear what you look like,' said Elton."

[This flashbackery is awkward to summarize, and I should have stuck to present tense throughout, chronology be damned. 

It's a bit of a shock to shift from the dying Wolgast and the vanished Amy to a whole new story almost a century later and to expect us to work up our sympathies again for a new set of characters. There's a nice irony in Terrence telling Ida that the colony is Noah's ark, since Project NOAH started the whole thing. The most notable things in this section are the burgeoning triangle of Peter, Sara and Alicia. And some new mysteries to ponder, including the mysterious Colonel. And then there's the ambiguous deathbed message to Peter from his mother: Did she really think he was Theo, or did she say "Take care of your brother Theo" instead of "Take care of your brother, Theo"?]

No comments:

Post a Comment