Welcome back to our worldwide The Passage readalong with Fantasy Faction. This week we’ve been busy reading (or re-reading) The Passage in the bright spring sunshine because things have gotten very dark. Virals are on the rise and its the end of the world as we know it . . . Warning for spoilers for everything in the first twenty chapters of The Passage.
Don’t forget to join us in our Goodreads group for all the discussion as we continue our readalong. Over to Marc Aplin from Fantasy Faction . . .
Chapter 16 – Recap
We pick up 2 months down the line and the days are longer and dryer now. Wolgast has not been down the mountain since the trip for supplies we witnessed in the last chapter.
Wolgast sticks to Amy’s schedule (due to her intolerance of light), he finds it easier waking at noon, working outside until dinner then going for a swim with Amy as the sun is going down and reading or playing board games through the night. Wolgast originally let Amy win whichever board game they chose, but realises that Amy is a shrewd player. Additionally, Amy has now taken the job of reading aloud from Wolgast – it is now her who reads for them. Wolgast is amazed that even the harder words and sentences don’t trip her up. When he asks her about it, she says she just remembers the words as she has heard them before.
Wolgast thinks about how his life off the mountain now seems nothing but a distant memory – just like the old world. Upon realising this, however, he smells burning and sees smoke coming from beyond the trees. He decides they are going to have to leave and get somewhere safe. Wolgast puts Amy into the car and they leave, heading away from the flames. However, the scale of the fire is so vast that they run straight into them – they can’t go any further. Their only choice is to turn back, but the fire was heading up the mountain in the other direction too. Wolgast knows there is an old canoe in one of the old outbuildings and he manages to get it to the lake with Amy. They get into it and head to the centre of the lake. Together they watch everything around them burn and Wolgast sees that Amy isn’t at all scared by what is going on. Eventually the fires pass, the wind pushing them in the other direction – astonishingly this was before they quite managed to reach the lodge. Later there is a huge boom – it’s thunder and a storm comes. Wolgast cannot believe their luck.
Wolgast takes Amy down the mountain to make sure Carl and Martha are OK. He is relieved to see the store still there, but upon approaching realises there is no sign of life. Indeed, Carl is curled up in bed with Martha – his arm around her. They are both dead – seemingly it was suicide through medication. Wolgast spots a newspaper on the bedside table. He takes it to read later. The moment he leaves the room he begins to weep.
Once Wolgast has pulled himself together, he and Amy begin salvaging what they can. They take plenty of food, batteries and propane. They then siphon the fuel from Carl’s vehicle, just in case they need to go anywhere.
It isn’t until the early hours of the morning, when Amy isn’t around, that Wolgast takes out the article and begins to read it. The headline is “CHICAGO FALLS” and the article details how the ‘vampire virus’ has reached the east coast. The army and National Guard are being overwhelmed and the once great city of Chicago has been lost. The reporter writes that the assault was clearly organised, which is a disturbing development.
A new perimeter has been set up from Toledo to Cincinnati. There have been reports, however, that troops are abandoning their posts. A spokesman for the military calls this nonsense, saying that the remaining soldiers in military service are amongst the bravest men and women he has ever had the honour to serve with.
At the time of the article, 30,000,000 are dead and another 3,000,000 are infected – at least. There are rumours that the various fires appearing are being set by the military, which are attempting to recklessly kill as many infected as possible. The military denies this.
Those who have survived are fleeing the spread and, as a result, the transport corridors are blocked. Food and medical supplies are running low, as people have to live as refuges – miles away from their homes. Being unable to travel, no one knows where to go.
Canada and Mexico are bracing themselves for outbreaks and Europe have closed their borders. The UN has said a plane or ship is not to go within 200miles of America.
The number of people attending church and synagogues has hit record levels. The heads of the churches say they are preparing for ascension – not as monsters, but as men.
California has declared itself a state – The Republic Of California – and the former governor has commanded that all military within its borders serve California’s National Guard. The US President refuses to acknowledge the split and says that any military personnel siding with the Californian governor will be treated as enemy combatants.
Upon US forces withdrawing from Pakistan, the Indian PM believes that now is the perfect time to drop a nuclear bomb on the country to rid the world of its extremists.
Wolgast is overcome by events and thinks about Lacey and Doyle who sacrificed their lives to save him. He throws the paper into the woodstove and watches it burn – his life is on the mountain now.
Chapter 16 – Commentary
The fires that begin heading up the mountain seem a blatant attempt by the military to burn the forests where the vampires reside (whether they acknowledge it or not).
Those of us watching out for ‘creepy Amy’ and ‘deity’ signs may notice that Amy looks out of the window towards the blast many times before the blast happens, she seems able to read complex books, she isn’t fearful of the fire and that the fire somehow misses the lodge, changes direction and is then put out by a storm that comes from nowhere… hmm.
The story of Carl is both tragic and beautiful. Carl could have headed up to the mountains with Wolgast, but Carl had everything he wanted from life – he retired to a store with his wife (note: Wolgast always thought about doing this, but never went through with it). Yes, his wife was ill, but he had her. Carl decides to abandon this world with everything he loves within reaching distance (the store and his wife) rather than begin another lifestyle or risk watching it fall.
The article reveals what could happen to the great United States of America. For so long, America has seemed the strongest nation in the world – it is really shocking to hear about it being abandoned, not only from other nations, but also by its own states. There is also the note that other countries have been enabled to engage in wars (India versus Pakistan) and no one knows that is going on in Europe. The effect of this is that we don’t know what is going on beyond America and that’s most thought provoking.
Wolgast burning the article is him symbolically saying that what is going on in the world is no longer his concern or responsibility. However, it is interesting to note that Wolgast does not feel content. I think Wolgast is a man of action and although he says he wants to settle down, it’s just not the life for him. Phil, from our Goodreads Group, had some interesting thoughts that were slightly different to mine too: “It always seemed to me that Wolgast spent his life looking back and although paying lip service to moving on actually never wanting to move forward. His time with Amy at the lodge was typical of this. He regressed into the father he wanted to be … at a location that he knew and had had some happy memories. As in life generally, he knew that he should move on but treasured familiarity over change.”
Chapter 17 – Recap
We move forward past summer and fall, into the first snow of winter (*Winter Is Coming* in a Jon Snow Voice). Wolgast calls up to Amy and asks if she has ever seen snow. She says she hasn’t and he is really excited for her to experience it. He says she needs to hurry up before she misses it and she runs upstairs to get ready to go outside. By the time she has put on her glasses, cap and sun cream the snow is falling heavily. She says she likes it and this makes Wolgast happy.
Wolgast shows Amy how to make a snow angel, all the time thinking about the cocoa he has put away for her as a surprise. She asks Wolgast what an Angel is and Wolgast tells her that they are a kind of ghost, but not scary ones; they are good and watch over people. Amy asks whether Wolgast believes in them and he is taken back by her casual directness – as he often is. Wolgast says he doesn’t know. His mum believed in them, but his father did not. Amy says her mum is dead, she feels it… she ‘feel[s] all of them’.
Later, Wolgast is relaxing. It is the early hours of the morning and he is thinking about Amy’s comments that she ‘feel[s] them all’ and that ‘they are so many’ and ‘they are sad’. She said ‘they forgot who they were – everyone’. Wolgast wonders whether Amy will sleep walk again tonight. She would often do that – get out of bed, walk down the stairs and stare out of the window towards the lake. This leads Wolgast to thinking about how Amy rarely sleeps or eats and is naturally good at almost everything, as though she has done it all before in a former life. He wonders if Amy is perhaps one of the vampires and what the vampires actually are (he has only seen Carter in early transformation it would seem). Wolgast starts to wonder whether there is anything else he needs to do, because he can’t see it.
Wolgast hears an engine outside and Amy runs down the stairs saying someone is outside. Wolgast tells her to go back to bed just as someone begins pounding on the door. “I’m sick,” he says. Wolgast raises his gun to the man and tells him to leave. He tells Wolgast he has nowhere to go… He had been living in a hunting camp after they blew up Seattle, but a female vampire dropped from the trees whilst he was out and bit him. He isn’t sure why she didn’t kill him and doesn’t know if she followed him.
Wolgast marches the man away from the lodge and he asks Wolgast to kill him. He tells Wolgast it is important he shoots him in the head, then the chest and then he must burn the body so he can’t come back. The man tells Wolgast he should tell Amy he turned and jumped at him. Wolgast tells the man to turn around. The man reveals himself as Bob and starts telling Wolgast he wished he’d had kids. Bob begins to turn and Wolgast sees a look of ecstasy wash over Bob’s face. “Hang on,” says Bob, but Wolgast shoots him.
Wolgast searches Bob’s snow mobile the next day and finds a picture of Bob with his pregnant wife and two children. Wolgast is confused about why Bob said he had no children. He buries the wallet and puts a small cross where he buried it. He is nervous about Bob’s friends coming at some point and wonders whether he should ask Amy if she can ‘feel’ them.
Months go by and the story picks up in the spring. Wolgast is asleep and being haunted by dreams of Lila, vampires and Bob. Wolgast wakes up with a start and Amy is stood looking out the window again. Suddenly she screams. There is a flash of light and the windows burst inwards. The two are sent flying across the room. Amy is screaming and saying she cannot see. Glass covers her face, but there are no cuts on her that Wolgast can see. She says she cannot open her eyes though and Wolgast recognises her symptoms as flash burns on the retina from looking at the blast – Wolgast presumes it was a nuke and wonders who sent it. Wolgast doesn’t mention it to Amy, but a huge piece of glass stuck into his thigh and has caused a huge cut – he pulls it out, but it’s pretty bad.
Wolgast moves them to the basement, but knows it is a matter of time before the radiation begins to affect them. The gash in his leg has become badly infected and is seeping green pus. He realises he is going to die and wonders what will happen to Amy. He knows she won’t change or age – those at the compound have taken that away from her. Wolast is confined to bed and mumbles words of apology to Amy, Eva, Lila and Lacey – saying he couldn’t see the plan.
At some point, Wolgast wakes up and Amy is gone. He summons every ounce of strength to go and look for her. He makes it to the forest, but realises he will die here – he is too weak and too sick to make it back. He hears rustling in the trees, but is too close to death to react. He fills his mind with his “daughter’s” name, Amy, as he slips into death.
Chapter 17 – Commentary
Hmm. It is interesting that Justin Cronin chose to include the discussion about Angels, isn’t it? Keep an eye on that. In other news, Amy can ‘feel’ dead people. We presume this is the transformed vampires (who displayed telepathic abilities earlier in the novel), but it isn’t clear at this point to what extent. The fact she says ‘they forgot who they were’ would explain the strange inconsistencies with Bob’s stories about not having children, when he’d actually had two and was expecting a third.
This chapter is notably the first time we see Wolgast consider that Amy could be a vampire. He has only seen Carter very early in his transformation, so probably doesn’t have a clear view in his mind of what the vampires actually are. I think we would mostly agree with him that the disease has done something to Amy: she doesn’t need to eat or sleep and her hair/nails don’t grow after all. That said, there was something strange or special about Amy before she’d even heard of the virus, so there is more to the mystery of Amy than this alone.
It’s sad that Wolgast dies feeling as though he couldn’t complete the plan Lacey had for him – especially seeing as he probably did: he kept Amy safe by getting her away. He dies apologising and alone and I don’t think he deserves that. Yes, he did some bad things under orders, but Amy gave him the chance to reconsider the direction he was going and he chose to turn away from that life in the end and give up everything for her. Amy couldn’t have hoped to find a more dedicated guardian. I take a little solace in the fact he dies with Amy’s name in his mind and considering her his daughter (whether this is the same confusion Bob experienced or a revelation, I’m not certain – but I’m hopeful of the latter!).
The question that will plague us for the foreseeable future is: what happened to Amy?
Chapter 18 – Recap
Prior to Chapter 18 we get a couple of appendixes from the US Military. These appendixes are orders for the evacuation of children between 4 and 13. There is a note that no parents or guardians may enter the train station that the children will depart from and anyone trying to interfere will be shot.
We are provided the journal of Ida Jaxon– it has been presented at the ‘Center for the Study of Human Cultures and Conflicts, University of New South Wales, Indo-Australian Republic on April 16-21, 1003 A.V.
Ida was 8 years old at the time of the evacuation. Her mother had packed for her, bawling the whole time she did it – knowing she was never going to see her again. Ida remembers the thousands of people pressing against the fences. The thousands of people watching their children leave for good. By this time, the ‘jumps’ (also known as flyers, smokes, drinks and virals – but never vampires, as that implies they aren’t real) had taken New York, Pittsburgh and DC. There is no understanding or awareness of what has happened outside of the US and Ida wonders if maybe Philadelphia is the last place left with survivors. When Ida asks about the war, her mother tells her the jumps are people, but very sick.
Ida’s family lives in a constant state of year and every day is a struggle. There is very little food and every time the sun goes down, you feel it could be your last. Ida’s father has boarded up the entire house and stays up all night holding his gun and listening to the radio.
Ida doesn’t remember much about the world before the jumps. Her earliest memory is Christmas shopping – the lights, the people, the excitement. There is no Christmas anymore.
One night Ida is woken up by her father who tells her she must say goodbye to her mother. Ida hugs her mother until her father says they’ve got to go. There are explosions outside and people are crying. The streets are thick with people: mostly one adult and one child.
Arriving at the train station, Ida is stunned by the amount of army and tanks in attendance. She also notices that everyone is white – her father tells her, “look on the bright side, but never trust the white man.”
Soldiers allowing certain people onto the train that Ida thinks must be 100 carts long. An older woman carrying a cat tries to get onto the train and it causes commotion amongst the already highly-strung soldiers. Shots are fired and Ida loses her father and her suitcase. Stumbling through the ground she spots a boy she went to school with on the floor – blood pouring from his chest. Ida writes that there seemed no logic to who the soldiers were shooting… they were just shooting.
A man Ida doesn’t know grabs hold of her and begins shouting for someone to take her. She is taken onto the train and explains how tightly packed children were into the carriages. Each carriage was assigned two ‘watchers’ to look after them.
As they get going there are a number of explosions. Ida later learns that the train had been built in such a way that carriages could be released from the main train. These explosions were the sounds of them being released and abandoned once jumps made it into the carriages behind them. Ida was lucky enough to be right at the front – she finds her older cousin, Terrance, there too. His father, having worked on the train, knew this would give him the best chance. Terrance tells Ida he will look after her and he went on to become the first Jaxon who was ‘Household’ and a Jaxon has been Household ever since (more on this next chapter).
From the train, they are taken onto buses. These buses take them to a village enclosed by walls and lit up by huge lights. There are army and FEMA everywhere and as soon as they arrive they are given clothes. Ida notices that beyond the clothes, food, livestock and guns there isn’t much else. The children are taken to the ‘Sanctuary’ and told that the walls and lights will keep them safe now.
In the sanctuary a little girl, Lucy, is crying and Terrance goes to her and says he will look after her. She asks if he can look after her brother too and he says he will. Ida says that Lucy and Terrance were married when they got older and she and Lucy became best friends too.
Ida writes that she is old now: half in this world and half in the next. People call her ‘aunty’ and most don’t even know her real name. She never had any children of her own – she couldn’t. Ida thinks of the first ones: Terrance, Lucy, Mazie – they all lived a good life, but were gone now and would be forgotten if Ida wasn’t writing about them.
The extract finishes with Ida reflecting upon how sad it was that people took their own lives. The army had promised that they would bring more people to the colony, but they left one day and never came back. This ended up being their final home, from the day the lights went on and the stars went out.
Chapter 18 – Commentary
A little bit of hope! 1000 years after the viral outbreak, we know that a University exists in New South Wales. Note, however, that its location is labelled as within the ‘Indo-Australian Republic’ suggesting that India didn’t stop with their nuking of Pakistan. In real-life 2015, only 2.13% of the Australian population are Indian, so something has gone on – we are evidently not supposed to know what right now (and won’t find out anytime soon, I’m afraid).
The story of Ida, a young girl from a fairly typical family, is quite refreshing. We read about how Ida was saved by her father who heard about the evacuation of young children and made sure she was on the train. We know that millions of children around the world died and many were lost on the carriages of the train, but Ida was one of the survivors – she was able to grow old and although she didn’t have children of her own, her brother did and he was kind and encouraged bravery and kindness in those around him. Essentially, there is hope for the future with these new characters serving as the new parents of humanity.
Interlude – Appendices
We are given a copy of a map and the ‘Document of One Law’ that were presented at the same Center for the Study of Human Cultures and Conflicts Conference as Ida’s diary. It is useful for the coming explanations of day-to-day life in the Colony.
Essentially, the colony is looking to promote a quiet, isolated life until the day of the return (the day the army will return with other survivors). Many have come to believe, however, that this day will never come and that the army fell to the vampires around 80 years ago.
The ‘Household’ is in charge of order and is made up of the 8 surviving first families: Patal, Jaxon, MolyNeau, Fisher, Chou, Curtis, Boyes and Norris.
Children are placed into the sanctuary shortly after birth and they must live there until they are 8 years old. They can know nothing about the vampires or the world that came before until they leave. There are seven trades children may enter into after they have left the sanctuary: Watch, Heavy Duty, Light and Power, Agriculture, Livestock, Commerce, Manufacturing and Sanctuary-Infirmary.
The watch has control of the guns and must consist of one captain, three second captains, fifteen full watch and a number of runners (who sound alarms and send messages).
If someone comes to the wall they must be put into quarantine for 30 days. If they appear symptomatic then they will be mercifully executed. Crimes such as using a signalling device (such as a radio) to try to communicate with anyone outside of the walls, opening the gate after dark or murder are all punishable by being put outside of the walls without aid of any kind (i.e. punishment for breaking the rules of the Household is being given to the vampires).
Chapter 19 – Recap
The story picks up with the great-great nephew of Ida, Peter Jaxon (Terrance Jaxon, signatory of the first law, would be his great grandfather). It has been about 100 years or so since the events at the compound.
Peter Jaxon is stood on the catwalk above the main-gate ready to kill his brother when he returns, inevitably, as a jump. At this point, we don’t know the circumstances – they will unravel over the coming chapters.
Peter and his brother stand to serve ‘the Mercy’, as their father and his father had done. Essentially, as Watchers, their job is to protect the wall by manning platforms above it. They shoot, with crossbows, things they see approaching.
Within the walls, as we saw on the map, there is a colony with an armoury, fields, plaza for trading days, sanctuary, barns, stores and housing. There is a trailer park where no one lives anymore and a big shed full of vehicles that have mostly seized up.
From the wall, Peter admires a woman named Sara who is a nurse, trained by his mother. She is helping lead animals out the gate to graze. He appreciates her grace and skill and when she sees him looking over at her they share a look that says they hope Theo doesn’t come back. Peter then wonders why the jumps always return. He wonders what it is that drives them. He was taught that the vampires don’t have souls and had no recollection of their former lives, so why do they always come back?
The sun is beginning to fall and Peter looks out towards the ruins of L.A. He thinks about an atlas he read as a child (i.e. under 8 years old) and the lie his teachers told him: that ‘oceans’ were simply fiction. It wasn’t until he was older and his father, who used to lead the Long Rides (trips to abandoned cities salvaging things and looking for any survivors), told him he once saw one that he began to think of them as something real. Peter’s father would always tell him stories of the Long Rides and although they amazed him, they scared him too. The world was so big and quiet.
Like all Jaxon males, Peter and Theo had become watchers and believed they would one day lead the Long Rides. However, one day there was an accident and a Long Ride’s entire Scouting Party (including Peter’s Uncle – his father’s brother) was killed. Many blamed his father for taking unnecessary risks and Peter thinks about how he was never the same after that. The people within the colony think that there is nothing left beyond the walls – it has been over 80 years since the army left promising to return. Talk of ‘The Day Of Return’ is almost non-existent now and no one really believes it will happen.
After the death of his brother, Peter’s father grew distant even from his family. He began to wake early every morning and head out of the gate with the herding parties. He’d return just before second bell, announcing that the gates were going to close. One day, Peter’s father left through the gate as usual, but second bell sounded without him. The gates were closed and he never saw him again. Theo took the place of their father then, but now that Theo is gone, Peter must take Theo’s place.
When someone is ‘taken up’ (i.e. transformed into a vampire) they tend to return within 3 to 7 days. They offer no resistance and Peter likes to think that this is their last ounce of humanity driving them to the wall to get shot, as they don’t want to live as a viral.
Still looking beyond the wall, we hear about how virals stick to the shade. Peter thinks about how it has been 30 years since an outsider approached the colony – the Colonel arrived one day and no one knows anything much about him. He is known simply as ‘the Colonel’ and is said to have survived on his own for quite some time.
The rest of the watch arrive, Alicia is the loudest – she is the captain and Theo knows she will come with him to do what needs to be done should Theo return. This comforts him greatly.
Chapter 19 – Commentary
Most of this chapter is worldbuilding and introducing us to the character of Peter. Much like Wolgast, Peter has lost everyone (his father, mother and most recently brother). Unlike Wolgast, he has a job that motivates him: keeping watch on the wall and protecting people from virals.
Life in the colony seems to have become normality. It is all the people who are left have ever known as those who lived life beyond the wall, before the virus, are now all dead (from old age). As far as the people on the colony are aware, this is all that is left (as discussed in the last chapter’s commentary – we know otherwise).
The next few chapters will answer the questions raised in this chapter: ‘How did Theo die?’ and ‘Will he return?’
Chapter 20 – Recap
Disappearance of Theo Jaxon, second commander of the watch, could have been said to have been set in motion 12 days earlier when a viral has been killed in the nets by watcher Arlo Wilson.
A group of three had been spotted prowling as if they were testing the fences. This is the same as any other sighting and followed the exact same pattern as viral attacks always did: there was then no sight of them for a few days. They would then reappear closer. Perhaps one would draw close enough to warrant fire from the watchers, but they’d always run away before a kill shot could be taken. Then there would be an attack.
The watch have become so accustomed with their attack pattern that almost all virals are caught in the next leading up the walls and killed. In fact, in the years since Peter joined the watch, only one has made it past the nets. Even when they did make it past the nets, the bright lights on the wall make them so disorientated that they don’t manage to kill more than one or two people before they are put down. The woman viral that did make it over the wall had long white hair (unusual for a vampire, as usually they are hairless) and was around 2 meters tall. She was shot off the top of the wall shortly after she passed the nets.
Arlo is married to Peter and Theo’s cousin and acts like a captain – he is a big man and easy to look up to. In addition, Arlo likes to play songs for the older and younger residents too. Arlo is a modest man, but it was him who killed the viral and the watch feel safer having him with them. It is very rare that kills are made close up, so Arlo is also respected for keeping his composure and managing that too.
Arlo is part of the six person crew who will head to the power station and swap out the current maintenance crew and replenish supplies. Theo, Peter, Rey, Finn and Mausami are the other 5.
Just as they are about to set up, the captain of the watch, Alicia, arrives and says that Mausami cannot go. Theo had grown up with Mausami. We hear from Peter than they were very close and everyone had expected them to get married. Somehow she ended up with a man named Galen Strauss and it had rocked Theo quite badly. Alicia says to Mausami that she knows she is pregnant and so can no longer be a member of the watch. Mausami is outraged and the rest of the team are shocked that one of their strongest members will be leaving them – except Theo who wears a blank expression.
Maus blames her husband for telling the captain, but Alicia says it isn’t Galen’s doing, it is hers; she knows the rules. Peter finds it hard to imagine Maus as a mother, but generally once people have children in the compound, they don’t return to their former jobs. Her build and attitude makes her a watcher through and through and as she leaves she says she will lose her mind if she has to stay at home all day.
Alicia says she will take Maus’s place, but that Theo can remain in charge – she will go by his orders on this occasion, despite their ranks. Alicia is the youngest captain the watch has seen. She was very young when her parents were lost during ‘Dark Night’. She had been bought up by the Colonel, who is a mysterious man who showed up at the gates 30 years ago and has lived in the colony ever since. Some say he was wearing a necklace of vampire teeth and holding multiple empty rifles that day. He keeps his own company mainly, but there are stories of him sneaking out at night and killing vampires.
Dark Night was the night there was an earthquake demolished a section of the wall and saw all the power go out. Vampires broke into compound and killed around 162 people. The colonel managed to get around two-dozen people back to the sanctuary all by himself. The two he rescued, but lost on the way were Alicia’s parents and the very next day he took her as his own. She grew up training under him and learning everything he had learned on the outside. I ‘believe’ this accident left just 94 people in the colony (if I have read the relevant bits correctly!).
She became a runner at a very young age. Runners aren’t meant to engage – they just lookout and pass messages along the catwalk. A short while into her service, a number of vampires scaled the wall. Alicia didn’t have time to reach a watcher, so she had to save herself. In the end, she ended up killing three of them in close proximity – one with a throwing knife, one with a crossbow and one with a blade. Nothing like that had ever been done before and she was made a full watcher on the spot. She went on to become the youngest second captain and then youngest captain.
Peter and Alicia were close friends and she had told him that she gave up at the third viral and was ready for death. All she thought was that she would take the viral with her. Her father had told her that you are at your strongest when you give up and she now knows this to be true. Peter considers this, but knows also that Theo considers Alicia’s bravery to be bordering reckless.
As they are leaving to the power station, a young engineer runs up to the watchers and asks them if they can retrieve a microprocessor for him. No one really knows much about what a microprocessor is, but he explains this one can be found in almost any computer in the old mall. Alicia doesn’t like the engineer and they argue about how important this piece is, but Theo tells the boy he will arrange a short trip to the mall if they have time – but that it isn’t his priority on this trip. As they leave, the Engineer, Michael, shouts that his sister, Sara, told him to tell Peter to be careful.
The Power Station is a 40km ride. The watchers are silent for most of the way, but jolted into awareness when Alicia spots a lone viral within the trees. She comes up with a plan to take him out, but Theo and the rest convince her it’s not the best idea. Alicia is sent 50m ahead to scout, usually Peter’s job, and as they pass a small town – with abandoned buildings, the mall, and cars – Alicia reports that she can see three vampires hanging beneath the bridge they are heading. Peter is concerned, because this would suggest they knew they were coming this way. Again, he has been bought up to believe the vampires aren’t all that calculating or devious – rather they are animals lacking any kind of humanlike awareness.
They decide to move around the bridge, but Peter agrees with Alicia that they should send a team to kill the vampires at some point. The fact they may possess thought and be people in some sense really bothers him.
When they eventually reach the power station, they deactivate the huge electric fence that surrounds it. Peter knows that this fence is powerful enough to try anyone who touches it. Finn and Rey tend to the livestock, but the other four notice right away that something is wrong. As they enter the power station there is no one around. They search the entire station and confirm the two attendants (an engineer and his apprentice) are missing. They think perhaps they went down to the turbines for some reason, but the sun is setting and they should be back by now.
They have a short discussion about how long they should wait until they close the power station’s hatch and, consequently, lock them out. This makes Peter wonder about the watchers who must have had the same discussion about when it would be acceptable to shut his father out and condemn him too.
Peter takes some time to contemplate death. He doesn’t feel there is a heaven. Rather, he thinks that when you die you pass into other people. This isn’t a spiritual thing, it is the influence you have on people through your actions and memory that moves them in a way that is the result of knowing you. This obviously has a knock-on effect and means that everyone who has ever lived is always continuing.
Peter’s father’s tales of the Long Rides always excited, but he knew deep down he couldn’t have done the same. To Peter, his father seemed a larger man than him… not just a sense of bravery, ability or strength – but he had something else. Theo was ‘his’ in that sense. Theo had always been picked above him in terms of the watch and when it came to looking after his mother, who developed cancer, it fell to him. It was him who washed her, fed her and everything else – it was something they endured together out of necessity. He thinks that if he had the chance to say one last thing to his father it would be ‘chose me… not Theo’ and knows that is the wrong way to feel. What hurts Peter most of all is that on his mother’s deathbed it was Theo she spoke to last. Peter was there and Theo was out, but in her delirium she said: “Take care of your brother, Theo. He’s not strong, like you.”
Peter falls asleep with the others inside a communal bedroom and notices that Alicia is gone. He gets up and finds her reading. They look through a few books and can’t fathom the strange stories inside them from the world before. It leads Peter to wondering who these people were and whether they were once able to walk in the dark without fear.
Alicia announces that she is glad Peter woke up, because she has something to show him. She leads him to a secret passage, tucked behind a plywood wall, and explains it is an escape route created by the builders. She knows about it and presumes the attendant of the power station does, but no one else is aware. Peter follows her inside and she shows him boxes full of modern Marine-issued weapons. Peter has never seen guns in such incredible condition. Alicia shows him how to load it and aim it. He gets an overwhelming desire to shoot it and feel just how powerful it is. He asks Alicia about what it would do to a viral and guesses from her description that she has used them to shoot virals before – although she won’t say that.
Alicia leads him to the roof and hands him a night scope. The night scope gives a reading of distance and illuminates the dark. Peter is amazed. Peter asks if Theo knows about the hatch and guns and Alicia says no. Peter realises she has saved this secret for him and him alone and he thanks her. She laughs and says she’d have shown the first person to wake up, but Peter doesn’t think that is true.
Peter asks Alicia what she thinks the crews chances are of having survived. She says they are pretty slim and admits they are likely both dead. She then asks Peter if he feels she was too hard on Maus. This surprises Peter as she has a reputation for never second guessing herself. Peter says it was the right thing to do. Peter takes a moment to admire the stars. This is the most clear he has ever seen them – he is amazed by how beautiful they are. Because the colony must stay bright all day and night to keep the vampires away (they really shouldn’t be on the power station roof either), they just don’t see them.
Alicia takes a roundabout way of asking Peter if he has ever considered partnering. She has never spoke to him like this before and it confuses him further. She asks him about Sara and whether he has thought about partnering her. He thinks about it, the watch keeps him busy and he has always felt a bit of an outsider – he is not sure he is meant to partner. Women he has been with he has always grown apart from over a short period. Peter asks her why she is asking these kinds of questions, but before she can answer she spots something through the scope.
Alicia spots the young apprentice, Caleb Hightop, running from bush to bush towards the power station. Vampires are circling him, but not attacking – this is strange. Alicia runs back through the hatch and grabs a flare gun. She fires it towards Caleb and it buys him some time. They grab a ladder and through it down so Caleb can make it over the fence. The vampires follow and Alicia and Peter begin firing at them. Peter is untrained with the gun so almost ends up shooting Alicia. When Alicia is out of bullets she says not to bother firing any more, but to just run towards the station.
The vampries are closing on them, but they just about make it through the hatch. However, they cannot close it. It is stuck. Peter tells Alicia to stop trying and instead he points the gun at the entrance. The moment a vamp come jumping through, mouth open, Peter thrusts the gun into his mouth and fires into its brain.
Chapter 20 – Commentary
Well, I’ve a new favourite character in Alicia. She is a strong woman who leads a male dominated force. I love characters like this and although in 2016 this is maybe a little cliché, back in 2010, this was fairly rare for books in the SFF genre (how far we’ve come!). It seems quite obvious that Alicia was attempting to flirt with Peter, but her position and background made it difficult and he was unable to pick up on the signals. Both of them are outsiders and both of them have grown up alone (to an extent). It will be interesting to see how/if their relationship develops.
Other than that, this chapter was mainly about catching us up to events. We know that Theo is killed, but he isn’t dead yet. We see that the world is big and empty, as his father had told Peter, but we haven’t had much time to explore it. This is a fairly rare chapter in Justin Cronin’s work where there is more set up than there is revelation. I guess a big part of that is because we are with new characters and the author is trying to get us to know them and feel intrigued by their various histories and relationships – it’s certainly working.
Until next week, my friends!