The City of Mirrors (The Passage #3)(11) by Justin Cronin

Victoria Sanchez

President, Texas Republic

“Dad, why was there a soldier at the door?”

Caleb had wandered into the room, rubbing his eyes with his fists. Peter read the message again. What could Sanchez want with him?

“It’s nothing,” he said.

“Are you in the Army again?”

He looked at the boy. Ten years old. He was growing so fast.

“Of course not,” he said, and put the note aside. “Let’s get you back to bed.”

* * *

3

RED ZONE

Ten Miles West of Kerrville, Texas

July 101 A.V.

Lucius Greer, the Man of Faith, took his position on the platform in the hour before dawn. His weapon: a bolt-action .308, meticulously restored, with a polished wooden stock and an optical sight, its glass clouded by time but still usable. He was down to four rounds; he’d have to return to Kerrville soon, to trade for more. But on this morning of the fifty-eighth day, this was no concern. A single shot was all he’d need.

A gentle mist had settled overnight in the glade. His trap—a bucket of crushed apples—was a hundred yards upwind, nestled in the tall grass. Sitting motionless, his legs folded under him and his rifle resting on his lap, Lucius lay in wait. He had no doubt that his quarry would make an appearance; the smell of fresh apples was irresistible.

To pass the time, he offered a simple prayer: My God, Lord of the Universe, be my guide and solace, give me the strength and wisdom to do Your will in the days ahead, to know what is required of me, to be worthy of the charge You have placed in my care. Amen.

Because something was coming; Lucius could feel it. He knew it the same as he knew his own heartbeat, the wind of breath in his chest, the carriage of his bones. The long arc of human history was headed toward the hour of its final test. When this hour would come there was no knowing, but come it surely would, and it would be a time for warriors. For men like Lucius Greer.

Three years had passed since the liberation of the Homeland. The events of that night were still with him, indelible memories flashed upon his consciousness. The bedlam of the stadium, and the virals making their entrance; the insurgency’s unleashing of their firepower upon the redeyes and Alicia and Peter advancing on the stage, guns drawn, firing again and again; Amy in chains, a meager figure, and then the roar that rose from her throat as she’d released the power within herself; her body transforming, shedding its human shape, and then the snap of the chains as she freed herself and her bold leap, quick as lightning, upon the monstrous enemies; the chaos and confusion of battle, and Amy trapped beneath Martínez, Tenth of Twelve; the bright flash of destruction, and the absolute quiet of aftermath, the whole world arrested into stillness.

By the time Lucius had returned to Kerrville, the following spring, he knew he could no longer dwell among people. The meaning of that night was clear; he had been called to a solitary existence. Alone, he had constructed his modest hut along the river only to feel the pull of something deeper, summoning him into the wilderness. Lucius, lay yourself bare. Put down your lendings; cast aside all worldly comforts that you may know me. With nothing but a blade and the clothes on his back, he had ventured into the dry hills and beyond, no destination but the deepest solitude he could find so that his life might find its true shape. Days without food, his feet torn and bloody, tongue thick in his mouth from thirst: as the weeks went by, with only the rattlesnakes and cacti and scorching sun for company, he had begun to hallucinate. A stand of saguaros became rows of soldiers at attention; lakes of water appeared where there were none; a line of mountains took the form of a walled city in the distance. He experienced these apparitions uncritically, with no awareness of their falsehood; they were real because he believed them to be so. Likewise did the past and present blend in his mind. At times he was Lucius Greer, major of the Expeditionary; at others, a prisoner of the stockade; at still others, a young recruit, or even his boyhood self.

For weeks he wandered in this condition, a being of multiple worlds. Then one day he awoke to discover himself lying in a gully beneath an obliterating midday sun. His body was grotesquely emaciated, covered with scratches and sores; his fingers were bloody, some of the nails torn away. What had happened? Had he done this to himself? He possessed no recollection, only a sudden, overwhelming awareness of the image that had come to him during the night.

Lucius had received a vision.

He had no sense of where he was, only that he needed to walk north. Six hours later, he found himself on the Kerrville Road. Mad with thirst and hunger, he continued to walk until just before nightfall, when he saw the sign with the red X. The hardbox was amply stocked: food, water, clothes, gas, weapons and ammo, even a generator. Most welcome of all to his eyes was the Humvee. He washed and cleaned his wounds and spent the night on a soft cot, and in the morning he fueled up the vehicle, charged the battery and filled the tires, and headed east, reaching Kerrville on the morning of the second day.