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“The three of us gathered in front of the door.” Brendan spoke softly, yet his voice carried above the rumble of the truck. "Dom and Ginger and me. We thought ... something would come out. But nothing did. Instead, there was a quality about the light inside ... the wonderful golden light I've seen in my dreams ... a comforting and compelling warmth that drew us somehow. We were scared, dear God, we were scared! But we heard helicopters coming, and we sensed government people would take over the second they arrived on the scene, take over and push us back, and we were determined to be part of it. And that light! So . .."

“So you went inside,” Jorja said.

“Yes,” Brendan said.

“I remember,” Sandy said. "Yes. You went inside. All three of you went inside."

The immensity of the memory was overwhelming. The moment when the first representatives of the human race had set foot for the first time into a place built neither by nature nor by human hands. The moment that forever divided history into Before and After. Remembering, their memory blocks having entirely crumbled, no one could speak for a while.

The truck rumbled toward its unguessable destination.

The darkness within the vehicle seemed vast. Yet the eight of them were as close as any people had ever been since the dawn of time.

At last Parker said, "What happened, Brendan? What happened to the three of you when you went inside?"

Using the rope bridge, they crossed the pressuresensitive alarm grid. Pausing several times to employ other clever devices in Jack's bag of tricks, they passed through the finely woven web of electronic security that guarded the grounds of Thunder Hill, coming at last to the main entrance.

Ginger looked up at the immense blast doors. The blowing snow had stuck and frozen to the burnished steel in cryptic patterns that looked as if they ought to have some meaning.

A twolane blacktop led away from the doors. Heating coils were evidently embedded in it, for not a speck of snow lay on the pavement, and steam rose from its surface. The road curved down and west across the meadow, into the forest, where the lights of the main gate glowed softly in the distance. She could not see the guardhouse past which they had crept in the pickup, but she knew it was out there.

If visitors were admitted during the next few minutes, or if the guards changed shifts and returned to the Depository, the jig was up. She and Dom and Jack could scurry off, lie in the snow, hide. However, obviously little traffic passed through here, for the snow around the smaller door was smooth and undisturbed when they arrived; therefore, the fresh tracks they left would guarantee apprehension as surely as a tripped alarm. They had to get inside quicklyif they had any hope of getting inside at all.

The smaller single door to the right of the blast doors looked no less formidable than those giant portals, but Jack was unperturbed. He had brought along an attachssized computer called SLICKS, and although Ginger had forgotten exactly what the acronym stood for, she knew from Jack that it was a device for penetrating electronic locks of various types and that it was not for sale to members of the general public. She did not ask where he had gotten it.

They worked in silence. Ginger kept a lookout for incoming headlights from the main gate and surveyed the snowy expanse of the meadow for a foot patrol, though they were confident no guards were on prowl. Dom held a flashlight on the tendigit codeboard that was the equivalent of a keyhole in an ordinary door, while Jack employed the probes of the SLICKS in search of the sequence of numbers that would gain entrance.

Crouching on one knee in the snow, alert for trouble, Ginger felt exposedand much farther than twentyfour hundred miles from her life in Boston. The wind stung her face. The snow melted in her lashes and trickled into her eyes. What a cockamamy situation. Meshugge. That an innocent person could be driven to such a state as they'd been. Who did this damn Colonel Falkirk think he was? The people who gave him his orderswho did they think they were? Not true Americans. Real momzersthat's what they were, all of them. She remembered the picture of Falkirk in the newspaper: She had known at once that he was a treyfnyak, a person not to be trusted, not an inch, never. And she knew something else, too: Whenever she began to pepper her thoughts or her speech with this much Yiddish, she must be in deep trouble or very much afraid.

Less than four minutes after Jack set to work, Ginger was startled by a whoosh of compressed air behind her. She turned and saw the door had already slid into its recess. Dom stumbled back in surprise. Jack fell on his butt. When Ginger went to help him up, he showed her that the door had slid open so suddenly and with such force that he had not had time to withdraw the SLICKS probe from the mechanism; it had torn the probe right out of the computer.

But the door was open, and no alarms were ringing. Beyond was a twelvefootlong concrete tunnel, about eight or nine feet in diameter. It was lit by fluorescent bulbs. It angled to the left, where it ended at another steel door.

“Stay here,” Jack said, stepping into the tunnel to look around.

Ginger stood at Dom's side, and though she knew part of the plan was to give themselves up as hostages, she also knew that, on instinct, she would bolt and run at the first sign of trouble. Dom apparently sensed her thoughts, for he put an arm around her as much to restrain her as to reassure her that she was not alone.

After a minute or so, when still no alarm bells or sirens had split the night, Jack stepped back out into the storm and joined them where they stood six or eight feet from the door. "Two surveillance cameras on the ceiling of the tunnel-"

“They saw you?” Dom asked.

"I don't believe so, no. Because they didn't track my movements. I suspect you have to close the outer door before there's any hope of getting the inner door open, and as soon as you do close the outer door, the cameras are activated. I also noticed some gas jets concealed along the lighting fixtures. Way I see ityou close the outer door, and the cameras look you over, and if they don't like what they see, they can hit you with either a knockout gas or something deadly."

Dom said, “We're ready to be captured, but not gassed like moles.”

"We aren't going to close the outer door unless we've already got the inner one open," Jack said.

“But you told us that wasn't-”

“There may be a way,” Jack said, winking his cast eye.

The first step was to pile their rucksacks out of the way and cover them with snow. Jack did not think they would have any further need of his hightech devices and would only be slowed down by the weight. The second step, after they entered the tunnel, was for Dom to lift Ginger so, instructed by Jack, she could use a knife to saw through the wires on the surveillance cameras, putting them out of commission. Again, she expected an alarm to go off, but none did.

Leaving the outer door open, Jack led them to the inner barrier. "This one has no keyboard to disengage the lock, so it doesn't matter that the SLICKS was damaged."

“Should we be talking in here?” Ginger asked nervously.

“Aren't there liable to be microphones?”

"Yes, but I doubt anyone's monitoring until that outer door closes, because that's probably what engages the computer's

attention and starts the clearance program for anyone trying to enter. And even if there's a guard beyond this door, he's not going to hear our voices through all this steel. Not even if we shout," Jack said, though he spoke barely above a whisper. He pointed to a panel of glass set in the tunnel wall to the right of the door. "That's the only way to unlock it. They were just starting to install locks like this in highsecurity installations when I left the service eight years ago. You put your palm against the glass, the security computer scans your prints, and if you're authorized to enter, the door opens."

“And if you're not authorized to enter?” Dom asked in a whisper.

“The gas jets.”

“So how can you open it?” Ginger asked.

“I can't,” Jack said.

“But you said-”

“I said there might be a way,” Jack told her. “And there might.” He looked at Dom and smiled. “You can probably open it.”

Dom stared at Jack as if the exthief had lost his mind. "Me? You serious? What would I know about sophisticated security systems?"

“Nothing,” Jack said. "But you have the power to peel thousands of paper moons off walls and send them dancing through the air all at once, and you can levitate a score of chairs and perform other nitty tricks, so I don't see why you can't . . . reach into the mechanism of that door and cause it to slide open."

“But I can't. I don't know how.”

"Think about it, concentrate, do whatever you did to move the salt shaker last night."

Dom shook his head vigorously. "I can't control the power. You saw how it got out of hand. What if it runs wild here?

I could hurt you or Ginger. I might inadvertently activate the gas jets and kill us all. No, no. Too risky."

They stood in silence for a moment, with the wind huffing and whistling eerily at the open outer door.

Jack said, "Dom, if you don't try, then the only way we'll get inside is as captives."

Dom remained adamant.

Jack walked back to the outer door. Ginger started to follow him because she thought he was leaving: But he stopped just inside the mouth of the tunnel and raised his hand over a button on the wall. He said, "This is a heatsensitive switch, Dom. If you won't try to open that inner door, then I'll touch this switch and close the outer door, trapping us here. That'll start the computer's entryclearance program, and when the computer discovers the surveillance cameras have been put out of commission, it'll sound an alarm that'll alert the security men."

“One of the reasons we came here was to be caught,” Dom said.

“We came to have a look around and then get caught, if possible.”

“Well,” Dom said, “we'll have to settle for just getting caught.”

The tunnel's heat had escaped into the night. Their breath plumed from them again. Those smoking exhalations heightened the impression that the two men were engaged in a battle, though it was a battle of wills rather than one of physical strength.

Standing between them, Ginger had no doubt who would win. She liked and admired Dom Corvaisis more than any man she had met in a long time, partly because he seemed to embody both the drive and determination of Anna Weiss and the modest shyness of Jacob. He was goodhearted and, in his own way, wise. She would have trusted him with her life. In fact, she had already trusted him with it. But she knew Jack Twist would win, for he was used to winning, while Dom, by his own admission, had been a winner only since the summer before last.

Jack said, "If they can't see us, they'll gas us for sure. Maybe they'll just sedate us. But maybe, to be safe, they'll use cyanide gas or some deadly nerve gas that'll penetrate our clothes because, after all, they can't be sure we're not wearing gas masks."

“You're bluffing,” Dom said.

“Am I?” Jack said.

“You wouldn't kill us.”

“You're dealing with a professional criminal, remember?”

“You were. No more.”

“Still got a black heart,” Jack said, grinning, and this time there was a disconcertingly maniacal note to his humor and a cold glint in his misaligned eye that made Ginger wonder

if he actually might risk killing them all if he didn't get his way.

“Our dying isn't part of the plan,” Dom said. "It'll screw up everything."

“And your refusal to helpthat's not part of the plan, either,” Jack said. “For God's sake, Dom, do it!”

Dom hesitated. He glanced at Ginger. "Step as far out of the way as you can."

She moved back beside Jack Twist.

“Dom, if it does come open,” Jack said, still keeping one hand raised over the heatsensitive switch that would close the outer door, "go through fast. There's a guard in there somewhere. He'll be real surprised when the door opens because the entryclearance program hasn't been run. If you can knock him down quickly, I'll be right behind you to silence him. That'll improve our chances of getting deeper into the installation and seeing what's to see before they nail our asses."

Dom nodded, faced the inner door again. He looked over the frame, put one hand to the steel, moved his fingertips back and forth in the manner of an oldtime safecracker feeling for the telltale vibration of falling tumblers. Then he turned to study the glass panel that read palmprints and fingerprints.

Jack lowered his hand from the switch that he'd threatened to hit, and glanced at the stormy night beyond the outer door. He whispered so softly to Ginger that Dom, at the far end of the tunnel, could not have heard: "I get a creepy feeling that, any minute now, the giant's going to come down the beanstalk and stomp us all flat."

She knew then that he would not have risked their destruction, that he would probably just have led them out to the guardhouse at the main gate and asked to be arrested. But with his murderous glower, he had been thoroughly convincing.

Abruptly, the inner door whooshed open. Even though Dom was the agent of its movement, he was so startled that he jumped back a step instead of rushing through immediately, as Jack had told him to do. He realized his error as he made it, and he leapt across the threshold, into the subterranean world beyond.

Jack hit the button to close the outer door even before Dom was across the inner threshold, then ran after the writer.

Ginger followed. She expected the sounds of struggle or gunfire, but heard neither. When she stepped out of the concrete tunnel, she found herself in another, huge tunnel with natural rock walls, where lights were suspended from scaffolding overhead. The passage was about sixty feet across, at least a hundred yards long, beginning inside the massive steel blast doors, and ending far away at what appeared to be banks of elevators. Three yards in from the door, a guard's table was cemented to the concrete floor. A watchman's log was chained to the table. A few issues of recent magazines were stacked beside the log. There was a computer terminal as well. But no guards were in sight.

In fact, the entire tunnel was deserted. The place was as still and silent as a mausoleum. Not even the drip of water from a stalactite or the rustle of batwings in the vault above. But Ginger supposed that a multibilliondollar facility designed to weather World War III would not be plagued by either condensation or flying rodents.

“Should be guards,” Jack murmured. His voice echoed sibilantly off the rock walls.

“What now?” Dom asked shakily. Clearly, he had been surprised by his ability to focus his power so soon after the nearcatastrophe in the diner last night.

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