The 64 members of Fire Lake's sophomore class have managed to survive the first two phases of the Programand each other. Now, they alone have emerged into the dawn of a new era on Earth, into a Fire Lake valley that's full of otherworldly dangers and challenges. Although staying alive in this broken world should force Min, Noah, Tack, and the others to form new alliances, old feuds die hard, and the brutality of the earlier Program phases cannot be forgotten. But being a team isn't easy for the sophomores, and when they discover that they may not be alone on the planet after all, they'll have to decide if they're going to work together . . . or die together.
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Back in the village we grabbed several lengths of nylon rope and three sets of climbing gear. Then we tramped around the mountain, climbing bluffs and powering through scrub as we circled the massive cylinder. Once buried deep underground, the silo now stood at the outermost edge of the island, its eastern side fully exposed to the elements and dropping hundreds of feet to the ocean below.
I shivered every time I saw it from this angle. The silo looked like a bird on an unsteady perch. A few hundred more feet of erosion and our supposedly indestructible lifeboat would’ve crashed into the sea along with the rest of Idaho. It was a freaking miracle we’d survived.
Scanning the seaward-facing concrete, I tried to visualize where the back exit should be. So much had changed while we were inside the Program. I squinted into the sun, probing the pockmarked surface with my eyes, but came up empty. I was about to suggest we go back for binoculars when Akio’s finger darted out. “There.”
He’d spotted an indentation maybe forty yards to our right and a dozen down. But I couldn’t see if there was a door. “Could be,” I agreed. “But how do we check?”
I glanced at the top of the silo, unreachable now with the mountainside gone.
Can’t get up, can’t go down. What a mess.
But Akio had seen more than just the possible entry point. “There’s a ridge below us that runs around the silo. I think we can get above the opening and rappel down to it.”
I blinked at him. “Rappel. Down the cliff. Over the ocean.”
Akio shrugged, the ghost of a smile appearing on his lips. “You have a better idea?”
“I do not.” My throat worked, but there was no other way. “So let’s do it.”
Akio took the lead. We worked along a sharp defile to reach the ridge. It was a full three feet wide—plenty big enough to feel comfortable if there hadn’t been a hundred-yard death drop on the left side. As it was, I could barely breathe.
I heard Kyle gasping behind me and took solace knowing I wasn’t the only one about to crap his pants. For his part, Akio moved confidently, circling to a wider cleft above the indentation. Once inside there, I put my back against solid stone and tried to slow my stampeding heart.
“We’re lucky.” Akio patted a triangular spike of rock jutting up in the center of the cleft. “We can tie off on this. I was worried two of us would have to anchor the line with body weight.”
I shivered, thinking about that insane prospect, as Akio began securing ropes. He produced two sets of carabiners and snapped them in place, then handed me an ascender. “For the climb back up. Wouldn’t want to forget.”
I shoved mine deep into a pocket. There was nothing left to do but go.
“Okay,” I said. “All right. Okay.”
“One of us should stay here,” Akio said. “To watch the lines.”
Kyle’s hand flew up. I shot him a dirty look, but nodded. I was in charge of this mission. I had to go over the side.
Akio offered to go first, but I shook my head roughly. If I didn’t do it now, I never would. I clipped in and took a deep breath. Every kid in Fire Lake had gone rappelling at one time or another at Starlight’s Edge summer camp. This wasn’t novel. But a quick zip down a scouted pitch on lines laid by professionals was a little different from stepping off a vertical cliff above a death drop and hoping Kyle didn’t accidentally let you die. We had no idea if this was even the right place. I’d have to climb back up either way.
Just don’t look down. That’s always good advice, but especially now. Don’t. Look. Down.
Three deep inhales.
I stepped backward off the cliff.
The line played out easily. I worked cautiously down the face, being careful with my speed. After three bounds, I reached the indentation and was forced to look between my feet. I blanked out the crashing waves far below, focusing on the opening. It was a small cave of roughly the same dimensions as a school bus. I lowered myself to a lip where I could stand and scrambled to safer footing.
A weathered blast door was tucked into the back of the recess before me.
I let out a huge sob of relief.
I called up to Akio, detached from the line, and approached the door. There was a wheel-locking mechanism. As Akio landed softly behind me, I grabbed it with both hands and yanked. The wheel didn’t budge.
My heart oozed through my shoes and off the cliff. This door hadn’t been opened in millennia, and was exposed to the sea. Of course it didn’t just spin. And we’d brought nothing to cut the oxidation. This ball of rust might never open. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?
Akio unclipped and joined me in the back of the cave. We tried the wheel together, but it might as well have been part of the mountainside. I collapsed with an exasperated grunt. Akio sat down beside me and squeezed his forehead.
“We probably should have thought this through a little more,” he said.
“I bet the door is rusted shut.”
“You are clearly a master of door science.”
“It would’ve been better if we’d brought something to grease the wheel.”
I chuckled sourly. “Let’s have this conversation up there next time.”
“Deal. Of course, the door could also be locked.”
I pressed my fists into my eyes sockets, then petulantly kicked the door. With a weary sigh, I fumbled for the radio in my pocket. Kyle could run back to the village and get what we needed. If the door was locked . . . well, that would be that.
I was fiddling with the frequency when the wheel next to my head abruptly started rotating. My eyes bugged. I grabbed Akio’s knee. We scrambled to our feet as it spun several times, then stopped. Hinges groaned as the portal swung inward.
Sarah Harden poked her head out. “Took you long enough.”
I blinked. Opened my mouth. Closed it.
Sarah’s blue eyes rolled skyward. “A thousand tons of rock just rained down on us. Did you think we’d just sit around waiting for you bozos? Please tell me you fixed a rope.”
She stepped from the tunnel, followed by a sniffling Jessica Cale. One by one, three more people emerged. Alice Cho. Susan Daughtridge. Colleen Plummer. All were dirt-smeared. Most were crying. I peered past them into the tunnel, expecting the rest of the silo squad, but no one else appeared.
I aimed a confused glance at Sarah. She shook her head.
My whole body went cold. “Where are the others? Tiffani and Kristen? Devin? Are they trapped somewhere?”
I glanced at Alice, who was staring at nothing. Colleen and Susan were hugging each other and wouldn’t meet my eye. “They’re dead,” Jessica wailed. “The roof caved in and they all died!” She slumped to her knees, sobbing, and covered her face.
Sarah watched Jessica with distaste. No tears marred her eyes. Then she looked at me and I nearly shivered. “Tiffani, Melissa, Emily, Kristen, and Devin were having dinner in the command center. The rest of us were in the living quarters. The blast door between the two levels was shut, which probably saved our lives. When we tried to open it . . .” Sarah grimaced, the first human thing she’d done since emerging. “It’s gone. They’re gone.”
Akio turned to stare at the ocean. I shook my head, unwilling to accept what I was hearing. “It might just be blocked. The rest of the shaft could—”
“I connected to a working camera in one of the storage alcoves,” Sarah said curtly. “The silo’s entire ceiling collapsed down the shaft, crushing everything outside the lab complex. The command center is pulverized, Noah. So is everyone who was in there.” She crossed her arms to reveal cracked, bleeding nails. “It’s not like we didn’t try.”
I gaped at Sarah, horrified. Five more classmates, dead. What am I going to tell Min?
“I assume you have a way up from here?” Sarah said. “We’ve been waiting by this door for hours. It’s the only way in or out now, and I was getting worried no one could reach it from above. The lab complex isn’t damaged, and we sealed it, but I want to get topside and see what happened.” She glanced at her companions. “The others didn’t want to stay underground alone.”
“Up. Yes.” I shook my head to clear it. “We have ropes. Kyle is—”
A concussion thumped from somewhere inside the tunnel, followed quickly by two more. The stone shook beneath our feet. My eyes met Sarah’s as a crunching sound echoed along the passageway, growing louder by the second.
Sarah flew to the open door, dropping a shoulder against the heavy steel. Akio and I leapt to flank her and together we forced the portal closed. Sarah turned the wheel, then jerked back as something heavy clanged against the door from the inside. The mountain groaned one last time, then went still.
I slid down on my butt and wiped grime from my eyes. “Will things stop breaking around here, please?”
“No way,” Sarah whispered, dropping down beside me. The others were all panting like we’d run a marathon.
I rested my head back against the door. “No way what? The tunnel imploded. Thank God we got here in time.”
Sarah grabbed my shirt, yanking me close. “Two major collapses in one day? Inside a military-grade disaster bunker that stood for over a million years? Get your head out of your ass, Livingston.”
I gently extricated myself from her grip, then ran both palms over my face as the last twelve hours fell in on me like an avalanche. “What are you saying, Sarah? I’m too tired for games.”
She shook her head with disgust. “I’m saying, Noah, that a storm didn’t cause this damage. It’s too much.”
That got my attention. “If not the storm, then what?”
She leaned back next to me, staring off into the distance. “Not what, you idiot. Who.”