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The infinite sea, p.11
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       The Infinite Sea, p.11

         Part #2 of The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey
 
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  He moaned in his sleep. His fingers clawed at the covers. Delirious. Been there and done that, too, Evan. I took his hand. Burned and bruised and broken, and I had wondered what took him so long to find me? He must have crawled here. His hand was hot; his face shone with sweat. For the first time it occurred to me that Evan Walker might die—so soon, too, after rising from the dead.

  “You’re going to live,” I told him. “You have to live. Promise, Evan. Promise me you’re going to live. Promise me.”

  I slipped a little. Tried not to. Couldn’t help it:

  “That’ll complete the circle, then we’re done; we’re both done, me and you. You shot me and I lived. I shot you and you live. See? That’s how it works. Ask anybody. Plus the fact that you’re Mr. Ten-Centuries-Old Superbeing destined to save us pitiful humans from the intergalactic swarm. That’s your job. What you were born to do. Or bred to. Whatever. You know, as plans to conquer the world go, yours has been pretty sucky. Almost a year into it and we’re still here, and who’s the one flat on his back like a bug with drool on his chin?”

  Actually, he did have some drool on his chin. I dabbed it up with a corner of the blanket.

  The door opened and big ol’ Poundcake stepped into the room. Then Dumbo, grinning from big ear to big ear, then Ben, and finally Sam. Finally as in no Teacup.

  “How is he?” Ben asked.

  “Burning up,” I answered. “Delirious. He keeps talking about grace.”

  Ben frowned. “Like ‘Amazing Grace’?”

  “Maybe saying grace, like before a meal,” Dumbo suggested. “He’s probably starving.”

  Poundcake lumbered over to the window and stared down at the icy parking lot. I watched him Eeyore-walk across the room, then turned to Ben. “What happened?”

  “He won’t say.”

  “Then make him say. You’re the sarge, right?”

  “I don’t think he can.”

  “So Teacup’s vanished and we don’t know where or why.”

  “She caught up with Ringer,” Dumbo guessed. “And Ringer decided to take her to the caverns, not waste any time bringing her back.”

  I jerked my head toward Poundcake. “Where was he?”

  “Found him outside,” Ben said.

  “Doing what?”

  “Just . . . hanging out.”

  “Just hanging out? Really? You guys ever wonder which team Poundcake might be playing for?”

  Ben shook his head wearily. “Sullivan, don’t start—”

  “Seriously. The mute act could be just an act. Keeps you from having to answer any awkward questions. Plus the fact that it makes a lot of sense planting one of your own into each brainwashed squad, in case anybody starts to wise—”

  “Right, and before Poundcake it was Ringer.” Ben was losing it. “Next it’ll be Dumbo. Or me. When the guy who admitted he was the enemy is lying right there, holding your hand.”

  “Actually, I’m holding his hand. And he isn’t the enemy, Parish. I thought we covered this.”

  “How do we know he didn’t kill Teacup? Or Ringer? How do we know that?”

  “Oh, Christ, look at him. He couldn’t kill a . . . a . . .” I tried to think of the proper thing he had the strength to kill, but the only thing my hungry, sleep-deprived brain could come up with was mayfly, which would have been a really, really bad choice of words. Like an inadvertent omen, if an omen can be inadvertent.

  Ben whipped around to Dumbo, who flinched. I think he preferred Ben’s wrath be directed at anybody but him. “Will he live?”

  Dumbo shook his head, the tips of his ears growing bright pink. “It’s bad.”

  “That’s my question. How bad? How soon before he can travel?”

  “Not for a while.”

  “Damn it, Dumbo, when?”

  “A couple weeks? A month? His ankle’s broke, but that’s not the worst. The infection, then you’ve got the risk of gangrene . . .”

  “A month? A month!” Ben laughed humorlessly. “He storms this place, takes you out, beats the crap out of me, and a couple hours later he can’t move for a month!”

  “Then go!” I shouted across the room at him. “All of you. Leave him with me, and we’ll follow you as soon as we can.”

  Ben’s mouth, which had been hanging open, snapped closed. Sam was hovering near Ben’s leg, one tiny finger hooked into his big buddy’s belt loop. Something in my heart gave a little at the sight. Ben told me they called my little brother “Zombie’s dog” in camp, meaning ever faithfully by his side.

  Dumbo was nodding. “Makes sense to me, Sarge.”

  “We had a plan,” Ben said. His lips barely moved. “And we’re sticking to the plan. If Ringer isn’t back by this time tomorrow, we’re bugging out.” He glared at me. “All of us.” He jabbed his thumb at Poundcake and Dumbo. “They can carry your boyfriend, if he needs to be carried.”

  Ben turned, bumped into the wall, pinballed off it, lurched through the door and into the hall.

  Dumbo trailed after him. “Sarge, where’re you . . . ?”

  “Bed, Dumbo, bed! I gotta lie down or I’m gonna fall down. Take the first watch. Nugget—Sam—whatever your name is—what are you doing?”

  “I’m coming with you.”

  “Stay with your sister. Wait. You’re right. She’s got her hands full—literally. Poundcake! Sullivan has the duty. Get some shut-eye, you big mute mother . . .”

  His voice faded away. Dumbo came back to the foot of Evan’s bed.

  “Sarge is strung out,” he explained, like I needed him to explain. “He’s usually pretty chill.”

  “Me too,” I said. “I’m the laid-back type. No worries.”

  He wouldn’t go away. He was looking at me and his cheeks were as bright red as his ears. “Is he really your boyfriend?”

  “Who? No, Dumbo. He’s just a guy I met one day while he was trying to kill me.”

  “Oh. Good.” He seemed relieved. “He’s like Vosch, you know.”

  “He’s nothing like Vosch.”

  “I mean he’s one of them.” Lowering his voice like he was sharing a dark secret. “Zombie says they’re not like these tiny bugs in our brains, but somehow they downloaded themselves into us like a computer virus or something.”

  “Yeah. Something like that.”

  “That’s weird.”

  “Well, I guess they could have downloaded themselves into house cats, but going that route would’ve made our extermination more time-consuming.”

  “Only by a month or two,” Dumbo said, and I laughed. Like Sammy’s, mine surprised me. If you wanted to separate humans from their humanity, I thought, killing laughter would be a good place to start. I was never very good at history, but I was pretty sure douchebags like Hitler didn’t laugh very much.

  “I still don’t get it,” he went on. “Why one of them would be on our side.”

  “I’m not sure he completely understands the answer to that question.”

  Dumbo nodded, squared his shoulders, took a deep breath. He was dead on his feet. We all were. I called softly to him before he stepped outside.

  “Dumbo.” Ben’s question, unanswered. “Is he going to make it?”

  He didn’t say anything for a long time. “If I were an alien and I could pick any body I wanted,” he said slowly, “I’d pick a really strong one. And then, just to make sure I’d live through the war, I’d like, I don’t know, make myself immune to every virus and bacteria on Earth. Or at least resistant. You know, like getting your dog vaccinated for rabies.”

  I smiled. “You’re pretty smart, you know that, Dumbo?”

  He blushed. “That’s a nickname based on my ears.”

  He left. I had the eerie feeling of being watched. Because I was being watched: Poundcake stared at me from his post by the window.

  “And you
,” I said. “What’s your story? Why don’t you talk?”

  He turned away, and his breath fogged the window.

  35

  “CASSIE! CASSIE, wake up!”

  I bolted upright. I’d been curled up next to Evan, my head pressed against his, my hand in his, and how the hell did that happen? Sam was standing beside the bed, pulling on my arm.

  “Get up, Sullivan!”

  “Don’t call me that, Sams,” I mumbled. The light was bleeding from the room; it was late afternoon. I’d slept through the day. “What . . . ?”

  He put one finger to his lips and pointed at the ceiling with another. Listen.

  I heard it: the unmistakable sound of a chopper’s rotors—faint but growing louder. I jumped from the bed, grabbed my rifle, and followed Sam into the hall, where Poundcake and Dumbo huddled around Ben, the former quarterback squatting on his haunches, calling the play.

  “Might be just a patrol,” he was whispering. “Not even after us. There were two squads out there when the camp blew. Might be a rescue mission.”

  “They’ll pick up our signatures,” Dumbo said, panicking. “We’re done, Sarge.”

  “Maybe not,” Ben said hopefully. He’d gotten back some of his mojo. “Hear it? Fading already . . .”

  Not his imagination: The sound was fainter. You had to hold your breath to hear it. We hung there in the hall for another ten minutes until the sound disappeared. Waited another ten and it didn’t come back. Ben blew out his cheeks.

  “Think we’re good . . .”

  “For how long?” Dumbo wanted to know. “We shouldn’t stay here tonight, Sarge. I say we head for the caverns now.”

  “And chance missing Ringer on her way back?” Ben shook his head. “Or risk that chopper coming back while we’re exposed? No, Dumbo. We stick to the plan.”

  He pushed himself to his feet. His eyes fell on my face. “What’s up with Buzz Lightyear? No change?”

  “His name is Evan and no. No change.”

  Ben smiled. I don’t know, maybe imminent peril made him feel more alive somehow, for the same reason zombies are carnivores with only one item on the menu. You never heard of undead vegetarians. Where’s the challenge in attacking a plate of asparagus?

  Sams giggled. “Zombie called your boyfriend a space ranger.”

  “He isn’t a space ranger—and why is everyone calling him my boyfriend?”

  Ben’s smile broadened. “He’s not your boyfriend? But he kissed you . . .”

  “Full on?” Dumbo asked.

  “Oh, yeah. Twice. That’s what I saw.”

  “With tongue?”

  “Ewww.” Sammy mouth’s formed a sour lemon pout.

  “I have a gun,” I announced, only half joking.

  “I didn’t see any tongue,” Ben said.

  “Want to?” I stuck my tongue out at him. Dumbo laughed. Even Poundcake smiled.

  That’s when the girl appeared, stepping into the hallway from the stairwell, and then everything got very strange, very fast.

  36

  A MUD-(or it could have been blood-)stained, tattered pink Hello Kitty T-shirt. A pair of shorts that once had been tan, maybe, faded to a dirty white. Grungy white flip-flops with a couple stubborn rhinestones clinging to the straps. A narrow, pixieish face dominated by huge eyes, topped by a mass of tangled dark hair. And young, around Sammy’s age, though she was so thin, her face looked like a little old lady’s.

  Nobody said anything. We were shocked. Seeing her at the far end of the hall, teeth chattering, knobby knees knocking in the freezing cold, was another Camp Ashpit, yellow-school-bus-pulling-up-when-school-would-never-exist-again moment. Something that simply could not be.

  Then Sammy whispered, “Megan?”

  And Ben said, “Who the hell is Megan?” Which was very much what the rest of us were thinking.

  Sam took off before anybody could grab him. Pulled up halfway to her. The little girl didn’t move. Didn’t hardly blink. Her eyes seemed to shine in the dwindling light, bright and birdlike, like a wizened owl’s.

  Sam turned to us and said, “Megan!” As if he were pointing out the obvious. “It’s Megan, Zombie. She was on the bus with me!” He turned back to her. “Hi, Megan.” Casually, like they were meeting up at the monkey bars for a playdate.

  “Poundcake,” Ben said softly. “Check the stairs. Dumbo, take the windows. Then sweep the first floor, both of you. There’s no way she’s alone.”

  She spoke, and her voice came out in a high-pitched, scratchy whine that reminded me of fingernails scraping across a blackboard.

  “My throat hurts.”

  Her big eyes rolled back in her head. Her knees buckled. Sam raced toward her, but he was too late: She went down hard, smacking the thin carpeting with her forehead a second before Sam could reach her. Ben and I rushed over, and he bent down to pick her up. I pushed him away.

  “You shouldn’t be lifting anything,” I scolded him.

  “She doesn’t weigh anything,” he protested.

  I picked her up. He was nearly right. Megan weighed little more than a sack of flour; bones and skin and hair and teeth and that’s about it. I carried her into Evan’s room, put her in the empty bed, and piled six layers of blankets over her quaking little body. I told Sam to fetch my rifle from the hall.

  “Sullivan,” Ben said from the doorway. “This doesn’t fit.”

  I nodded. Worse than the odds of her lucking into this hotel at random were the odds of her surviving this weather in her summer outfit. Ben and I were thinking the same thing: Twenty minutes after our hearing the chopper, Li’l Miss Megan appeared on our doorstep.

  She didn’t wander in here on her own. She was delivered.

  “They know we’re here,” I said.

  “But instead of firebombing the building, they drop her in. Why?”

  Sam came back with my rifle. He said, “That’s Megan. We met on the bus on the way to Camp Haven, Cassie.”

  “Small world, huh?” I pushed him away from the bed, toward Ben. “Thoughts?”

  He rubbed his chin. I rubbed my neck. Too many thoughts skittering around both our heads. I stared at him rubbing his chin and he stared at me rubbing my neck, and that’s when he said, “Tracker. They’ve implanted her with a pellet.”

  Of course. That must be why Ben’s in charge. He’s the Idea Man. I massaged the back of Megan’s pencil-thin neck, probing for the telltale lump. Nothing. I looked at Ben and shook my head.

  “They know we’d look there,” he said impatiently. “Search her. Every inch, Sullivan. Sam, you come with me.”

  “Why can’t I stay?” Sam whined. After all, he’d just reunited with a long-lost friend.

  “You want to see a naked girl?” Ben made a face. “Gross.”

  Ben pushed Sam out the door and backed out of the room. I dug my knuckles into my eyes. Damn it. Goddamn it. I pulled the covers to the foot of the bed, exposing her wasted body to the dying light of a midwinter’s evening. Covered in scabs and bruises and open sores and layers of dirt and grime, whittled down to her bones by the horrible cruelty of indifference and the brutal indifference of cruelty, she was one of us and she was all of us. She was the Others’ masterwork, their magnum opus, humanity’s past and its future, what they had done and what they promised to do, and I cried. I cried for Megan and I cried for me and I cried for my brother and I cried for all the ones too stupid or unlucky to be dead already.

  Suck it up, Sullivan. We’re here, then we’re gone, and that was true before they came. That’s always been true. The Others didn’t invent death; they just perfected it. Gave death a face to put back in our face, because they knew that was the only way to crush us. It won’t end on any continent or ocean, no mountain or plain, jungle or desert. It will end where it began, where it had been from the beginning, on the battlefield of the last beat
ing human heart.

  I stripped her of the filthy, threadbare summer clothes. I spread her arms and legs like the Da Vinci drawing of the naked dude inside the box, contained within the circle. I forced myself to go slowly, methodically, starting with her head and moving down her body. I whispered to her, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” pressing, kneading, probing.

  I wasn’t sad anymore. I thought of Vosch’s finger slamming down on the button that would fry my five-year-old brother’s brains, and I wanted to taste his blood so badly, my mouth began to water.

  You say you know how we think? Then you know what I’m going to do. I’ll rip your face off with a pair of tweezers. I’ll tear your heart out with a sewing needle. I’ll bleed you out with seven billion tiny cuts, one for each one of us.

  That’s the cost. That’s the price. Get ready, because when you crush the humanity out of humans, you’re left with humans with no humanity.

  In other words, you get what you pay for, motherfucker.

  37

  I CALLED BEN into the room.

  “Nothing,” I told him. “And I checked . . . everywhere.”

  “What about her throat?” Ben said quietly. He could hear the residual rage in my voice. He got that he was talking to a crazy person and had to tread lightly. “Right before she fainted, she said her throat hurt.”

  I nodded. “I looked. There’s no pellet in her, Ben.”

  “Are you positive? ‘My throat hurts’ is a very weird thing for a freezing, malnourished kid to say the minute she shows up.”

 
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