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The infinite sea, p.13
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       The Infinite Sea, p.13

         Part #2 of The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey
 
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  “It’s very thin. Black. Shiny. Your light should reflect—”

  “Please be quiet.” Or, in penlight speak: Pweez be qwiwet.

  My whole body was shaking but my hands, miraculously, had become rock steady. I forced my right hand into her mouth by pushing against the inside of her cheek, maneuvering the tips of the scissors into position. Was that it? Did I actually have it? The wire, if that was the wire shining in my light, was as thin as a strand of human hair.

  “Slowly, Cassie.”

  “Shut. Up.”

  “If she swallows it—”

  “I am going to kill you, Evan. Seriously.” I had the wire now, pinched between the tines of the tweezers. I could see the tiny hook embedded in her enflamed flesh as I tugged. Slow, slow, slow. Make sure you cut on the right end of the wire. The claw end.

  “You’re too close,” he warned me. “Stop talking and don’t breathe directly into her mouth . . .”

  Right. So instead, I think I’m going to punch you directly in yours.

  A hundred ways it could go wrong, he said. But there’s wrong ways, really wrong ways, and really really wrong ways. When Megan’s eyes flipped open and her body bucked beneath mine, we went down a really really one.

  “She’s awake!” I yelled unnecessarily.

  “Don’t let go of the wire!” he shouted back, necessarily.

  Her teeth clamped down hard on my hand. Her head whipped from side to side. My fingers were trapped inside her mouth. I tried to hold the tweezers still, but one hard tug and the capsule would pull free . . .

  “Evan, do something!”

  He fumbled for the rag soaked in air freshener.

  I shouted, “No, hold her head still, moron! Don’t let her—”

  “Let go of the wire,” he gasped.

  “What? You just said don’t let go of the . . .”

  He pinched her nose shut. Let go? Don’t let go? If I let go, the wire might twist around the tweezers and pull free. If I don’t let go, all the turning and twisting and whipping around might yank it free. Megan’s eyes rolled in her head. Pain and terror and confusion, the constant mix the Others never failed to deliver. Her mouth flew open and I jammed the scissors down her throat.

  “I hate you right now,” I breathed at him. “I hate you more than I hate anyone else in the world.” I felt like he needed to know that before I snapped the scissors closed. In case we were vaporized.

  “Do you have it?” he asked.

  “I have no freaking clue if I have it!”

  “Do it.” Then he smiled. Smiled! “Cut the wire, Mayfly,” he said.

  I cut the wire.

  41

  “IT’S A TEST,” Evan said.

  The green liquid-gelcap-looking thing lay on the desk, safely—we hoped—sealed inside a clear plastic baggie, the kind your mom used in the long-gone good old days to keep your sandwich and chips fresh for lunch period.

  “What, like human IEDs are still in the R-and-D phase?” Ben asked. He was leaning on the sill of the busted-out window, shivering, but someone had to watch the parking lot, and he wasn’t letting anyone else take the risk. At least he had changed out of the blood-soaked, hideous (it was hideous before it was blood-soaked) yellow hoodie and into a black sweatshirt that almost brought him back to his pre-Arrival, buffed-out period.

  From the bed, Sam giggled hesitantly, unsure if his beloved Zombie leader was making a joke. I’m no shrink, but I guessed Sams had undergone some transference due to seriously unresolved daddy issues.

  “Not the bomb,” Evan answered. “Us.”

  “Great,” Ben growled. “First test I’ve passed in three years.”

  “Cut it out, Parish,” I said. Who passed the law that said jocks had to act stupid to be cool? “I know for a fact you were a National Merit Finalist last year.”

  “Really?” Dumbo’s ears perked up. Okay, I shouldn’t make remarks about his ears, but he did appear to be dumbfounded.

  “Yes, really,” Ben said with a patented Parish smile. “But it was a very weak year. Aliens invaded.” He looked at Evan. His smile died, which his smile usually did when he looked at Evan. “What are they testing us for?”

  “Knowledge.”

  “Yeah, that would be the purpose of a test. You know what would be really helpful right now? If you’d knock off the enigmatic alien routine and get the fuck real. Because every second that goes by and that thing doesn’t go off”—nodding to the baggie—“is a second that doubles our risk. Sooner or later, and I’m leaning toward sooner, they’re coming back and blowing our asses to Dubuque.”

  “Dubuque?” Dumbo squeaked. He didn’t get the reference and that frightened him. What was wrong in Dubuque?

  “Just a town, Dumbo,” Ben said. “A random town.”

  Evan was nodding. I glanced over at Poundcake filling the doorway, his mouth hanging open slightly as his big head ping-ponged to follow the conversation.

  “They will come back,” Evan said. “Unless we fail the test so they don’t have to.”

  “Fail it? We passed, didn’t we?” Ben turned to me. “I feel as if we passed. How about you?”

  “Failing means we took her in, all fat, dumb, and happy,” I explained, “and then got our asses blown back to Dubuque.”

  “Dubuque,” Dumbo echoed, mystified.

  “The absence of detonation can mean only one of three things,” Evan said. “One, the device malfunctioned. Two, the device was incorrectly calibrated. Or three . . .”

  Ben held up his hand. “Or three, someone in the hotel knows about the bomb-children and was able to remove it, put it in a plastic baggie, and conduct a seminar on how to instill panic and paranoia among the dopey humans. The test is to see if we have a Silencer among us.”

  “We do!” Sam yelled. He jabbed his finger at Evan. “You’re a Silencer!”

  “Something you absolutely can’t know for sure if you vaporize the joint with a couple of well-placed Hellfire missiles,” Ben finished.

  “Which raises the question,” Evan said quietly. “Why would they suspect such a thing?”

  A silence settled over the room. Ben drummed his fingers on his forearm. Poundcake’s mouth snapped closed. Dumbo tugged on an earlobe. I rocked back and forth in the chair, plucking at Bear’s paw. I didn’t know how I came into possession of Bear. Maybe I grabbed him while Poundcake was moving Megan into the adjacent room. I remembered his getting knocked to the floor but didn’t remember picking him up.

  “Well, it’s obvious,” Ben said. “They must have a way of knowing you’re here. Right? Otherwise, you run the risk of taking out your own players.”

  “If they knew I was here, there would be no need for a test. They suspect I’m here.”

  Then I got it. And getting it did not bring me any comfort.

  “Ringer.”

  Ben’s head whipped toward me. The slightest breath of wind would have toppled him from his perch.

  “She’s been captured,” I said. “Or Teacup. Or both.” I turned to Evan, because the look on Ben’s face was too much to bear.

  “That makes the most sense,” Evan agreed.

  “Bullshit! Ringer would never give us up,” Ben barked at him.

  “Not willingly,” Evan said.

  “Wonderland,” I breathed. “They’ve downloaded her memories . . .”

  Ben came off the sill then, lost his balance, staggered forward, knocked against the edge of Sammy’s bed. He was shaking, and not from the cold. “Oh no. No, no, no. Ringer has not been captured. She’s safe and Teacup’s safe and we are not going there . . .”

  “No,” Evan said. “We’re already there.”

  I slid out of the chair and went to Ben. One of those moments when you know you have to do something but you have no idea what. “Ben, he’s right. The reason we’re alive right now is t
he same reason they sent Megan.”

  “What is it with you?” Ben demanded. “You buy into everything he says like he’s Moses come down from the mountaintop. If they think he’s here, for whatever reason, then they know he’s a traitor and would still send us packing to Dubuque.”

  Everybody looked at Dumbo, waiting for it.

  “They don’t want to kill me,” Evan said finally. He had a sad, sick look on his face.

  “That’s right, I forgot,” Ben said. “That would be me.” He pulled away from me and shuffled back to the window, leaned his hands on the sill and studied the night sky. “Stay here, we’re done. Bug out, we’re done. We’re like five-year-olds playing chess with Bobby Fischer.” He swung back around to Evan. “You could have been spotted by a patrol, followed here.” He pointed at the baggie. “That doesn’t mean they have Ringer or Cup. All it means is we’re out of time. Can’t hide, can’t run, so the question circles back to same question it’s always been: not if we’re gonna die, but how. How are we going to die? Dumbo, how do you want to die?”

  Dumbo stiffened. His shoulders squared, his chin came up. “Standing up, sir.”

  Ben looked at Poundcake. “Cake, do you want to die standing up?”

  Poundcake had come to attention, too. He nodded smartly.

  Ben didn’t have to ask Sam. My little brother simply stood up and very slowly and deliberately gave his commanding officer a salute.

  42

  OH, BROTHER. Guys.

  I tossed Bear on the desk. “I’ve been here before,” I told the Macho Brigade. “Run equals die. Stay equals die. So before we go all O.K. Corral on this, let’s consider the third option: We blow it up.”

  That suggestion sucked all the air from the room. Evan got it first, nodding slowly, but clearly not happy with the idea. Lots of variables. A thousand ways it can go wrong, only one way right.

  Ben cut right to the gooey guts of the problem: “How? Who has the duty of breathing on it and getting vaporized?”

  “I’ll do it, Sarge,” Dumbo said. His ears had turned red, like he was embarrassed by his own courage. He smiled shyly. He’d finally gotten it: “I’ve always wanted to see Dubuque.”

  “Human breath isn’t the only source of CO2,” I pointed out to the National Merit Finalist.

  “Coke!” Dumbo fairly shouted.

  “Good luck finding one of those,” Ben said. It was true. Along with anything alcoholic, soft drinks were one of the first casualties of the invasion.

  “A can or a bottle, yes,” Evan said. “Cassie, didn’t you tell me there was a diner next door?”

  “The CO2 canisters for the fountain drinks,” I started.

  “Are probably still there,” he finished.

  “Attach the bomb to the canister . . .”

  “Rig the canister to dispense the CO2 . . .”

  “A slow leak . . .”

  “In a confined space . . .”

  “The elevator!” we said in unison.

  “Wow,” Ben breathed. “Brilliant. But I’m a little unclear on how this solves the problem.”

  “They’ll think we’re dead, Zombie,” Sam said. The five-year-old understood, but he lacked Ben’s burden of experience in outwitting Vosch and company.

  “Then they check it out, they find no bodies, they know,” Ben said.

  “But it will buy us time,” Evan pointed out. “And my guess is by the time they realize the truth, it’ll be too late.”

  “Because obviously we’re just too darn clever for them?” Ben asked.

  Evan smiled grimly. “Because we’re going to the last place they’d think to look.”

  43

  THERE WAS NO TIME for more debate; we had to pull the trigger on Operation Early Checkout before the 5th Wave pulled the trigger on us. Ben and Poundcake left to fetch a CO2 canister from the diner. Dumbo took hall patrol. I told Sam he had to watch Megan, her being a pal from the old days on the school bus. He asked for the gun back. I reminded him that having the gun didn’t help so much the last time: He’d emptied the magazine without even nicking the target. I tried to give him Bear. He rolled his eyes. Bear was so six months ago.

  Then Evan and I were alone. Just him, me, and a little green bomb made three.

  “Spill it,” I ordered him.

  “Spill what?” Eyes all big and innocent as Bear’s.

  “Your guts, Walker. You’re holding back.”

  “Why do you—?”

  “Because that’s your style. Your modus operandi. Like an iceberg, three-quarters under the surface, but there’s no way I’m letting you turn this hotel into the Titanic.”

  He sighed, avoiding my glare. “Pen and paper?”

  “What? Time for a tender love poem?” That was his style, too: Every time I edged too close to something, he deflected by telling me how much he loved me or how I saved him or some other swoony, pseudo-profound observation about the nature of my magnificence. But I grabbed the pad and pen from the desk and handed them over because, at the end of the day, who minds getting a tender love poem?

  Instead he drew a map.

  “Single-story, white—or used to be white—wood frame, I don’t remember the address, but it’s right on Highway 68. Next to a service station. Has one of those old metal signs hanging out front, Havoline Oil or something like that.”

  He tore off the sheet and pressed it into my hand.

  “And why is this the last place they’d look for us?” I was falling for the deflecting technique again, not that Havoline Oil had anything cloyingly poetical about it. “And why are you drawing me a map when you’re coming with us?”

  “In case something happens.”

  “To you. What if something happens to both of us?”

  “You’re right. I’ll make five more.”

  He started on the next one. I watched for two seconds, then grabbed the pad out of his hand and threw it at his head.

  “You son of a bitch. I know what you’re doing.”

  “I was drawing a map, Cassie.”

  “Rigging a detonator from a soda fountain Mission: Impossible style, really? While we all run like hell for the Havoline sign with you in the lead on your broken ankle and stabbed leg, sporting a hundred-and-six-degree temperature . . .”

  “If I had a hundred-and-six-degree temperature, I’d be dead,” he pointed out.

  “No, and you want to know why? Because dead people have no temperature!”

  He was nodding thoughtfully. “God, I’ve missed you.”

  “There! There it is, right there! Just like the Walker homestead, just like Camp Ashpit, just like Vosch’s death camp. Whenever I’ve got you cornered . . .”

  “You had me cornered the minute I laid—”

  “Stop it.”

  He stopped. I sat on the bed next to him. Maybe I was going about this all wrong. You catch more flies with honey, my grandmother always said. The problem was that womanly wiles weren’t something I carried in my wheelhouse. I took his hand. I looked deeply into his eyes. I considered unbuttoning my shirt a bit, but decided he might see through that little ploy. Not that my ploys were that little.

  “I’m not letting you pull another Camp Haven on me,” I said, adding what I hoped to be an alluring purr to the timbre. “That isn’t going to happen. You’re coming with us. Poundcake and Dumbo can carry you.”

  He reached up with his other hand and touched my cheek. I knew that touch. I’d missed it. “I know,” he said. The expression in his chocolatey (gah) eyes was infinitely sad. I knew that look, too. I’d seen it before, in the woods when he confessed who he really was. “But you don’t know everything. You don’t know about Grace.”

  “Grace,” I echoed, pushing his hand from my cheek, forgetting all about the honey. I liked his touch too much, I decided. I needed to work on not liking it so much. And also
work on not liking the way he looked at me as if I were the last person on Earth, which I actually thought I was before he found me. That’s a terrible thing, an awful burden to put on someone. You make your whole existence dependent on another human being and you’re asking for a world of trouble. Think of every tragic love story ever written. And I didn’t want to play Juliet to anybody’s Romeo, not if I could help it. Even if the only candidate available was willing to die for me and sitting right beside me holding my hand and looking deeply into my eyes with the not-so-gah-now eyes the color of melted chocolate. Plus being practically naked under those covers and possessing the body of a Hollister dude . . . but I’m not getting into all that.

  “Grace again. You kept mentioning grace after I shot you,” I told him.

  “You don’t know Grace.”

  Well, that stung. I never knew he was so religious—or judgmental. The two usually go hand in hand, still . . .

  “Cassie, I have to tell you something.”

  “You’re a Baptist?”

  “That day on the highway after I—let you get away, I was very afraid. I didn’t understand what happened, why I couldn’t . . . do what I came to do. Do what I was born to do. It didn’t make sense to me. And in a lot of ways, it still doesn’t make sense. You think you know yourself. You think you know the person you see in the mirror. I found you, but in finding you, I lost myself. Nothing was clear anymore. Nothing was simple.”

  I nodded. “I remember that. I remember simple.”

  “In the beginning, after I brought you back, I really didn’t know if you were going to make it. And I would sit there with you and I’d think, Maybe she shouldn’t.”

  “Gee, Evan. That’s so romantic.”

  “I knew what was coming,” he said, and that sure was something clear and simple. He grabbed both my hands and pulled me close, and I fell a thousand miles into those damn eyes, which is why the honey technique doesn’t fit me: I’m more the fly when I’m around him. “I know what’s coming, Cassie, and until now I thought the dead were the lucky ones. But I see it now. I see it.”

 
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