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The infinite sea, p.15
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       The Infinite Sea, p.15

         Part #2 of The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey
 
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  “She got the pilot,” Evan said with a nod. He pulled me, Sams, and Megan into the hall and said over his shoulder to Ben, “Now you go.” Then to me: “The house on the map. It’s Grace’s now, but it won’t be after tonight. Don’t leave it. There’s food and water and plenty of supplies to last through the winter.” Speaking very quickly now, almost out of time—the 5th Wave might not be coming, but Grace was. “You’ll be safe there, Cassie. At the equinox . . .”

  Ben, Dumbo, and Poundcake had reached the stairs. Ben was frantically waving at us, Come on!

  “Cassie! Are you listening? At the equinox, the mothership will send a pod to extract Grace from the safe house . . .”

  “Sullivan! Now!” Ben bellowed.

  “If you can figure out a way to rig it . . .” He was pressing something into my stomach, but my hands were full. I watched wide-eyed as my little brother snatched the plastic baggie holding the bomb from Evan’s hand.

  Then Evan Walker cupped my face in his hands and kissed me hard on the mouth.

  “You can end it, Cassie. You. And that’s the way it should be. It should be you. You.”

  Kissing me again, and my blood marking his face, his tears marking mine.

  “I can’t make any promises this time,” he hurried on. “But you can. Promise me, Cassie. Promise me you’ll end it.”

  I nodded. “I’ll end it.” And the promise a sentence handed down, a cell door slamming shut, a stone around my neck to carry me down to the bottom of an infinite sea.

  48

  I PAUSED FOR a half second at the stairway door, knowing I might be seeing him for the last time or, more accurately, for the second last time. Then the plunge into pitch dark, not unlike the first last time, and whispering to Megan to watch out for rat guts, and then into the lobby, where the boys who brought me to this party hung by the front doors, their bodies silhouetted in the dusky orange glow of the burning chopper. Fleeing through the main entrance was a brilliantly counterintuitive move, I thought. Grace probably assumed we were barricaded in a room upstairs and would Matrix-hop her way up a wall to the busted-out window on the other side of the building.

  “Cassie,” Sam said in my ear. “Your nose is really big.”

  “That’s because it’s broken.” Like my heart, kid. It’s a set.

  Poundcake was no longer leaning against Ben with his arm around his neck. His whole big body was draped over Ben’s in a fireman’s carry. And Ben did not look like he was enjoying it.

  “That isn’t going to work, you know,” I informed him. “You won’t get a hundred yards.”

  Ben ignored me. “Bo, you’ve got Megan duty. Sam, you’re gonna have to climb down; your sister’s taking the point. I’ve got the rear.”

  “I need a gun!” Sammy said.

  Ben ignored him, too. “Stages. Stage One: the overpass. Stage Two: the trees on the other side of the overpass. Stage Three—”

  “East,” I said. I set Sammy on the ground and pulled the crumpled map from my pocket. Ben was looking at me like I’d lost my mind. “We’re going here.” Pointing at the tiny square representing Grace’s safe house.

  “Noooo, Sullivan. We’re going to the caverns to meet up with Ringer and Teacup.”

  “I don’t care where we go, as long as it’s not Dubuque!” Dumbo cried.

  Ben shook his head. “You’re killing it, Dumbo. Just killing it. Okay, here we go.”

  We went. A light snow was falling, the tiny crystals ignited in the orange light spinning, and you could smell the oily stench of the fuel burning and feel the heat pressing down on your head, and I took the lead as Ben suggested—well, ordered—Sammy hanging on to a belt loop and Dumbo right behind with Megan, who hadn’t spoken a word, and who could blame her? She was in shock, probably. Halfway across the parking lot, nearing the strip of dirt that separated it from the interstate on-ramp, I glanced behind me in time to see Ben go down under the weight of his burden. I slung Sammy toward Dumbo and skidded across the slick pavement to Ben. On the roof of the hotel, I could see the mangled metal remains of the Black Hawk.

  “I told you this wouldn’t work!” I whisper-yelled at him.

  “I’m not leaving him . . .” Ben was on all fours, gasping, retching. His lips shone crimson in the firelight; he was coughing up blood.

  Then Dumbo was standing beside me. “Sarge. Hey, Sarge . . . ?”

  Something in Dumbo’s voice grabbed his attention. He looked up at Dumbo, who shook his head slowly: He’s not going to make it.

  And Ben Parish slammed his open hand onto the frozen ground, arching his back and yelling incoherently, and I’m thinking, Oh God, oh God, not the time for an existential crisis. We’re done if he loses it. We are so done.

  I knelt beside Ben. His face was contorted by pain and fear and rage, the anger rooted in the unchangeable, ever-present past, where his sister cried for him and he still abandoned her to death. He abandoned her but she would not abandon him. She would always be with him. She would be with him until he took his last breath. She was with him now, bleeding out a foot away, and there was nothing he could do to save her.

  “Ben,” I said, running my fingers over the back of his head. His hair shimmered, dotted in crystalline snow. “It’s over.”

  A shadow flitted past us, racing toward the hotel. I jumped up and took off after it, because the shadow was attached to my baby brother and he was hauling ass toward the front doors. I caught him and yanked him off the ground, and he commenced kicking and squirming and generally going berserk, and I was sure Dumbo was going to pop next, and three lunatics were too many for any person to manage.

  I was worried for nothing, though. Dumbo had Ben on his feet and Megan by the hand, urging both toward the road, having an easier time of it than I was with Sammy hooked under my arm facedown, arms and legs flailing, yelling, “We gotta go back, Cassie! We gotta go back!”

  Across the on-ramp, down the steep hill to the overpass, Stage One complete, and then I deposited Sammy on the ground and whacked him hard on the butt and told him to knock it off or he’d get us all killed.

  “What’s the matter with you, anyway?” I asked.

  “I was trying to tell you!” he sobbed. “But you wouldn’t listen. You never listen! I dropped it!”

  “You dropped—?”

  “The bag, Cassie. Running out, I . . . I dropped it!”

  I looked over at Ben. Hunched over, head down, forearms resting on his upraised knees. I looked at Dumbo. Slump-shouldered, wide-eyed, hand holding Megan’s.

  “I have a bad feeling about this,” he whispered.

  The world went breathless. Even the snow seemed to hang suspended in the air.

  The hotel blew apart in a blinding fireball of neon green. The ground shuddered. Air rushed into the vacuum, knocking the four of us off our feet. Then the debris roaring toward us, and I threw myself over Sammy. A wave of concrete, glass, wood, and metal particles (and—yes—bits of Ben’s effing rats) no larger than grains of sand barreled down the hill, a gray boiling mass that engulfed us.

  Welcome to Dubuque.

  49

  HE DIDN’T LIKE being around the smallest kids at the camp. They reminded him of his baby brother, the one he lost. The one that was there the morning he went out looking for food and wasn’t there when he returned. The one he never found. At camp, when he wasn’t training or eating or sleeping or washing down the barracks or shining his boots or cleaning his rifle or pulling KP duty or working in the P&D hangar, he was volunteering in the children’s housing or working the buses as they came in. He didn’t like being around the little kids, but he did it anyway. He never lost hope that one day he’d find his baby brother. That one day he would walk into the receiving hangar and find him sitting in one of the big red circles painted on the floor, or see him swinging from the old tire hung from the tree in the makeshift playground next to the par
ade grounds.

  But he never found him.

  At the hotel, when he discovered the enemy was planting bombs in children, he wondered if that’s what happened to his brother. If they found him and took him and made him swallow the green capsule and sent him out again to be found by someone else. Probably not. Most children were dead. Only a handful were saved and brought to the camp. His brother probably didn’t live many days past the day he disappeared.

  But he could have been taken. He could have been forced to swallow the green capsule. He could have been thrown back out into the world and left to wander until he stumbled onto a group of survivors who would take him in and feed him and fill the room with their breath. It could have happened that way.

  What’s bothering you? Zombie wanted to know. They had gone across the parking lot to find a CO2 canister in the old diner. Zombie had given up talking to him unless he was giving an order, and he’d given up trying to get him to talk. When he asked the question, Zombie really didn’t expect an answer.

  I can always tell when something’s bothering you. You get like this constipated look. Like you’re trying to crap a brick.

  The canister wasn’t that heavy, but Zombie was hurt and took the point on the way back. Zombie was nervous, jumping at every shadow. He kept saying there was something wrong. Something wrong about this Evan Walker and something wrong about the situation in general. Zombie thought they were being tricked.

  Back in the hotel, Zombie sent Dumbo upstairs to get Evan. Then they waited inside the elevator for Evan to come down.

  See, Cake, this goes back to my point, right back to it. EMPs and tsunamis and plagues and aliens in disguise and brainwashed kids and now kids with bombs inside them. Why are they making this so damn complicated? It’s like they want a fight. Or want the fight to be interesting. Hey. Maybe that’s it. Maybe you reach a certain point in evolution where boredom is the greatest threat to your survival. Maybe this isn’t a planetary takeover at all, but a game. Like a kid pulling wings off flies.

  As the minutes passed, Zombie got more nervous.

  What now? Where the hell is he? Oh Christ, you don’t think . . . ? Better get up there, Poundcake. Throw his ass over your shoulder and carry him down here if you have to.

  Halfway up the stairs, he heard a heavy thump over his head, then a second, softer thump, and then he heard someone scream. He got to the door in time to see Cassie’s body fly past and hit the floor. He followed her trajectory backward and saw the tall girl standing beside the room with the busted door. And he didn’t hesitate, he burst into the hall and he knew the tall girl would not survive. He was a good shot, the best in his squad until Ringer came, and he knew that he would not miss.

  Except Cassie tackled him and the tall girl slipped from his sights. He would have killed her if Cassie hadn’t done that. He was sure of it.

  Then the tall girl shot him through the wall.

  Dumbo tore open his shirt and pressed a wadded-up sheet into the wound. He told him that it wasn’t bad, that he was going to make it, but he knew he wasn’t. He’d been around too much death. He knew what it smelled like, tasted like, felt like. He carried death inside him in the memories of his mother and the ten-foot pyres and the bones along the road and the conveyor belt carrying hundreds into the furnace of the power plant at camp, the dead burned to light their barracks and heat their water and keep them warm. Dying didn’t bother him. Dying without knowing what happened to his brother bothered him.

  Dying, he was taken downstairs. Dying, he was thrown over Zombie’s shoulders. And then in the parking lot Zombie fell and the others gathered around and Zombie pounded the frozen pavement until the skin on his palms burst open.

  They left him after that. He wasn’t angry. He understood. He was dying.

  And then he got up.

  Not at first. At first, he crawled.

  The tall girl was standing in the lobby when he dragged himself inside. She was beside the door that opened to the stairs, holding a pistol in both hands, bowing her head as if she were listening for something.

  That’s when he stood up.

  The tall girl stiffened. She turned. She raised the gun and then she lowered it when she saw he was dying. She smiled and said hello. She was watching him beside the front doors and couldn’t see the elevator or Evan dropping down into it from the escape hatch. Evan saw him and froze, like he didn’t know what to do.

  I know you. The tall girl was walking toward him. If she turned now, if she glanced behind her, she would see Evan, so he drew his sidearm to distract her, but the gun slipped from his hand and landed on the floor. He had lost a lot of blood. His blood pressure was dropping. His heart couldn’t pump hard enough and he was losing feeling in his hands and feet.

  He dropped to his knees and reached for the gun. She shot him in the hand. He fell onto his butt, jamming the wounded hand into his pocket as if that might protect it.

  Gosh, you’re a big, strong boy, aren’t you? How old are you?

  She waited for him to answer.

  What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?

  She shot him in the leg. Then she waited for him to scream or cry or say something. When he didn’t, she shot him in the other leg.

  Behind her, Evan dropped to his stomach and started to crawl toward them. He shook his head at Evan, gulping air. He felt numb all over. There was no pain, but a gray curtain had drawn down over his eyes.

  The tall girl came closer. She was now halfway between him and Evan. She aimed the gun at the middle of his forehead.

  Say something or I will blow your brains out. Where’s Evan?

  She started to turn. She might have heard Evan crawling toward her. So he stood up for the next to last time to distract her. He didn’t stand up fast. It took over a minute, boots slipping on the tile wet from melted snow, rising up, flopping back down, the fact that he kept his hand in his pocket making it twice as hard. The tall girl smiled and chuckled, smirking the way the kids did at school. He was fat. He was clumsy. He was stupid. He was pig lard. When he finally got to his feet, she shot him again.

  Please hurry up. I’m wasting ammo.

  The plastic of the cake wrapper had been stiff and crinkly and always made a noise when he played with it in his pocket. That’s how his mom knew he had it the day his brother disappeared. That’s how the soldiers on the bus knew, too. And the drill sergeant called him Poundcake because he loved the story of the fat kid coming into camp with just the clothes on his back and a wrapper full of stale cake crumbs in his pocket.

  The plastic sandwich bag that he found just outside the hotel doors didn’t crinkle. It was much softer. There was no noise when he pulled it from his pocket. The bag slid out silently, as silent as he had been after he was told to shut up, shut up, shut UP.

  The tall girl’s smile went away.

  And Poundcake started moving again. Not toward her and not toward the elevator, but toward the side door at the end of the hall.

  Hey, what have you got there, big fella? Huh? What is that? I’m guessing it isn’t a Tylenol.

  The tall girl’s smile came back. A different kind of smile, though. A nice smile. She was very pretty when she smiled like that. She was probably the prettiest girl he had ever seen.

  You’ve got to be very careful with that. Do you understand? Hey. Hey, you know what? I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll put my gun down if you put that down, okay? How’s that sound?

  And then she did. She laid her gun on the floor. She took the rifle off her shoulder and laid that down, too. Then she held up her hands.

  I can help you. Put that down and I’ll help you. You don’t have to die. I know how to fix you. I’m—I’m not like you. I’m definitely not as brave and strong as you, that’s for sure. I can’t believe you’re still standing like that.

  She was going to wait. She would wait until he passed out or fell
over dead. All she had to do was keep talking and smiling and pretending she liked him.

  He unzipped the bag.

  The tall girl wasn’t smiling now. She was running toward him, faster than he’d seen anyone run in his life. The gray veil shimmered as she came on. When she was close, her feet left the ground and she javelined into the spot where the first bullet hit him, hurling him backward and smashing him into the metal door frame. The baggie flew from his numb fingers and slid like a hockey puck across the tile. The gray veil turned black for a second. The tall girl pivoted as gracefully as a ballerina toward the bag. He hooked her ankle with his leg and sent her sprawling.

  She was too quick and he was too hurt. She’d get there before him. So he picked up the gun that he had dropped and shot her in the back.

  Then he got up for the last time. He tossed the gun away. He stepped over her writhing body, and that’s as far as he got before falling for the last time.

  He crawled toward the bag. She crawled after him. She couldn’t stand up. The bullet had shattered her spinal cord. She was paralyzed from the waist down. But she was stronger than him and hadn’t lost as much blood.

  He scooped the plastic bag from the floor. Her hand fell on his arm and yanked him toward her as if he weighed nothing at all. She would finish him with a single punch to his dying heart.

  But all he had to do was breathe.

  He slapped the opening of the bag over his mouth.

  And breathed.

  BOOK TWO

  50

  I’M SITTING ALONE in a windowless classroom. Blue carpet, white walls, long white tables. White computer monitors with white keyboards. I’m wearing the white jumpsuit of new recruits. Different camp, same drill, down to the implant in my neck and a trip to Wonderland. I’m still paying for that trip. You don’t feel empty after they drain your memories. You’re sore as hell all over. Muscles retain memory, too. That’s why they have to strap you down for the ride.

 
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