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The infinite sea, p.20
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       The Infinite Sea, p.20

         Part #2 of The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey
 
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  “I didn’t understand that last play,” I tell him.

  “Chaseball isn’t some lame-ass game like chess,” he says patiently. “There are intricacies. Intricacies. To win, you gotta have a plan.”

  “And that’s you, I guess. The man with the plan.”

  “Yes, that’s me.”

  Tap.

  64

  I HADN’T SEEN Vosch in days. That changes the next morning.

  “Let’s hear it,” he tells Claire, who’s standing beside Mr. White Coat looking like a middle-schooler dragged into the principal’s office for bullying the scrawny kid.

  “She’s lost eight pounds and twenty percent of her muscle mass. She’s on Diovan for the high blood pressure, Phenergan for the nausea, amoxicillin and streptomycin to keep her lymphatic system tamped down, but we’re still struggling with the fever,” Claire reports.

  “‘Struggling with the fever’?”

  Claire’s eyes cut away. “On the upside, her liver and kidneys are still functioning normally. A bit of fluid in her lungs, but we’re—”

  Vosch waves her off and steps up to my bedside. Bright bird eyes glittering.

  “Do you want to live?”

  I answer without hesitating. “Yes.”

  “Why?”

  The question takes me off guard for some reason. “I don’t understand.”

  “You cannot overcome us. No one can. Not if you numbered seven times seven billion when it began. The world is a clock and the clock has wound to its final second—why would you want to live?”

  “I don’t want to save the world,” I tell him. “I’m just hoping I might get the opportunity to kill you.”

  His expression doesn’t change, but his eyes glitter and dance. I know you, his eyes say. I know you.

  “Hope,” he whispers. “Yes.” Nodding: He’s pleased with me. “Hope, Marika. Cling to your hope.” He turns to Claire and Mr. White Coat. “Pull her off the meds.”

  Mr. White Coat’s face turns the color of his smock. Claire starts to say something, then looks away. Vosch turns back to me.

  “What is the answer?” he demands. “It isn’t rage. What is it?”

  “Indifference.”

  “Try again.”

  “Detachment.”

  “Again.”

  “Hope. Despair. Love. Hate. Anger. Sorrow.” I’m shaking; my fever must be spiking. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

  “Better,” he says.

  65

  IT GETS SO BAD that night, I can barely make it through four innings of chaseball.

  XMEDS

  “Heard a rumor going around they took you off your meds,” Razor says, shaking the quarter in his closed fist. “True?”

  “The only thing left in my IV bag is saline to keep my kidneys from shutting down.”

  He glances at my vitals on the monitor. Frowning. When Razor frowns, he reminds me of a little boy who’s stubbed his toe and thinks he’s too big to cry.

  “So you must be getting better.”

  “Guess so.” Tap-tap on the bedrail.

  “Okay,” he breathes. “My queen is up. Look out.”

  My back stiffens. My vision blurs. I lean to the side and empty my stomach, what little is inside my stomach, onto the white tile. Razor leaps up with a disgusted cry, toppling the board.

  “Hey!” he shouts. Not at me. At the black eye above us. “Hey, a little help here!”

  No help comes. He looks at the monitor, looks at me, and says, “I don’t know what to do.”

  “I’m okay.”

  “Sure. You’re fine, just fine!” He goes to the sink, wets a clean towel, and lays it across my forehead. “Fine, my ass! Why the hell did they take you off the meds?”

  “Why not?” I’m fighting the urge to hurl again.

  “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you’ll die without them.” He glares at the camera.

  “Maybe you should hand me that container over there.”

  He dabs at the crud sticking on my chin, refolds the cloth, grabs the container, and places it on my lap.

  “Razor.”

  “Yeah?”

  “Please don’t put that back on my face.”

  “Huh? Oh. Shit. Yeah. Hang on.” He grabs a clean towel and runs it under the water. His hands are shaking. “You know what it is? I know what it is. Why didn’t I think of it? Why didn’t you think of it? The meds must be interfering with the system.”

  “What system?”

  “The 12th System. The one they injected into you, Sherlock. The hub and his forty thousand little friends to supercharge the other eleven.” He puts the cool towel on my forehead. “You’re cold. You want me to find another blanket?”

  “No, I’m burning up.”

  “It’s a war,” he says. He taps his chest. “In here. You gotta declare a truce, Ringer.”

  I shake my head. “No peace.”

  He nods, squeezing my wrist beneath the thin blanket. Squats on the floor to gather the fallen chess pieces. Curses when he can’t find the quarter. Decides he can’t leave the vomit just lying there. Grabs the dirty towel he used to wipe my chin and swabs the deck on his hands and knees. He’s still cursing when the door opens and Claire comes into the room.

  “Good timing!” Razor barks at her. “Hey, can’t you at least give her the anti-puke serum?”

  Claire jerks her head toward the door. “Get out.” She points at the box. “And take that with you.”

  Razor glowers at her, but he does it. I see again the tightly contained force behind his angelic features. Careful, Razor. That’s not the answer.

  Then we’re alone, and Claire studies the monitor for a long, silent moment.

  “Were you telling the truth earlier?” she asks. “You want to live so you can kill Commander Vosch? You’re smarter than that.” In the tone of a mother scolding a very young child.

  “You’re right,” I answer. “I’ll never get that chance. But I’m going to have the opportunity to kill you.”

  She looks startled. “Kill me? Why would you want to kill me?” When I don’t answer, she says, “I don’t think you’re going to live through the night.”

  I nod. “And you’re not going to live out the month.”

  She laughs. The sound of her laughter causes bile to rise into my throat. Burning. Burning.

  “What are you going to do?” she says softly. She yanks the towel from my forehead. “Smother me with this?”

  “No. I’m going to overcome the guard by smashing his head in with a heavy object, and then I’m going to take his gun and shoot you in the face.”

  She laughs through the whole thing. “Well, good luck with that.”

  “It won’t be luck.”

  66

  CLAIRE TURNS OUT to be wrong about me being dead by morning.

  Nearly a month later, by my reckoning of three meals per day, and I’m still here.

  I don’t remember much. At some point they disconnected me from the IV and the monitor, and the silence that slammed down after the constant beeping was loud enough to crack mountains. The only person I saw during that time was Razor. He’s my full-time caretaker now. Feeds me, empties my bedpan, washes my face and hands, turns me so I don’t develop bedsores, plays chaseball in the hours when I’m not delirious, and talks nonstop. He talks about everything, which is another way of saying he talks about nothing. His dead family, his dead friends, his squad mates, the drudgery of winter camp, the fights borne of boredom and fatigue and fear (but mostly fear), the rumors that when spring comes the Teds are launching a major offensive, a last-ditch effort to purge the world of the human noise, of which Razor is very much an active part. He talks and talks and talks. He had a girlfriend, her name was Olivia and her skin was dark like a muddy river and she played clarinet in
the school band and was going to be a doctor and hated Razor’s dad because he didn’t think Razor could be a doctor. He lets it slip that his given name is Alex like A-Rod and his drill sergeant named him Razor not because he was slender but because he cut himself shaving one morning. I have very sensitive skin. His sentences are without periods, without commas, without paragraphs, or, to be accurate, it’s all one long paragraph with no margins.

  He shuts up just one time after nearly a month of the verbal diarrhea. He’s going on about how he won first place in the fifth-grade science fair with his project about how to turn a potato into a battery when he stops in midsentence. His silence is jarring, like the stillness after a building implodes.

  “What is that?” he asks, staring intently into my face, and nobody stares more intently than Razor, not even Vosch.

  “Nothing.” I turn my head away from him.

  “Are you crying, Ringer?”

  “My eyes are watering.”

  “No.”

  “Don’t tell me no, Razor. I don’t cry.”

  “Bullshit.” A tap on the blanket.

  Tap-tap on the railing. “Did it work?” I ask, turning back to him. What does it matter if he sees me cry? “The potato battery.”

  “Sure it worked. It’s science. Never a doubt about it working. You plan it all out, follow the steps, and it can’t go wrong.” Squeezing my hand through the blanket: Don’t be scared. Everything’s set. I won’t let you down.

  It’s too late to go back now anyway: His eyes wander to the food tray beside the bed. “You ate all the pudding tonight. You know how they make chocolate pudding without chocolate? You don’t want to know.”

  “Let me guess. Ex-Lax.”

  “What’s Ex-Lax?”

  “Seriously? You don’t know?”

  “Oh, so sorry I don’t know what Ex-Lax-who-gives-a-shit is.”

  “It’s a chocolate-flavored laxative.”

  He makes a face. “That’s sick.”

  “That’s the point.”

  He grins. “The point? Oh God, did you just make a joke?”

  “How would I know? Just promise me nobody slipped Ex-Lax into my pudding.”

  “Promise.” Tap.

  I last for a few hours after he leaves, long after lights-out in every other part of the camp, deep into the belly of the winter night, before the pressure becomes unbearable, and then, when I can’t take it anymore, I start shouting for help, waving at the camera and then rolling over to press my chest against the cold metal railings, pounding my fist into the pillow in frustration and fury, until the door bursts open and Claire charges in, followed closely by a big bear of a recruit, whose hand immediately flies to cover his nose.

  “What happened?” Claire says, though the smell should tell her all she needs to know.

  “Oh, crap!” the recruit burbles behind his hand.

  “Exactly,” I gasp.

  “Great. Just great,” Claire says, throwing the blanket and sheet onto the floor and motioning for the recruit to help her. “Fine job, missy. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

  “Not yet,” I whimper.

  “What are you doing?” Claire shouts at the recruit. Gone is the soft voice. Vanished are the kind eyes. “Help me with this.”

  “Help you with what, ma’am?” He has a flattened nose and very small eyes and a forehead that bulges in the middle. His belly hangs over his belt and his pants are an inch too short. He’s huge; he’s got about a hundred pounds or more on me.

  It won’t matter.

  “Get up,” Claire snaps at me. “Come on. Get your legs under you.” She takes one arm and Jumbo Recruit takes the other and together they haul me out of the bed. Big Recruit’s smushed-in face is twisted with revulsion.

  “Ah, God. It’s everywhere!” he softly wails.

  “I don’t think I can walk,” I tell Claire.

  “Then I’ll make you crawl,” she snarls. “I should just leave you like this. It’s so perfectly metaphorical.”

  They haul me two doors down and into the shower room. Big Recruit is coughing and gagging and Claire is bitching and I’m apologizing while she strips off the jumpsuit and throws it at Jumbo Recruit, telling him to wait outside. “Don’t lean on me. Lean on the wall,” she orders harshly. My knees are buckling. I hang on to the shower curtain to keep upright; I haven’t used my legs in a month.

  With one hand locked around my left arm, Claire pushes me under the water, bending at the waist to stay dry. The spray is icy. She didn’t bother to adjust the temperature. The slap of cold water against my body is like an alarm going off, snapping me from a long winter’s hibernation, and I reach up and grab the showerhead pipe coming from the wall and tell Claire I think I’ve got it; I think I can stand; she can let go.

  “Are you sure?” she asks, holding on.

  “Pretty sure.”

  I wrench the pipe downward with all the force I have. The pipe breaks off at the joint with a metallic squeal and the cold water gushes out in a ropey snarl. Left arm up, slipping through Claire’s fingers, then I’ve got her by the wrist and I swing my body toward her, rotating my hips to maximize the blow, and slam the jagged edge of the broken pipe into her neck.

  I wasn’t sure I could break a steel pipe with my bare hands, but I was pretty sure.

  I have been enhanced.

  67

  CLAIRE STAGGERS AWAY, blood pouring from the two-inch puncture wound in her neck. The fact that I didn’t drop her doesn’t surprise me; I’d assumed she would be enhanced, too, but I’d hoped to get lucky and sever her carotid artery. She fumbles in the pocket of her lab coat for the kill switch. I anticipated that. I toss the broken pipe away, grab the bolted-in shower rod, break it from its brackets and smash one end into the side of her head.

  The impact barely rocks her. In a millisecond, faster than my eyes can follow the motion, she has the end of the rod in her grip. I let go in half a millisecond, so when she yanks there’s nothing holding the other end, and she stumbles back into the wall, hitting with enough force to crack the tiles. I barrel toward her. She swings the rod toward my head, but I anticipated that, too—counted on it, when I rehearsed this in the thousand silent hours beneath the constant glow.

  I grab the other end of the rod as it arcs toward me, first with my right hand, then with the left, hands shoulder-width apart, and power the rod into her neck, spreading my legs for the balance and leverage necessary to crush her windpipe.

  Our faces are inches apart. I’m close enough to smell the cyanide breath trickling out of her parted lips.

  Her hands are on either side of mine, pushing back while I push forward. The floor is slick; I’m barefoot, she isn’t; I’m going to lose the advantage before she blacks out. I have to drop her—fast.

  I slide my foot to the inside of her ankle and kick out. Perfect: She falls to the floor and I follow her down.

  She lands on her back. I land on her stomach. I clamp my knees tightly against her sides and shove the rod down hard into her neck.

  Then the door behind us flies open and Jumbo Recruit lumbers in, gun drawn, shouting incoherently. Three minutes in and the light in Claire’s eyes is fading, but it’s not all the way out, and I know I have to take a risk. I don’t like risk, never did; I just learned to accept it. Some things you can choose and some you can’t, like Sullivan’s Crucifix Soldier, like Teacup, like going back for Zombie and Nugget because not going back meant there’s no value to anything anymore, not life, not time, not promises.

  And I have a promise to keep.

  Jumbo’s gun: The 12th System locks in on it and thousands of microscopic droids go to work augmenting the muscles, tendons, and nerves in my hands, eyes, and brain to neutralize the threat. In a microsecond, objective identified, information processed, method determined.

  Jumbo doesn’t have a prayer.
r />   The attack happens faster than his unenhanced brain can process it. I doubt he even sees the curtain rod whizzing toward his hand. The gun flies across the room. He goes one way—for the gun—while I go the other—for the toilet.

  The tank lid is solid ceramic. And heavy. I could kill him; I don’t. But I smack him hard enough in the back of head to put him out for a long time.

  Jumbo falls down. Claire rises up. I sling the lid toward her head. Her arm rises to block the projectile. My enriched hearing picks up the sound of a bone snapping from the collision. The silver device in her hand clatters to the floor. She dives for it as I step forward. I slam one foot on her outstretched hand and with the other kick the device to the other side of the room.

  Done.

  And she knows it. She looks past the barrel of the gun leveled at her face—beyond the tiny hole filled with immense nothingness—into my eyes, and hers are kind again and her voice is soft again, the bitch.

  “Marika . . .”

  No. Marika was slow, weak, sentimental, dimwitted. Marika was a little girl clinging to rainbow fingers, helplessly watching the time wind down, teetering on the razor’s edge of the bottomless abyss, exposed behind her fortress walls by promises she could never keep. But I will keep her final promise to Claire, the beast who stripped her naked and baptized her in the cold water that still roars in the broken shower. I will keep Marika’s promise. Marika is dead, and I will keep her promise.

  “My name is Ringer.”

  I pull the trigger.

  68

  JUMBO SHOULD HAVE a knife on him. Standard issue for all recruits. I kneel beside his unconscious body, slip the knife from its sheath, and carefully cut out the pellet embedded near the spinal cord at the base of his skull. I slip it between my cheek and gums.

  Now mine. No pain when I cut it out, and only a small amount of blood trickles from the incision. Bots to deaden sensation. Bots to repair damage. That’s why Claire didn’t die when I rammed a broken pipe into her neck and why, after the initial gush, the bleeding quickly stopped.

 
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