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The infinite sea, p.22
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       The Infinite Sea, p.22

         Part #2 of The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey
 
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  On impulse, I reach forward and press my hand against his cheek. He doesn’t recoil. He becomes very still. I don’t understand why I touched him or what’s happening now that I am, but I feel something opening inside me, like a bud spreading its delicate petals toward the sun. I’m freezing cold. My neck is on fire. And the little finger on my right hand throbs to the beat of my heart. The pain brings tears to my eyes. His pain.

  “Ringer!” Razor barks. “What the hell are you doing?”

  I pour my warmth into the man I touch. I douse the fire. I caress the pain. I soothe his fear. His breath evens out. His body relaxes.

  “Bob, we really have to go,” I tell him.

  And two minutes later, we do.

  72

  AS WE ASCEND, the truck screeches to a stop and a tall man steps out, and his face is a study in deep shadows thrown by the floods, but I see his eyes with eyes enhanced, bright and hard like the crows’ in the woods, polished blue while the crows’ were black, and it must be a trick of light or shadow, the small, tight smile he seems to wear.

  “Keep us low,” I order Bob.

  “Where are we going?”

  “South.”

  The chopper banks; the ground rushes toward us. I see the magazine burning and the spinning lights of the fire trucks and recruits swarming around like ants. We pass over a river, black water sparking in the spillover light from the floods. Behind us now, the camp is an oasis of light in a desert of winter dark. We plunge into that dark, skimming six feet above the treetops.

  I slide into the seat next to Teacup, lean her into my chest, and pull her hair to one side. I hope this is the last time I have to do this. When I’m done, I crush the implant with the heel of the knife.

  Razor’s voice squawks in my headset: “How’s she doing?”

  “Okay, I think.”

  “How’re you doing?”

  “Good.”

  “Glitches?”

  “Minor. You?”

  “Smooth as a newborn baby’s ass.”

  I ease Teacup back into the seat, stand up, and open compartments until I find the chutes. Razor rattles on as I check the assemblies.

  “Anything you want to say to me? Like, I don’t know, Thank you, Razor, for saving my ass from a lifetime of alien servitude after I punched you in the throat and generally acted like a douchebag? Something along those lines? You know, it wasn’t exactly like taking a walk in baseball, secret codes embedded in bogus games and slipping laxative in pudding and rigging explosives and stealing trucks and kidnapping pilots with fingers for you to break. Maybe Hey, Razor, I couldn’t have done it without you. You rock. Something like that. Doesn’t have to be word-for-word, just something to capture the general spirit.”

  “Why did you?” I ask. “What made you decide to trust me?”

  “What you said that day about the kids—turning kids into bombs. I did some asking around. Next thing I know, I’m in the Wonderland chair and then they take me to the commander and he’s all down on my ass about something you said, and he orders me to stop talking to you because he can’t order me to stop listening, and the more I think about it, the stinkier it gets. They train us to terminate Teds and then load down toddlers with alien ordnance? Who’re the good guys here? And then I’m like, who am I here? It got really angsty, a real existential crisis. What tipped it for me, though, was the math.”

  “Math?”

  “Yeah, math. Aren’t all you Asians really good at math?”

  “Don’t be racist. And I’m three-quarters Asian.”

  “‘Three-quarters.’ See? Math. It comes down to simple addition. As in it doesn’t add up. Okay, so maybe we get lucky and seize the Wonderland program from them. Even super-superior aliens can screw up, nobody’s perfect. But we don’t just snatch Wonderland. We have their bombs, we have their track-and-kill implants, their super-sophisticated nanobot system—shit, we even have the technology capable of detecting them. Wha duh fuh? We’ve got more of their weapons than they do! But the real kicker came that day they jacked you up, when Vosch said they lied to us about the organism attached to human brains. Unbelievable!”

  “Because if that’s a lie . . .”

  “Then everything’s a lie.”

  Below us the land is covered in a blanket of white. The horizon is indiscernible in the dark, lost. Everything is a lie. I thought of my dead father telling me that I belonged to them now. Instinctively, I gather Teacup’s little hand into mine: truth.

  I hear Bob say in the headset, “I’m confused.”

  “Relax, Bob,” Razor says. “Hey, Bob. Wasn’t that the major’s name at Camp Haven? What’s it with officers and the name Bob?”

  An alarm sounds. I return Teacup’s hand to her lap and shuffle forward. “What is it?”

  “Company,” Bob says. “Six o’clock.”

  “Choppers?”

  “Negative. F-15s. Three of them.”

  “How much time before they’re in range?”

  He shakes his head. Despite the cold, his shirt is soaked in sweat. His face shines with it. “Five to seven.”

  “Bring us up,” I tell him. “Maximum altitude.”

  I grab a couple parachute rigs and drop one into Razor’s lap.

  “We’re bailing?” he asks.

  “We can’t engage and we can’t outrun. You’re with Teacup. Tandem jump.”

  “I’m with Teacup? Who are you with?”

  Bob glances at the other rig in my hand. “I’m not bailing,” he says. And then, just in case I didn’t hear or don’t understand: “I’m. Not. Bailing.”

  No plan is perfect. I’d planned for a Silencer Bob, which meant my plan entailed killing him before we bailed from the chopper. Now it’s complicated. I didn’t kill Jumbo for the same reason I don’t want to kill Bob. Kill enough Jumbos, murder enough Bobs, and you’ve plunged to the same depths as the ones who shove a bomb down a toddler’s throat.

  I shrug to hide my uncertainty. Toss the rig into his lap. “Then I guess you get incinerated.”

  We’re at five thousand feet. Dark sky, dark ground, no horizon, all dark. The bottom of the lightless sea. Razor is looking at the radar screen, but he says to me, “Where’s your chute, Ringer?”

  I ignore the question. “Can you give me a sixty-second ETA on their range?” I ask Bob. He nods. Razor asks the question again. “It’s math,” I tell him. “Which I’m three-quarters really good at. If there are four of us and they mark two chutes, that leaves at least one of us on board. One, maybe two of them will stay with the chopper, at least until they can take it down. It’ll buy time.”

  “What makes you think they’ll stay with the chopper?”

  I shrug. “It’s what I’d do.”

  “Still doesn’t answer my question about your chute.”

  “They’re hailing us,” Bob announces. “Ordering us to set it down.”

  “Tell them to suck it,” Razor says. He stuffs a piece of bubble gum into his mouth. Taps his ear. “Popping’s bad.” Jams the gum wrapper into his pocket. Notices I’m watching and smiles. “Never noticed all the crap in the world until there was nobody left to pick it up,” he explains. “The Earth is my charge.”

  Then Bob calls out, “Sixty seconds!”

  I tug on Razor’s parka. Now.

  He looks up at me and says slowly and distinctly, “Where’s your freaking chute?”

  I haul him out of the seat one-handed. He chirps in surprise, stumbling toward the back. I follow him, squat in front of Teacup to remove her harness.

  “Forty seconds!”

  “How are we going to find you?” Razor yells, standing right next to me.

  “Head for the fire.”

  “What fire?”

  “Thirty seconds!”

  I haul open the hatch door. The blast of air that punches into t
he hold blows Razor’s hood off his head. I scoop up Teacup and press her into his chest.

  “Don’t let her die.”

  He nods.

  “Promise.”

  Nods again: “I promise.”

  “Thank you, Razor,” I say. “For everything.”

  He leans forward and kisses me hard on the mouth.

  “Don’t ever do that again,” I tell him.

  “Why? Because you liked it or because you didn’t?”

  “Both.”

  “Fifteen seconds!”

  Razor maneuvers Teacup over his shoulder, grabs the safety cable, and shuffles back until his heels touch the jump pad. Silhouetted in the opening, the boy and the child over the boy’s shoulder, and five thousand feet beneath them, the limitless dark. The Earth is my charge.

  Razor releases the cable. He doesn’t seem to fall. He is sucked out into the ravenous void.

  73

  I HEAD BACK to the cockpit, where I find the pilot’s door unlatched, the seat empty, and no Bob.

  I wondered why the countdown stopped; now I know: He changed his mind about the whole bailing issue.

  We must be in range, which means they don’t intend to shoot us down. They’ve marked the location of Razor’s drop, and they’ll stay with the chopper until I bail or it runs out of fuel and I’m forced to bail. By this point, Vosch has figured out why Jumbo’s implant is on this aircraft while its owner is in the infirmary being treated for a very bad headache.

  With the tip of my tongue, I push the pellet from my mouth and lick it onto my palm.

  Do you want to live?

  Yes, and you want that, too, I tell Vosch. I don’t know why and, hopefully, I never will.

  I flick the pellet from my hand.

  The hub’s response is instantaneous. My intent alerted the central processor, which calculated the overwhelming probability of terminal failure and shut down all but the essential functions of my muscular system. The 12th System has the same order I gave Razor: Don’t let her die. Like a parasite’s, the system’s life depends on the continuation of mine.

  The instant my intent changes—Okay, fine. I’ll parachute out—the hub will release me. Then and only then. I can’t lie to it or bargain with it. Can’t persuade it. Can’t force it. Unless I change my mind, it can’t let me go. Unless it lets me go, I can’t change my mind.

  Heart on fire. Body of stone.

  There’s nothing that the hub can do about my snowballing panic. It can respond to emotions; it can’t control them. Endorphins release. Neurons and mastocytes dump serotonin into my bloodstream. Other than these physiological adjustments, it’s as paralyzed as I am.

  There must be an answer. There must be an answer. There must be an answer. What is the answer? And I see Vosch’s polished, birdlike bright eyes boring into mine. What is the answer? Not rage, not hope, not faith, not love, not detachment, not holding on, not letting go, not fighting, not running, not hiding, not giving up, not giving in, not not not, knot, knot, knot, naught naught naught.

  Naught.

  What is the answer? he asked.

  And I answered, Nothing.

  74

  I STILL CAN’T MOVE—not even my eyes—but I’ve got a pretty good angle on the instruments, including the altimeter and fuel gauge. We’re five thousand feet up and the fuel won’t last forever. Inducing paralysis might stop me from jumping, but it won’t keep me from falling. The probability of terminal failure in that scenario is absolute.

  It has no other option: The hub releases me, and the sensation is like being hurled the length of a football field. I’m shoved back into my body, hard.

  Okay, Ringer 2.0. Let’s see how good you are.

  I grab the handle of the pilot’s door and kill the engines.

  An alarm sounds. I kill that, too. There is the wind now and only the wind.

  For a few seconds, momentum keeps the chopper level, then freefall.

  I’m thrown to the ceiling; my head smacks against the windshield. White stars explode in my vision. The chopper begins to spin as it drops, and I lose my grip on the door. I’m tossed around like a die in a Yahtzee cup, grasping at empty space, searching for a handhold. The chopper flips, nose up, and I’m flung twelve feet into the rear of the aircraft, then slung back as it flips again, smashing chest-first into the back of the pilot’s seat. A hot knife rips across my side: I’ve broken a rib. The loose nylon strap of the pilot’s harness smacks me in the face and I snatch it before I’m thrown again. Another flip, and the centrifugal force whips me back into the cockpit, where I smash into the door. It flies open and I jam my white-soled nurse’s shoe against the seat for leverage and heave myself halfway out. Release the strap, lock my fingers around the handle, and push hard.

  Roll, pitch, flip, somersault, flashes of gray and black and sparkling white. I’m hanging on to the handle as the chopper rolls pilot side up and the door slams closed on my wrist, snapping the bone and tearing my fingers from the handle. My body bounces and twists along the length of the Black Hawk until it whacks into the rear wheel, rocketing straight up, and when the tail rotates skyward, I’m shot toward the horizon like a rock from a slingshot.

  I have no sensation of falling. I’m suspended on the updraft of warmer air pressing against the colder, a hawk sailing in the night sky on outstretched wings, behind and below me the tumbling helicopter prisoner to the gravity that I deny. I don’t hear the explosion when it crashes. Just the wind and the blood roaring in my ears, and there is no pain from the beating inside the chopper. I am deliriously, exhilaratingly empty. I am nothing. The wind is more substantial than my bones.

  The Earth rushes toward me. I am not afraid. I’ve kept my promises. I’ve redeemed the time.

  I stretch out my arms. I spread my fingers wide. I lift my face toward the line where the sky meets the Earth.

  My home. My charge.

  75

  I AM FALLING at terminal velocity toward a featureless landscape of white, a vast nothingness that gobbles up everything in its path, exploding toward the horizon in all directions.

  It’s a lake. A very big lake.

  A frozen-over very big lake.

  Going in feet-first is my only option. If the ice is more than a foot thick, I’m done. No amount of alien enhancement will protect me. The bones in my legs will shatter. My spleen will rupture. My lungs will collapse.

  I have faith in you, Marika. You did not come through fire and blood only to fall now.

  Actually, Commander, I did.

  The white world beneath me shines like pearls, a blank canvas, an alabaster abyss. A screaming wall of wind pushes against my legs as I draw my knees to my chest to execute the rotation. I have to go in at ninety degrees. Straighten too soon and the wind will knock me off-kilter. Too late and I’ll hit with my ass or my chest.

  I close my eyes; I don’t need them. The hub’s performed perfectly so far; time for me to give it all my trust.

  My mind empties: blank canvas, alabaster abyss. I am the vessel, the hub the pilot.

  What is the answer?

  And I said, Nothing. Nothing is the answer.

  Both legs kick out hard. My body swivels upright. My arms come up, fold themselves over my chest. My head falls back, my face to the sky. My mouth opens. Deep breath, exhale. Deep breath, exhale. Deep breath, hold.

  Vertical now, released by the wind, I fall faster. I hit the ice straight on, feet-first, at a hundred miles an hour.

  I don’t feel the impact.

  Or the cold water closing over me.

  Or the pressure of that water as I plummet into inky darkness.

  I feel nothing. My nerves have been shut down or the pain receptors in my brain turned off.

  Hundreds of feet above me, a tiny point of light, a pinprick, faint as the farthest star: the entry point. Also the exit po
int. I kick toward the star. My body is numb. My mind is empty. I’ve completely surrendered to the 12th System. It isn’t part of me anymore. The 12th System is me. We are one.

  I am human. And I am not. Rising toward the star that shines in the ice-encrusted vault, a protogod ascending from the primordial deep, fully human, wholly alien, and I understand now; I know the answer to the impossible riddle of Evan Walker.

  I shoot into the heart of the star and hurl myself over the edge onto the icecap. A couple of broken ribs, a fractured wrist, a deep gash in my forehead from the pilot’s harness, totally numb, completely out of breath, empty, whole, aware.

  Alive.

  76

  I REACH THE SMOLDERING wreckage of the chopper by dawn. The crash site wasn’t hard to find: The Black Hawk went down in the middle of an open field covered in a fresh fall of snow. You could see the fire’s glow for miles.

  I approach slowly from the south. To my right, the sun breaks the horizon and light shoots across the winterscape, setting ablaze a crystalline inferno, as if a billion diamonds had fallen from the sky.

  My water-soaked clothes are frozen, crackling like kindling when I move, and sensation has been returned to me. The 12th System perpetuates my existence to perpetuate its own. It’s calling for rest, food, help with the healing process; that’s the purpose of giving me back my pain.

  No. No rest until I find them.

  The sky is empty. There is no wind. Smoke curls from the mangled remains of the chopper, black and gray, like the smoke that rose over Camp Haven carrying the incinerated remains of the slaughtered.

  Where are you, Razor?

  The sun climbs and the glare coming off the snow becomes blinding. The visual array adjusts my eyes: A dark filter with no discernable difference from sunglasses drops over my vision, and then I see a blot in the perfection of white about a mile to the west. I lie flat on my stomach, using a breaststroke motion to dig myself a small trench. At it draws closer, the dark imperfection takes on a human shape. Tall and thin, wearing a heavy parka and carrying a rifle, moving slowly against the ankle-gripping snow. Thirty minutes crawl by. When he’s a hundred yards away, I rise. He drops as if shot. I call his name, not loudly, though; sound carries farther in winter air.

 
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