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The infinite sea, p.6
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       The Infinite Sea, p.6

         Part #2 of The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey
 
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  I told him about Camp Ashpit. The Humvees and big flatbed full of troops. The surreal appearance of the school buses. Just the kids. Room only for the little ones. The gathering of the rest in the barracks and Dad sending me with my first victim to find Crisco. Then Dad in the dirt, Vosch towering over him, while I hid in the woods, and Dad mouthing Run.

  “Weird that they didn’t put you on a bus,” Ben said. “If the point was to build an army of brainwashed kids.”

  “I saw mostly little kids, Sam’s age, some even younger.”

  “At camp, they separated anyone under five, kept them in the bunker . . .”

  I nodded. “I found them.” In the safe room, their faces lifted up to mine as I hunted for Sam.

  “Which makes you wonder: Why keep them?” Ben said. “Unless Vosch expects a very long war.” The way he said it, as if he doubted that that was the reason. He drummed his fingers on the mattress. “What the hell is going on with Teacup? They should be back by now.”

  “I’ll go check,” I said.

  “Like hell you will. This is turning into every horror movie ever made. You know? Getting picked off one by one. Uh-uh. Five more minutes.”

  We fell silent, listening. But there was only the wind whispering in the poorly sealed window and the constant undercurrent of rats scratching in the walls. Teacup was obsessed with them. I listened to hours of her and Ringer plotting their demise. That annoying lecturing tone of Ringer’s, explaining how the population was out of control: The hotel had more rats than we had bullets.

  “Rats,” Ben said, as if he read my mind. “Rats, rats, rats. Hundreds of rats. Thousands of rats. More rats than us now. Planet of the rats.” He laughed hoarsely. Maybe he was delirious. “You know what’s been bugging the hell out of me? Vosch telling us they’ve been watching us for centuries. Like, how is that possible? Oh, I get how it’s possible, but I don’t get why they didn’t attack us then. How many people were on Earth when we built the pyramids? Why would you wait until there’re seven billion of us spread out over every continent with technology a little more advanced than spears and clubs? You like a challenge? The time to exterminate the vermin in your new house isn’t after the vermin outnumber you. What about Evan? He say anything about that?”

  I cleared my throat. “He said they were divided over whether to exterminate us.”

  “Huh. So maybe they debated it for six thousand years. Dicked around because nobody could make up his mind, until someone said, ‘Oh, what the hell, let’s just off the bastards.’”

  “I don’t know. I don’t have the answers.” I was feeling a little defensive. As if knowing Evan meant I should know everything.

  “Vosch could have been lying, I guess,” Ben mused. “I don’t know, to get in our heads, mess with us. He messed with me from the start.” He looked at me, then looked away. “Shouldn’t admit this, but I worshipped the guy. I thought he was, like . . .” He twirled his hand in the air, searching for the words. “The best of us.”

  His shoulders began to shake. At first, I thought it must be the fever, and then I thought it could be something else, so I left my spot by the window and went to him.

  For guys, breaking down is a private thing. Never let them see you cry, means you’re weak, means you’re soft, a baby, a wuss. Not very manly and all that BS. I couldn’t imagine the pre-Arrival Ben Parish crying in front of anyone, the guy who had everything, the boy who all the other boys wanted to be, the one who broke others’ hearts and never suffered his own to be broken.

  I sat beside him. I didn’t touch him. I didn’t speak. He was where he was and I was where I was.

  “Sorry,” he said.

  I shook my head. “Don’t be.”

  He wiped the back of his hand against one cheek, then the other cheek. “You know what he told me? Well, more like promised. He promised he would empty me. He would empty me and fill me up with hate. But he broke that promise. He didn’t fill me with hate. He filled me with hope.”

  I understood. In the safe room, a billion upraised faces populating the infinite, and the eyes that sought mine, and the question in those eyes too horrible to put into words, Will I live? It’s all connected. The Others understood that, understood it better than most of us. No hope without faith, no faith without hope, no love without trust, no trust without love. Remove one and the entire human house of cards collapses.

  It was like Vosch wanted Ben to discover the truth. Wanted to teach him the hopelessness of hope. And what could be the point of that? If they wanted to annihilate us, why didn’t they just go ahead and annihilate us? There must be a dozen ways to wipe us out quickly, but they drew it out in five waves of escalating horror. Why?

  Up to now, I always thought that the Others felt nothing toward us except disdain with maybe a little disgust mixed in, the way we feel about rats and cockroaches and bedbugs and other nasty lower forms of life. Nothing personal, humans, but you gotta go. It never occurred to me that it could be entirely personal. That simply killing us isn’t enough.

  “They hate us,” I said, as much to myself as to him. Ben looked at me, startled. And I looked back at him, scared. “There’s no other explanation.”

  “They don’t hate us, Cassie,” he said gently, the way you talk to a frightened little kid. “We just had what they want.”

  “No.” Now my cheeks were wet with tears. The 5th Wave had one explanation and only one. Any other possible reason was absurd.

  “This isn’t about ripping the planet away from us, Ben. This is about ripping us.”

  13

  “THAT’S IT,” Ben said. “Time’s up.”

  Then he was up, but he didn’t get very far. Halfway to his feet before plopping down hard on his butt. I put a hand on his shoulder.

  “I’ll go.”

  He smacked his thigh with his palm. “Can’t let it happen,” he muttered as I opened the door and poked my head into the hallway. Can’t let what happen? Losing Teacup and Poundcake? Losing all of us one by one? Losing the battle against his injuries? Or losing the war in general?

  The hall was empty.

  First Teacup. Then Poundcake. Now Dumbo. We were disappearing faster than campers in a slasher movie.

  “Dumbo!” I called softly. The ridiculous name echoed in the cold, stagnant air. My mind raced through the possibilities. Least likely to most: Somebody quietly neutralized him and stashed his body; he was captured; he saw or heard something and went to investigate; he had to pee.

  I lingered in the doorway for a couple of seconds in case the last possibility was true. When the hall stayed empty, I stepped back into the room. Ben was upright, checking the magazine of his M16.

  “Don’t make me guess,” he said. “Never mind. I don’t need to guess.”

  “Stay here with Sam. I’ll go.”

  He shuffled to a stop an inch from my nose. “Sorry, Sullivan. He’s your brother.”

  I stiffened. The room was freezing; my blood was colder. His voice was hard, flat, without any feeling at all. Zombie. Why do they call you Zombie, Ben?

  Then he smiled, a very real, very Ben Parish–y smile. “Those guys out there—they’re all my brothers.”

  He sidestepped me and stumbled toward the door. The situation was escalating quickly from impossibly dangerous to dangerously impossible. I couldn’t see any other way: I scrambled over Ben’s bed and grabbed Sam by the shoulders. Shook him hard. He woke up with a soft cry. I slammed my hand over his mouth to stopper the noise.

  “Sams! Listen! Something’s wrong.” I pulled the Luger from the holster and pressed it into his little hands. His eyes widened with fear and something that unnervingly resembled joy. “Ben and I have to check it out. Put on the night latch—you know what a night latch is?” Big-eyed nod. “And put a chair under the knob. Look through the little hole. Don’t let . . .” Did I need to spell out everything? “Look, Sams, this
is important, very important. Very, very important. You know how we tell the good guys from the bad guys? The bad guys shoot at us.” Best lesson my father ever taught me. I kissed the top of Sam’s head and left him there.

  The door clicked shut behind me. I heard the night latch slide into the notch. Good boy. Ben was halfway down the hall. He motioned for me to join him. He pressed his lips, fever-hot, against my ear.

  “We clear the rooms, then we go down.”

  We worked together. I took the point while Ben covered me. The Walker Hotel had an open door policy: Every lock had been busted at some point as survivors sought refuge during the waves. Also helpful was the fact that the Walker was perfect for the family on a budget. The rooms were roughly the size of Barbie’s Dreamhouse. Thirty seconds to check one. Four minutes to clear them all.

  Back in the hall, Ben crushed his lips into my ear again.

  “The shaft.”

  He dropped to one knee in front of the elevator doors. Gestured for me to cover the stairway door, then pulled out his ten-inch combat knife and shoved the blade into the crack. Ah, I thought. The old hide-in-the-elevator trick! So why was I covering the stairs? Ben pushed open the doors and waved me over.

  I saw rusty cables and a lot of dust and smelled what I assumed to be dead rat. I hoped it was dead rat. He pointed at the darkness pooling below, and then I understood. We weren’t checking the shaft—we were using it.

  “I’m clearing the stairs,” he breathed in my ear. “You stay in the elevator. Wait for my signal.”

  He placed his foot against one door and leaned back against the other to hold them open. Patted the tiny space between his hip and the edge. Mouthed, Let’s go. Carefully I eased over his legs, planted my butt in the space, and dropped my legs over the side. The top of the elevator looked twenty miles down. Ben smiled reassuringly: Don’t worry, Sullivan. I won’t let you fall.

  I inched forward until my butt dangled in open space. Nope, that won’t work. I swung back to the edge, then maneuvered onto my knees. Ben grabbed my wrist and gave me a thumbs-up with his free hand. I knee-walked down the shaft wall, gripping the edge until my arms were fully extended. Okay, Cassie. Time to let go now. Ben’s got you. Yeah, dumbass, and Ben’s hurt and about as strong as a three-year-old. When you let go, your weight is going to pull him off his perch and you’ll both drop. He’ll land on top of you and break your neck and then he’ll slowly bleed to death all over your paralyzed body . . .

  Oh, what the hell.

  I let go. I heard Ben grunt softly, but he didn’t drop me and he didn’t tumble down on top of me. Bending from the waist as he lowered me down, until I saw his head silhouetted in the opening, his face masked in shadow. My toes brushed against the roof of the elevator. I gave him a thumbs-up, though I wasn’t sure if he could see it. Three seconds. Four. And then he let go.

  I sank to my knees and felt around for the service hatch. Some grease, some dirt, and a lot of greasy dirt.

  Before electricity, they measured brightness in candlepower. The light down here was about one half of one half of one candle.

  Then the doors above me closed and the candlepower dropped to zero.

  Thanks, Parish. You could have waited till I found the hatch.

  And, when I did, the latch was stuck, probably rusted shut. I reached for my Luger with the thought of using the butt end as a hammer, then remembered I’d entrusted my semiautomatic pistol to a five-year-old’s care. I pulled the combat knife from my ankle holster and gave the latch three hard whacks with the handle. The metal screeched. A very loud screech. So much for stealth. But the latch gave. I pulled the hatch open, which resulted in another very loud screech, this time from the rusty hinge. Well, sure, this sounds really loud to you, kneeling right next to it. Outside the shaft, probably only a tiny mouselike squeaky-squeak. Don’t get paranoid! My father had a saying about paranoia. I never thought it was very funny, especially after hearing it two thousand times: I’m only paranoid because everyone is against me. Only a joke, I used to think. Not an omen.

  I dropped into the utter dark of the elevator car. Wait for my signal. What signal? Ben neglected to cover that. I pressed my ear to the crack between the cold metal doors and held my breath. Counted to ten. Breathed. Counted to ten again. Breathed. After six ten counts and four breaths and hearing nothing, I started getting a little antsy. What was happening out there? Where was Ben? Where was Dumbo? Our little band was being ripped apart one person at a time. A big mistake splitting up, but each time we didn’t have a choice. We were being outplayed. Someone was making this look foolishly easy.

  Or multiple someones: After we went rogue in Dayton, Vosch dispatched two squads to hunt us down.

  That was it. That had to be it. One or possibly both squads had found our hiding place. We waited here too long.

  That’s right, and why did you wait, Cassiopeia “Defiance” Sullivan? Oh yeah, because some dead guy promised he’d find you. So you closed your eyes and jumped off the cliff into that emptiness, and now you’re shocked there’s no big fat mattress at the bottom? Your fault. Whatever happens now. You’re responsible.

  The elevator was not large, but in the pitch dark it seemed the size of a football stadium. I was standing in a vast underground pit, no light, no sound, a lifeless, lightless void, frozen to the spot, paralyzed by fear and doubt. Knowing—without understanding how I knew—that Ben’s signal wasn’t coming. Understanding—without knowing how I understood—that Evan wasn’t coming, either.

  You never know when the truth will come home. You can’t choose the time. The time chooses you. I’d had days to face the truth that now faced me in that cold, black space, and I’d refused. I wouldn’t go there. So the truth decided to come to me.

  When he touched me on our last night together, there was no space between us, no spot where he ended and I began, and now there was no space between me and the darkness of the pit. He promised he would find me. Don’t I always find you? And I believed him. After distrusting everything he said from the moment I met him, for the first time, in the last words he spoke, I believed.

  I pressed my face against the cold metal doors. I had the sensation of falling, miles upon miles of empty air beneath me. I would never stop falling. You’re a mayfly. Here for a day and then gone. No. I’m still here, Evan. You’re the one who’s gone.

  “You knew from the moment we left the farmhouse what would happen,” I whispered into the void. “You knew you were going to die. And you went anyway.”

  I couldn’t stay upright anymore. I had no choice. I slid down to my knees. Falling. Falling. I would never stop falling.

  Let go, Cassie. Let go.

  “Let go? I’m falling. I’m falling, Evan.”

  But I knew what he meant.

  I’d never let him go. Not really. I told myself a thousand times a day he couldn’t have survived. Lectured myself that our holing up in this fleabag motel was useless, dangerous, crazy, suicidal. But I clung to his promise because letting go of the promise meant I was letting go of him.

  “I hate you, Evan Walker,” I whispered to the void.

  From inside the void—and from the void inside—silence.

  Can’t go back. Can’t go forward. Can’t hold on. Can’t let go. Can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t. What can you do? What can you do?

  I lifted my face. Okay. I can do that.

  I stood up. That, too.

  I squared my shoulders and slipped my fingertips into the place where the two doors met.

  I’m stepping out now, I told the silent deep. I’m letting go.

  I forced the doors apart. Light flooded into the void, devouring the smallest shadow, down to the last one.

  14

  I STEPPED INTO the lobby, our brave new world in microcosm. Shattered glass. Mounds of trash piled into corners, like autumn leaves blown there by the wind. Dead bugs on their backs, le
gs curled up. Bitter cold. So quiet, your breath was the only sound: After the Hum vanished, the Hush.

  No sign of Ben. Between the second floor and the stairs, something must have happened to him and not a good something. I eased toward the stairway door, fighting the instinct to haul ass back to Sam before he disappeared like Ben, like Dumbo, like Poundcake and Teacup, like 99.9 percent of everyone on Earth.

  Debris crackling beneath my boots. Cold air burning my face and hands. My hands gripping the rifle and my eyes barely blinking in the weak starlight that blared spotlight-bright after the absolute dark of the elevator.

  Slow. Slow. No mistakes.

  Stairway door. I held the metal handle for a good thirty seconds, ear pressed against the wood, but all I heard was the thumping of my heart. Slowly, I pushed down the handle, pulled the door open to create a crack just wide enough to peek through. Totally dark. Totally soundless. Damn it, Parish. Where the hell are you?

  Nowhere to go but up. I slid into the stairwell. Snick: The door closed behind me. Plunged into darkness again, but this time I was determined to keep it on the outside, where it belonged.

  The tart smell of death hung in the musty air. A rat, I told myself. Or a raccoon or some other woodland creature that got trapped in here. My boot came down on something squishy. Tiny bones crunched. I wiped off the gooey remains on the edge of a step; I didn’t want to slip, tumble down to the bottom, break my neck, lie helplessly waiting for whoever it was to find me and put a bullet in my brain. That would be bad.

  I reached the tiny landing, one more flight, deep breath, almost there, and then the shot rang out, followed by another, then a third, then a whole barrage as whoever was shooting emptied the magazine. I rocketed up the remaining steps, slammed through the door, and charged down the hall toward the room that was now missing a door, the room where my baby brother was, and my toe caught on something—a soft something I didn’t see in my mad dash for Sam—and I went airborne, landing with a jaw-popping force on the thin carpeting, jumped up, glanced back, and saw Ben Parish lying lifelessly there, arms outstretched, dark wet blotch of blood seeping through that ridiculous yellow hoodie, and then Sam screamed and I’m not too late, not too late, and here I come, you sonofabitch, here I come, and in the room a tall shadow loomed over the tiny figure whose tiny finger yanked impotently at the trigger of the empty gun.

 
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