The 5th Wave
- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
Sammy nodded. Slipped his hand into mine.
“Come’n, Cassie. We’re going to ride a bus!”
The black mask whipped around. A gloved hand went up.
“Just the boy.”
I started to tell him to stuff it. I wasn’t happy about leaving Dad behind, but Sammy wasn’t going anywhere without me.
The corporal cut me off. “Only the boy.”
“She’s his sister,” Dad tried. He was being reasonable. “And she’s a child, too. She’s only sixteen.”
“She’ll have to stay here,” the corporal said.
“Then he’s not getting on,” I said, wrapping both arms around Sammy’s chest. He’d have to pull my damn arms off to take my little brother.
There was this awful moment when the corporal didn’t say anything. I had the urge to rip the mask off his head and spit in his face. The sun glinted off the visor, a hateful ball of light.
“You want him to stay?”
“I want him to stay with me,” I corrected him. “On the bus. Off the bus. Whatever. With me.”
“No, Cassie,” Dad said.
Sammy started to cry. He got it: It was Daddy and the soldier against me and him, and there was no winning that battle. He got it before I did.
“He can stay,” the soldier said. “But we can’t guarantee his safety.”
“Oh, really?” I shouted into his bug-face. “You think? Whose safety can you guarantee?”
“Cassie…,” Dad started.
“You can’t guarantee shit,” I yelled.
The corporal ignored me. “It’s your call, sir,” he said to Dad.
“Dad,” I said. “You heard him. He can stay with us.”
Dad chewed on his bottom lip. He lifted his head and scratched under his chin, and his eyes regarded the empty sky. He was thinking about the drones, about what he knew and what he didn’t know. He was remembering what he’d learned. He was weighing odds and calculating probabilities and ignoring the little voice piping up from the deepest part of him: Don’t let him go.
So of course he did the most reasonable thing. He was a responsible adult, and that’s what responsible adults do.
The reasonable thing.
“You’re right, Cassie,” he said finally. “They can’t guarantee our safety—no one can. But some places are safer than others.” He grabbed Sammy’s hand. “Come on, sport.”
“No!” Sammy screamed, tears streaming down bright red cheeks. “Not without Cassie!”
“Cassie’s going,” Dad said. “We’re both going. We’ll be right behind you.”
“I’ll protect him, I’ll watch him, I won’t let anything happen to him,” I pleaded. “They’re coming back for the rest of us, right? We’ll just wait for them to come back.” I pulled on his shirt and put on my best pleading face. The one that usually got me what I wanted. “Please, Daddy, don’t do this. It isn’t right. We have to stay together, we have to.”
It wasn’t going to work. He had that hard look in his eyes again: cold, clamped down, remorseless.
“Cassie,” he said. “Tell your brother it’s okay.”
And I did. After I told myself it was okay. I told myself to trust Dad, trust the People in Charge, trust the Others not to incinerate the school buses full of children, trust that trust itself hadn’t gone the way of computers and microwavable popcorn and the Hollywood movie where the slimeballs from Planet Xercon are defeated in the final ten minutes.
I knelt on the dusty ground in front of my little brother.
“You need to go, Sams,” I said. His fat lower lip bobbed up and down. Clutching the bear to his chest.
“But, Cassie, who’s going to hold you when you’re scared?” He was being totally serious. He looked so much like Dad with that concerned little frown that I almost laughed.
“I’m not scared anymore. And you shouldn’t be scared, either. The soldiers are here now, and they’re going to make us safe.”
I looked up at Corporal Branch. “Isn’t that right?”
“He looks like Darth Vader,” Sammy whispered. “Sounds like him, too.”
“Right, and remember what happens? He turns into a good guy at the end.”
“Only after he blows up a whole planet and kills a lot of people.”
I couldn’t help it—I laughed. God, he was smart. Sometimes I thought he was smarter than me and Dad combined.
“You’re going to come later, Cassie?”
“You bet I am.”
I promised. Whatever happened. No. Matter. What.
That was all he needed to hear. He pushed the teddy bear into my chest.
“For when you’re scared. But don’t leave him.” He held up a tiny finger to emphasize his point. “Don’t forget.”
He stuck out his hand to the corporal. “Lead on, Vader!” Gloved hand engulfed pudgy hand. The first step was almost too high for his little legs. The kids inside squealed and clapped when he turned the corner and hit the center aisle.
Sammy was the last to board. The door closed. Dad tried to put his arm around me. I stepped away. The engine revved. The air brakes hissed.
And there was his face against the smudged glass and his smile as he rocketed across a galaxy far, far away in his yellow X-wing starfighter, jumping to warp speed, until the dusty yellow spaceship was swallowed by dust.
“THIS WAY, SIR,” the corporal said politely, and we followed him back to the compound. Two Humvees had left to escort the buses back to Wright-Patterson. The remaining Humvees sat facing the barracks and the storage shed, the barrels of their mounted machine guns pointing at the ground, like the dipped heads of some metallic creatures dozing.
The compound was empty. Everybody—including the soldiers—had gone inside the barracks.
Everybody except one.
As we walked up, Hutchfield came out of the storage shed. I don’t know what was beaming brighter, his shaved head or his smile.
“Outstanding, Sullivan!” he boomed at Dad. “And you wanted to bug out after that first drone.”
“Looks like I was wrong,” Dad said with a tight smile.
“Briefing by Colonel Vosch in five minutes. But first I need your ordnance.”
“Your weapon. Colonel’s orders.”
Dad glanced at the soldier standing beside us. The blank, black eyes of the mask stared back at him.
“Why?” Dad asked.
“You need an explanation?” Hutchfield’s smile stayed put, but his eyes narrowed.
“I would like one, yes.”
“It’s SOP, Sullivan, standard operating procedure. You can’t have a bunch of untrained, inexperienced civilians packing heat in wartime.” Talking down to him, like he was a moron.
He held out his hand. Dad pulled the rifle slowly from his shoulder. Hutchfield snatched the rifle from Dad and disappeared into the storehouse.
Dad turned to the corporal. “Has anyone made contact with the…” He searched for the right word. “The Others?”
One word, spoken in a raspy monotone: “No.”
Hutchfield came out and smartly saluted the corporal. He was neck-deep in his element now, back with his brothers in arms. He was bursting all over with excitement, like any second he would pee himself.
“All weapons accounted for and secured, Corporal.”
All except two, I thought. I looked at Dad. He didn’t move a muscle, except the ones around his eyes. Flick to the right, flick to the left. No.
There was only one reason I could think of that he’d do that. And when I think about it, if I think too much about it, I start to hate my father. Hate him for distrusting his own instincts. Hate him for ignoring the little voice that must have been whispering, This is wrong. Something about this is wrong.
I hate him right now. If he were here right now, I’d punch him in the face for being such an ignorant dweeb.
The corporal motioned toward the barracks. It was time for Colonel Vosch’s briefing.
Time for the world to end.
I PICKED OUT Vosch right away.
Standing just inside the door, very tall, the only guy in fatigues not cradling a rifle against his chest.
He nodded to Hutchfield when we stepped inside the old hospital/charnel house. Then Corporal Branch gave a salute and squeezed into the line of soldiers that ringed the walls.
That’s how it was: soldiers standing along three of the four walls, refugees in the middle.
Dad’s hand sought out mine. Sammy’s teddy in one hand, the other hanging on to his.
How about it, Dad? Did that little voice get louder when you saw the men with guns against the walls? Is that why you grabbed my hand?
“All right, now can we get some answers?” someone shouted when we stepped inside.
Everybody started to talk at once—everyone except the soldiers—shouting out questions.
“Have they landed?”
“What do they look like?”
“What are they?”
“What are those gray ships we keep seeing in the sky?”
“When do the rest of us get to leave?”
“How many survivors have you found?”
Vosch held up his hand for quiet. It only half worked.
Hutchfield gave him a smart salute. “All present and accounted for, sir!”
I did a quick head count. “No,” I said. I raised my voice to be heard over the din. “No!” I looked at Dad. “Crisco’s not here.”
Hutchfield frowned. “Who’s Crisco?”
“He’s this cree—this kid—”
“Kid? Then he left on the buses with the others.”
The others. It’s kind of funny when I think about it now. Funny in a sickening way.
“We need everyone in this building,” Vosch said from behind his mask. His voice was very deep, a subterranean rumble.
“He probably had a freakout,” I said. “He’s kind of a wuss.”
“Where would he go?” Vosch asked.
I shook my head. I had no clue. Then I did, more than a clue. I knew where Crisco had gone.
“The ash pit.”
“Where is the ash pit?”
“Cassie,” Dad spoke up. He was squeezing my hand hard. “Why don’t you go get Crisco for us so the colonel can start our briefing?”
I didn’t get it. I think Dad’s little voice was screaming by this point, but I couldn’t hear it, and he couldn’t say it. All he could do was try to telegraph it with his eyes. Maybe it was this: Do you know how to tell who the enemy is, Cassie?
I don’t know why he didn’t volunteer to go with me. Maybe he thought they wouldn’t suspect a kid of anything, and one of us would make it—or at least have a chance to make it.
“All right,” Vosch said. He flicked his finger at Corporal Branch: Go with her.
“She’ll be okay alone,” Dad said. “She knows those woods like the back of her hand. Five minutes, right, Cassie?” He looked at Vosch and smiled. “Five minutes.”