The 5th Wave
Page 27

 Rick Yancey

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A nurse is waiting for him on the other side of the door. He knows she’s a nurse because she’s wearing green scrubs and soft-soled sneakers like Nurse Rachel from his doctor’s office. Her smile is warm like Nurse Rachel’s, too, and she takes his hand and leads him into a small room. There’s a hamper overflowing with dirty clothing and paper robes hanging from hooks next to a white curtain.
“Okay, champ,” the nurse says. “How long has it been since you’ve had a bath?”
She laughs at his startled expression. Then the nurse whips back the white curtain to reveal a shower stall.
“Everything comes off and into the hamper. Yes, even the underwear. We love children here, but not lice or ticks or anything with more than two legs!”
Though he protests, the nurse insists on doing the chore herself. He stands with his arms folded in front of him while she squirts a stream of foul-smelling shampoo into his hair and sudses his entire body, from his head to his toes. “Keep your eyes closed tight or it’ll burn,” the nurse gently instructs him.
She lets him dry himself off, and then tells him to put on one of the paper robes.
“Go through that door over there.” She points at the door at the other end of the room.
The robe is much too big for him. The bottom of it trails the floor as he goes to the next room. Another nurse is waiting there for him. She’s heavier than the first one, older, and not quite so friendly. She has Sammy step onto the scale, writes down his weight on a clipboard beside his number, and then has him hop onto the examination table. She places a metal disk—the same kind Parker used on the bus—against his forehead.
“I’m taking your temperature,” she explains.
He nods. “I know. Parker told me. Red means normal.”
“You’re red, all right,” the nurse says. Her cold fingers press on his wrist, taking his pulse.
Sammy shivers. He’s goose-bumpy cold in the flimsy robe and a little scared. He never liked going to the doctor, and he’s worried they might give him a shot. The nurse sits down in front of him and says she needs to ask some questions. He’s supposed to listen carefully and answer as honestly as he can. If he doesn’t know the answer, that’s okay. Does he understand?
What’s his full name? How old is he? What town is he from? Did he have any brothers or sisters? Are they alive?
“Cassie,” Sammy says. “Cassie’s alive.”
The nurse writes down Cassie’s name. “How old is Cassie?”
“Cassie is sixteen. They’re going back to get her,” Sammy tells the nurse.
“Who is?”
“The soldiers. The soldiers said there wasn’t room for her, but they were going back to get her and Daddy.”
“Daddy? So your father is alive, too? What about your mother?”
Sammy shakes his head. Bites his lower lip. He shudders violently. So cold. He remembers two empty seats on the bus, the one Parker sat next to him in and the one he sat in next to Megan. He blurts out, “They said there was no room on the bus, but there was room. Daddy and Cassie could have come, too. Why didn’t the soldiers let them come?”
The nurse answers, “Because you’re the first priority, Samuel.”
“But they’re going to bring them, too, right?”
“Eventually, yes.”
More questions. How did his mother die? What happened after that?
The nurse’s pen flies over the page. She gets up and pats his bare knee. “Don’t be scared,” she tells him before she leaves. “You’re perfectly safe here.” Her voice sounds flat to Sammy, like she’s repeating something she’s said a thousand times. “Sit tight. The doctor will be here in a minute.”
It feels much longer than a minute to Sammy. He wraps his thin arms around his chest, trying to hold in his body heat. His eyes restlessly roam the little room. A sink and cabinet. The chair the nurse sat in. A rolling stool in one corner and, mounted from the ceiling directly above the stool, a camera, its gleaming black eye aimed directly at the examination table.
The nurse comes back in, followed by the doctor. Dr. Pam is as tall and thin as the nurse is short and round. Immediately, Sammy feels calmer. There is something about the tall doctor lady that reminds him of his mother. Maybe it’s the way she talks to him, looking directly into his eyes, her voice warm and gentle. Her hands are warm, too. She doesn’t wear gloves to touch him like the nurse did.
She does what he expects, the doctor stuff he’s used to. Shines a light in his eyes, in his ears, down his throat. Listens to him breathe through the stethoscope. Rubs just beneath his jaw, but not too hard, all the while humming softly under her breath.
“Lie all the way back, Sam.”
Firm fingers pressing on his belly.
“Any pain when I do this?”
She has him stand up, bend over, reach for his toes, while she runs her hands up and down along his spine.
“Okay, sport, hop back on the table.”
He jumps back quickly onto the crinkly paper, sensing the visit is almost over. There won’t be a shot. Maybe they’ll prick his finger, and that’s no fun, but at least there won’t be a shot.
“Hold out your hand for me.”
Dr. Pam places a tiny gray tube no larger than a grain of rice into his palm.
“Know what this is? It’s called a microchip. Did you ever have a pet, a dog or a cat, Sammy?”
No. His father is allergic. He always wanted a dog, though.
“Well, some owners put a device very much like this one into their pets in case they run away or get lost. This one’s a little different, though. It puts out a signal that we can track.”
It goes just underneath the skin, the doctor explains, and no matter where Sammy is, they’ll be able to find him. Just in case something happens. It’s very safe here at Camp Haven, but just a few months ago everyone thought the world was safe from an alien attack, so now we have to be careful, we have to take every precaution…
He stops listening after the words underneath the skin. They’re going to inject that gray tube into him? Fear begins to gnaw anew around the edges of his heart.
“It won’t hurt,” the doctor says, sensing the nibbling fear. “We give you a little shot to numb you first, and then you’ll have just a small sore spot for a day or two.”
The doctor is very kind. He can see that she understands how much he hates shots and she really doesn’t want to do it. She has to do it. She shows him the needle used for the shot to numb him. It’s very tiny, hardly wider than a human hair. Like a mosquito bite, the doctor says. That isn’t so bad. He’s been bitten by mosquitoes lots of times. And Dr. Pam promises he won’t feel the gray tube go in. He won’t feel anything at all after the numbing shot.
He lies on his tummy, tucking his face into the crook of his elbow. The room is cold, and the swipe of the alcohol at the base of his neck makes him shudder violently. The nurse tells him to relax. “The more you tense up, the sorer you’ll be,” she tells him. He tries to think of something nice, something that will take his mind off what’s about to happen. He sees Cassie’s face in his mind’s eye, and he’s surprised. He expected to see his mother’s face.
Cassie is smiling. He smiles back at her, into the crook of his arm. A mosquito that must be the size of a bird bites down hard on the back of his neck. He doesn’t move, but whimpers softly against his skin. In less than a minute, it’s over.
Number forty-nine has been tagged.
AFTER THE DOCTOR bandages the insertion point, she makes a note in his chart, hands the chart to the nurse, and tells Sammy there’s just one more test.
He follows the doctor into the next room. It’s much smaller than the examination room, hardly larger than a closet. In the middle of the room is a chair that reminds Sammy of the one at his dentist’s, narrow and high-backed, thin armrests on either side.
The doctor tells him to have a seat. “Lean all the way back, head back, too, that’s right. Stay relaxed.”
Whirrr. The back of the chair lowers, the front rises, bringing up his legs until he is almost fully reclined. The doctor’s face comes into view. Smiling.
“Okay, Sam, you’ve been very patient with us, and this is the last test, I promise. It doesn’t last long and it doesn’t hurt, but sometimes it can be a little, well, intense. It’s a test of the implant we just put in. To make sure it’s working okay. It takes a few minutes to run, and you have to keep very, very still. That can be hard to do, can’t it? You can’t wiggle or squirm or even scratch your nose, or it will ruin the test. Think you can do that?”
Sammy nods. He is returning the doctor’s warm smile. “I’ve played freeze tag before,” he assures her. “I’m really good at it.”
“Good! But just in case, I’m going to put these straps around your wrists and ankles, not very tight, but just in case your nose does start to itch. The straps will remind you to keep still. Would that be okay?”
Sammy nods. When he’s strapped in, she says, “Okay, I’m going to step over to the computer now. The computer is going to send a signal to calibrate the transponder, and the transponder is going to send a signal back. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds, but it may feel longer—maybe a lot longer. Different people react in different ways. Ready to give it a try?”
“Good! Close your eyes. Keep them closed until I say you can open them. Take big, deep breaths. Here we go. Keep those eyes closed now. Counting down from three…two…one…”
A blinding white fireball explodes inside Sammy Sullivan’s head. His body stiffens; his legs strain against the restraints; his tiny fingers lock on to the chair arms. He hears the doctor’s soothing voice on the other side of the blinding light, saying, “It’s all right, Sammy. Don’t be afraid. Just a few more seconds, I promise…”
He sees his crib. And there’s Bear lying next to him in the crib, and then there’s the mobile of stars and planets spinning lazily over his bed. He sees his mother, leaning over him, holding a spoonful of medicine and telling him he has to take it. There’s Cassie in the backyard, and it’s summer and he’s toddling around in a pair of Pull-Ups, and Cassie is spraying water from the hose high into the air so a rainbow springs up out of nothing. She whips the hose back and forth, laughing as he chases it, the fleeting, uncatchable colors, shimmering splinters of the golden light. “Catch the rainbow, Sammy! Catch the rainbow!”
The images and memories pour out of him, like water rushing down a drain. In no more than ninety seconds, the entirety of Sammy’s life roars out of him and into the mainframe, an avalanche of touch and smell and taste and sound, before fading into the white nothingness. His mind is laid bare in the blinding white, all that he has experienced, all that he remembers, and even those things that he can’t remember; everything that makes up the personality of Sammy Sullivan is pulled and sorted and transmitted by the device at the base of his neck into Dr. Pam’s computer.