The 5th Wave
Page 28

 Rick Yancey

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Number forty-nine has been mapped.
DR. PAM UNDOES the straps and helps him out of the chair. Sammy’s knees give out. She holds on to his arms to keep him from falling. His stomach heaves, and he vomits on the white floor. Everywhere he looks, black blobs jiggle and bounce. The big, unsmiling nurse takes him back to the examination room, puts him on the table, tells him everything is fine, asks if she can bring him anything.
“I want my bear!” he screams. “I want my daddy and my Cassie and I want to go home!”
Dr. Pam appears beside him. Her kind eyes glow with understanding. She knows what he’s feeling. She tells him how brave he is, how brave and lucky and smart to have come this far. He passed the final test with flying colors. He’s perfectly healthy and perfectly safe. The worst is over.
“That’s what my daddy said every time something bad happened, and every time it just got worse,” Sammy says, choking back tears.
They bring him a white jumpsuit to put on. It reminds him of a fighter pilot’s outfit, zippered in the front, the material slick to the touch. The suit is too big for him. The sleeves keep falling over his hands.
“Do you know why you’re so important to us, Sammy?” Dr. Pam asks. “Because you’re the future. Without you and all those other children, we won’t stand a chance against them. That’s why we searched for you and brought you here and why we’re doing all this. You know some of the things they’ve done to us, and they’re terrible. Terrible, awful things, but that isn’t the worst part, that isn’t everything they’ve done.”
“What else have they done?” Sammy whispers.
“Do you really want to know? I can show you, but only if you want to know.”
In the white room, he had just relived his mother’s death, smelled her coppery blood, watched his father wash it from his hands. But those weren’t the worst things the Others had done, the doctor said. Did he really want to know?
“I want to know,” he says.
The doctor holds up the small silver disk the nurse had used to take his temperature, the same device Parker had pressed against his and Megan’s foreheads on the bus.
“This isn’t a thermometer, Sammy,” Dr. Pam says. “It does detect something, but it isn’t your temperature. It tells us who you are. Or maybe I should say what you are. Tell me something, Sam. Have you seen one of them yet? Have you seen an alien?”
He shakes his head no. Shivering inside the white suit. Curled up on the little examination table. Sick to his stomach, head pounding, weak from hunger and exhaustion. Something in him wants her to stop. He nearly shouts out, Stop! I don’t want to know! But he bites his lip. He doesn’t want to know; he has to know.
“I’m very sorry to say you have seen one,” Dr. Pam says in a soft, sad voice. “We all have. We’ve been waiting for them to come since the Arrival, but the truth is they’ve been here, right under our noses, for a very long time.”
He is shaking his head over and over. Dr. Pam is wrong. He’s never seen one. For hours he listened to Daddy speculating about what they might look like. Heard his father say they might never know what they look like. There had been no messages from them, no landers, no signs of their existence except the grayish-green mothership in high orbit and the unmanned drones. How could Dr. Pam be saying he had seen one?
She holds out her hand. “If you want to see, I can show you.”
I don’t miss him. Ben was a wuss, a crybaby, a thumb-sucker.
Not Zombie.
Zombie is everything Ben wasn’t. Zombie is hardcore. Zombie is badass. Zombie is stone-cold.
Zombie was born on the morning I left the convalescent ward. Traded in my flimsy gown for a blue jumpsuit. Assigned a bunk in Barracks 10. Whipped back into shape by three squares a day and brutal physical training, but most of all by Reznik, the regiment’s senior drill instructor, the man who smashed Ben Parish into a million pieces, then reconstructed him into the merciless zombie killing machine that he is today.
Don’t get me wrong: Reznik is a cruel, unfeeling, sadistic bastard, and I fall asleep every night fantasizing about ways to kill him. From day one he’s made it his mission to make my life as miserable as possible, and he’s pretty much succeeded. I’ve been slapped, punched, pushed, kicked, and spat on. I’ve been ridiculed, mocked, and screamed at until my ears rang. Forced to stand for hours in the freezing rain, scrub the entire barracks floor with a toothbrush, disassemble and reassemble my rifle until my fingers bled, run until my legs turned to jelly…you get the idea.
I didn’t get it, though. Not at first. Was he training me to be a soldier or trying to kill me? I was pretty sure it was the latter. Then I realized it was both: He really was training me to be a soldier—by trying to kill me.
I’ll give you just one example. One’s enough.
Morning calisthenics in the yard, every squad in the regiment, over three hundred troops, and Reznik picks this time to publicly humiliate me. Looming over me, his legs spread wide, hands on knees, his fleshy, pockmarked face close to mine as I dipped into push-up number seventy-nine.
“Private Zombie, did your mother have any children that lived?”
“Sir! Yes, sir!”
“I bet when you were born she took one look at you and tried to shove you back in!”
Jamming the heel of his black boot into my ass to force me down. My squad is doing knuckle push-ups on the asphalt trail that rings the yard, because the ground is frozen solid and asphalt absorbs blood; you don’t slip around as much. He wants to make me fail before I reach one hundred. I push against his heel: No way I’m starting over. Not in front of the entire regiment. I can feel my fellow recruits watching me. Waiting for my inevitable collapse. Waiting for Reznik to win. Reznik always wins.
“Private Zombie, do you think I’m mean?”
“Sir! No, sir!”
My muscles burn. My knuckles are scraped raw. I’ve gained back some of the weight, but have I gotten back the heart?
Eighty-eight. Eighty-nine. Almost there.
“Do you hate my guts?”
“Sir! No, sir!”
Ninety-three. Ninety-four. Someone from another squad whispers, “Who is that guy?” And someone else, a girl’s voice, says, “His name is Zombie.”
“Are you a killer, Private Zombie?”
“Sir! Yes, sir!”
“Do you eat alien brains for breakfast?”
“Sir! Yes, sir!”
Ninety-five. Ninety-six. The yard is funeral-quiet. I’m not the only recruit who loathes Reznik. One of these days, somebody’s going to beat him at his own game, that’s the prayer, that’s what’s on my shoulders as I fight to one hundred.
“Bullshit! I hear you’re a coward. I hear you run from a fight.”
“Sir! No, sir!”
Ninety-seven. Ninety-eight. Two more and I’ve won. I hear the same girl—she must be standing close by—whisper, “Come on.”
On the ninety-ninth push-up, Reznik shoves me down with his heel. I fall hard on my chest, roll my cheek against the asphalt, and there’s his puffy face and tiny pale eyes an inch from mine.
Ninety-nine; one short. The bastard.
“Private Zombie, you are a disgrace to the species. I’ve hacked up lugies tougher than you. You make me think the enemy was right about the human race. You should be ground up for slop and passed out a hog’s shithole! Well, what are you waiting for, you stinking bag of regurgitated puke, an effing invitation?”
My head rolls to one side. An invitation would be nice, thank you, sir. I see a girl around my age standing with her squad, her arms folded across her chest, shaking her head at me. Poor Zombie. She isn’t smiling. Dark eyes, dark hair, skin so fair it seems to be glowing in the early-morning light. I have the feeling I know her from somewhere, though this is the first time I remember seeing her. There are hundreds of kids being trained for war and hundreds more arriving every day, handed blue jumpsuits, assigned to squads, packed into the barracks ringing the yard. But she has the kind of face you remember.
“Get up, you maggot! Get up and give me a hundred more. One hundred more, or by God I will rip out your eyeballs and hang them from my rearview like a pair of fuzzy dice!”
I’m totally spent. I don’t think I’ve got enough left for even one more.
Reznik doesn’t give a crap about what I think. That’s the other thing it took me a while to understand: They not only don’t care what I think—they don’t want me to think.
His face is so close to mine, I can smell his breath. It smells like spearmint.
“What is it, sweetheart? Are you tired? Do you want nappy-time?”
Do I have at least one push-up left in me? If I can do just one more, I won’t be a total loser. I press my forehead against the asphalt and close my eyes. There is a place I go, a space I found inside me after Commander Vosch showed me the final battlefield, a center of complete stillness that isn’t touched by fatigue or hopelessness or anger or anything brought on by the coming of the Big Green Eye in the Sky. In that place, I have no name. I’m not Ben or Zombie—I just am. Whole, untouchable, unbroken. The last living person in the universe who contains all human potential—including the potential to give the biggest asshole on Earth just one more.
And I do.
NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING special about me.
Reznik is an equal-opportunity sadist. He treats the six other recruits of Squad 53 with the same savage indecency. Flintstone, who’s my age, with his big head and bushy unibrow; Tank, the skinny, quick-tempered farm boy; Dumbo, the twelve-year-old with the big ears and quick smile that disappeared quickly during the first week of basic; Poundcake, the eight-year-old who never talks, but who’s our best shot by far; Oompa, the chubby kid with the crooked teeth who’s last in every drill but first in chow line; and finally the youngest, Teacup, the meanest seven-year-old you’ll ever meet, the most gung ho of all of us, who worships the ground Reznik walks on, no matter how much she’s screamed at or kicked around.
I don’t know their real names. We don’t talk about who we were before or how we came to the camp or what happened to our families. None of that matters. Like Ben Parish, those guys—the pre-Flintstone, pre-Tank, pre-Dumbo, etc.—they’re dead. Tagged, bagged, and told we are the last, best hope for humanity, we are the new wine poured into old skins. We bonded through hatred—hatred of the infesteds and their alien masters, sure, but also our fierce, uncompromising, unadulterated hatred of Sergeant Reznik, our rage made all the more intense by the fact that we could never express it.
Then the kid named Nugget was assigned to Barracks 10, and one of us, like an idiot, couldn’t hold it inside any longer, and all the bottled-up fury exploded free.
I’ll give you one guess who that idiot was.
I couldn’t believe it when that kid showed up at roll call. Five years old tops, lost in his white jumpsuit, shivering in the cold morning air of the yard, looking like he was going to be sick, obviously scared out of his mind. And here comes Reznik with his hat pulled low over his beady eyes and his boots shined to a mirror finish and his voice perpetually hoarse from screaming, shoving his pasty, pockmarked grill down into the poor kid’s face. I don’t know how the little squirt kept from soiling himself.