The 5th Wave
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“They—I mean we—can’t go back in time and change anything. If you went back in time and killed your grandfather before you were born, then you wouldn’t be able to go back in time to kill your grandfather.”
“Why would you want to kill your grandfather?” I twisted the straw in my strawberry Frappuccino to produce that unique straw-in-a-lid squeak.
“The point is that just showing up changes history,” he said. Like I was the one who brought up time travel.
“Do we have to talk about this?”
“What else is there to talk about?” His eyebrows climbed toward his hairline. Mitchell had very bushy eyebrows. It was one of the first things I noticed about him. He also chewed his fingernails. That was the second thing I noticed. Cuticle care can tell you a lot about a person.
I pulled out my phone and texted Lizbeth:
“Are you scared?” he asked. Trying to get my attention. Or for some reassurance. He was looking at me very intently.
I shook my head. “Just bored.” A lie. Of course I was scared. I knew I was being mean, but I couldn’t help it. For some reason I can’t explain, I was mad at him. Maybe I was really mad at myself for saying yes to a date with a guy I wasn’t actually interested in. Or maybe I was mad at him for not being Ben Parish, which wasn’t his fault. But still.
help u do wat?
“I don’t care what we talk about,” he said. He was looking toward the rose bed, swirling the dregs of his coffee, his knee popping up and down so violently under the table that my cup jiggled.
mitchell. I didn’t think I needed to say any more.
“Who are you texting?”
told u not to go out w him
“Nobody you know,” I said. dont know why i did
“We can go somewhere else,” he said. “You want to go to a movie?”
“There’s a curfew,” I reminded him. No one was allowed on the streets after nine except military and emergency vehicles.
lol to make ben jealous
“Are you pissed or something?”
“No,” I said. “I told you what I was.”
He pursed his lips in frustration. He didn’t know what to say.
“I was just trying to figure out who they might be,” he said.
“You and everybody else on the planet,” I said. “Nobody actually knows, and they won’t tell us, so everybody sits around guessing and theorizing, and it’s all kind of pointless. Maybe they’re spacefaring micemen from Planet Cheese and they’ve come for our provolone.”
bp doesnt know i exist
“You know,” he said, “it’s kind of rude, texting while I’m trying to have a conversation with you.”
He was right. I slipped the phone into my pocket. What’s happening to me? I wondered. The old Cassie never would have done that. Already the Others were changing me into someone different, but I wanted to pretend nothing had changed, especially me.
“Did you hear?” he asked, going right back to the topic that I said bored me. “They’re building a landing site.”
I had heard. In Death Valley. That’s right: Death Valley.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s a very smart idea,” he said. “Rolling out the welcome mat.”
“It’s been three days. Three days and they’ve refused all contact. If they’re friendly, why wouldn’t they say hello already?”
“Maybe they’re just shy.” Twisting my hair around my finger, tugging on it gently to produce that semipleasant pain.
“Like being the new kid,” he said, the new kid.
That can’t be easy, being the new kid. I felt like I should apologize for being rude. “I was kind of mean before,” I admitted. “I’m sorry.”
He gave me a confused look. He was talking about the aliens, not himself, and then I said something about me, which was about neither.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I heard you don’t date much.”
“What else did you hear?” One of those questions you don’t want to know the answer to, but still have to ask.
He sipped his latte through the little hole in the plastic lid.
“Not much. It’s not like I asked around.”
“You asked somebody and they told you I didn’t date much.”
“I just said I was thinking about asking you out and they go, Cassie’s pretty cool. And I said, what’s she like? And they said you were nice but don’t get my hopes up because you had this thing for Ben Parish—”
“They told you that? Who told you that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t remember her name.”
“Was it Lizbeth Morgan?” I’ll kill her.
“I don’t know her name,” he said.
“What did she look like?”
“Long brown hair. Glasses. I think her name is Carly or something.”
“I don’t know any…”
Oh God. Some Carly person I don’t even know knows about me and Ben Parish—or the lack of any me and Ben Parish. And if Carly-or-something knew about it, then everybody knew about it.
“Well, they’re wrong,” I sputtered. “I don’t have a thing for Ben Parish.”
“It doesn’t matter to me.”
“It matters to me.”
“Maybe this isn’t working out,” he said. “Everything I say, you either get bored or mad.”
“I’m not mad,” I said angrily.
“Okay, I’m wrong.”
No, he was right. And I was wrong for not telling him the Cassie he knew wasn’t the Cassie I used to be, the pre-Arrival Cassie who wouldn’t have been mean to a mosquito. I wasn’t ready to admit the truth: It wasn’t just the world that had changed with the coming of the Others. We changed. I changed. The moment the mothership appeared, I started down a path that would end in the back of a convenience store behind some empty beer coolers. That night with Mitchell was only the beginning of my evolution.
Mitchell was right about the Others not stopping by just to say howdy. On the eve of the 1st Wave, the world’s leading theoretical physicist, one of the smartest guys in the world (that’s what popped up on the screen under his talking head: ONE OF THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE WORLD), appeared on CNN and said, “I’m not encouraged by the silence. I can think of no benign reason for it. I’m afraid we may expect something closer to Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas than a scene from Close Encounters, and we all know how that turned out for the Native Americans.”
I turned to my father and said, “We should nuke ’em.” I had to raise my voice to be heard over the TV—Dad always jacked up the volume during the news so he could hear it over Mom’s TV in the kitchen. She liked to watch TLC while she cooked. I called it the War of the Remotes.
“Cassie!” He was so shocked, his toes began to curl inside his white athletic socks. He grew up on Close Encounters and E.T. and Star Trek and totally bought into the idea that the Others had come to liberate us from ourselves. No more hunger. No more wars. The eradication of disease. The secrets of the cosmos unveiled. “Don’t you understand this could be the next step in our evolution? A huge leap forward. Huge.” He gave me a consoling hug. “We’re all very fortunate to be here to see it.”
Then he added casually, like he was talking about how to fix a toaster, “Besides, a nuclear device can’t do much damage in the vacuum of space. There’s nothing to carry the shock wave.”
“So this brainiac on TV is just full of shit?”
“Don’t use that language, Cassie,” he chided me. “He’s entitled to his opinion, but that’s all it is. An opinion.”
“But what if he’s right? What if that thing up there is their version of a Death Star?”
“Travel halfway across the universe just to blow us up?” He patted my leg and smiled. Mom turned up the kitchen TV. He pushed the volume in the family room to twenty-seven.
“Okay, but what about an intergalactic Mongol horde, like he was talking about?” I demanded. “Maybe they’ve come to conquer us, shove us into reservations, enslave us…”
“Cassie,” he said. “Simply because something could happen doesn’t mean it will happen. Anyway, it’s all just speculation. This guy’s. Mine. Nobody knows why they’re here. Isn’t it just as likely they’ve come all this way to save us?”
Four months after saying those words, my father was dead.
He was wrong about the Others. And I was wrong. And One of the Smartest Guys in the World was wrong.
It wasn’t about saving us. And it wasn’t about enslaving us or herding us into reservations.
It was about killing us.
All of us.
I DEBATED WHETHER to travel by day or night for a long time. Darkness is best if you’re worried about them. But daylight is preferable if you want to spot a drone before it spots you.
The drones showed up at the tag end of the 3rd Wave. Cigar-shaped, dull gray in color, gliding swiftly and silently thousands of feet up. Sometimes they streak across the sky without stopping. Sometimes they circle overhead like buzzards. They can turn on a dime and come to a sudden stop, from Mach 2 to zero in less than a second. That’s how we knew the drones weren’t ours.
We knew they were unmanned (or un-Othered) because one of them crashed a couple miles from our refugee camp. A thu-whump! when it broke the sound barrier, an ear-piercing shriek as it rocketed to earth, the ground shuddering under our feet when it plowed into a fallow cornfield. A recon team hiked to the crash site to check it out. Okay, it wasn’t really a team, just Dad and Hutchfield, the guy in charge of the camp. They came back to report the thing was empty. Were they sure? Maybe the pilot bailed before impact. Dad said it was packed with instruments; there wasn’t any room for a pilot. “Unless they’re two inches tall.” That got a big laugh. Somehow it made the horror less horrible, thinking of the Others as being two-inch Borrower types.
I opted to travel by day. I could keep one eye on the sky and another on the ground. What I ended up doing is rocking my head up and down, up and down, side to side, then up again, like some groupie at a rock concert, until I was dizzy and a little sick to my stomach.
Plus there are other things at night to worry about besides drones. Wild dogs, coyotes, bears, and wolves coming down from Canada, maybe even an escaped lion or tiger from a zoo. I know, I know, there’s a Wizard of Oz joke buried in there. Shoot me.
And though it wouldn’t be much better, I do think I’d have a better chance against one of them in the daylight. Or even against one of my own, if I’m not the last one. What if I stumble onto another survivor who decides the best course of action is to go all Crucifix Soldier on anyone they come across?
That brings up the problem of my best course of action. Do I shoot on sight? Do I wait for them to make the first move and risk it being a deadly one? I wonder, not for the first time, why the hell we didn’t come up with some kind of code or secret handshake or something before they showed up—something that would identify us as the good guys. We had no way of knowing they would show up, but we were pretty sure something would sooner or later.