The 5th Wave
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“Why kids?” I ask.
“I didn’t know they were kids.”
“Maybe not, but they were heavily armed and knew what they were doing. Their problem was, so did you. You must have forgotten to mention your commando training.”
“Cassie, if we can’t trust each other—”
“Evan, we can’t trust each other.” I want to crack him in the head and burst into tears at the same time. I’ve reached the point of being tired of being tired. “That’s the whole problem.”
Overhead, the sun has broken free from the clouds, exposing us to a bright blue sky.
“Alien clone children?” I guess. “America scraping the bottom of the conscription barrel? Seriously, why are kids running around with automatic weapons and grenades?”
He shakes his head. Sips some water. Winces. “Maybe I will take another one of those pain pills.”
“Vosch said just the kids. They’re snatching children to turn them into an army?”
“Maybe Vosch isn’t one of them. Maybe the army took the kids.”
“Then why did he kill everybody else? Why did he put a bullet in my dad’s head? And if he isn’t one of them, where’d he get the Eye? Something’s wrong here, Evan. And you know what’s going on. We both know you do. Why can’t you just tell me? You’ll trust me with a gun and to pull shrapnel out of your ass, but you won’t trust me with the truth?”
He stares at me for a long moment. Then he says, “I wish you hadn’t cut your hair.”
I would have lost it, but I’m too cold, too nauseated, and too strung out. “I swear to God, Evan Walker,” I say in a dead voice, “if I didn’t need you, I would kill you right now.”
“I’m glad you need me, then.”
“And if I find out you’re lying to me about the most important part, I will kill you.”
“What’s the most important part?”
“About being human.”
“I’m as human as you are, Cassie.”
He pulls my hand into his. Both our hands are stained with blood. Mine with his. His with that of a boy not much older than my brother. How many people has this hand killed?
“Is that what we are?” I ask. I’m about to lose it big-time. I can’t trust him. I have to trust him. I can’t believe. I have to believe. Is this the Others’ ultimate goal, the wave to end all waves, stripping our humanity down to its bare, animalistic bones, until we’re nothing but soulless predators doing their dirty work for them, as solitary as sharks and with as much compassion?
He notices the cornered-animal look in my eyes. “What is it?”
“I don’t want to be a shark,” I whisper.
He looks at me for a long, uncomfortable moment. He could have said, Shark? Who? What? Huh? Who said you were a shark? Instead, he begins to nod, like he totally gets it. “You aren’t.”
You, not we. I give his long look back to him. “If the Earth was dying and we had to leave,” I say slowly, “and we found a planet but someone was there before us, someone who for some reason we weren’t compatible with…”
“You’d do whatever was necessary.”
I guess he was trying to be gentle about it. It mattered to him, I guess, that my landing wouldn’t be too hard, that the shock wouldn’t be too great. He wanted, I think, for me to get it without his having to say it.
I fling his hand away. I’m furious that I ever let him touch me. Furious at myself for staying with him when I knew there were things he wasn’t telling me. Furious at my father for letting Sammy get on that bus. Furious at Vosch. Furious at the green eye hovering on the horizon. Furious at myself for breaking the first rule for the first cute guy that came along, and for what? For what? Because his hands were large but gentle and his breath smelled like chocolate?
I pound his chest over and over until I forget why I’m hitting him, until I’m emptied of fury and all that’s left inside is the black hole where Cassie used to be.
He grabs at my flailing fists. “Cassie, stop it! Settle down! I’m not your enemy.”
“Then whose enemy are you, huh? Because you’re somebody’s. You weren’t out hunting every night—not animals, anyway. And you didn’t learn killer ninja moves working on your daddy’s farm. You keep saying what you’re not, and all I want to know is what you are. What are you, Evan Walker?”
He lets go of my wrists and surprises me by pressing his hand against my face, running his smooth thumb over my cheek, across the bridge of my nose. As if he’s touching me for the last time.
“I am a shark, Cassie,” he says slowly, drawing the words out, as if he might be speaking to me for the last time. Looking into my eyes with tears in his, as if he’s seeing me for the last time. “A shark who dreamed he was a man.”
I’m falling faster than the speed of light into the black hole that opened with the Arrival and then devoured everything in its path. The hole my father stared into when my mother died, the one I thought was out there, separate from me, but really never was. It was inside me, and it had been inside me since the beginning, growing, eating up every ounce of hope and trust and love I had, chewing its way through the galaxy of my soul while I clung to a choice—a choice who is looking at me now as if for the last time.
So I do the thing most reasonable people would in my situation.
Crashing through the woods in the bitter winter air, bare branch, blue sky, withered leaf, then bursting from the tree line into an open field, the frozen ground crunchy beneath my boots, under the dome of the indifferent sky, the brilliant blue curtain drawn over a billion stars that are still there, still looking down at her, the running girl with her short hair bouncing and tears streaming down her cheeks, not running from anything, not running to anything, just running, running like hell, because that’s the most logical thing to do when you realize the one person on Earth you’ve decided to trust isn’t from the Earth. Never mind that he saved your ass more times than you can remember, or that he could have killed you a hundred times over, or that there’s something about him, something tormented and sad and terribly, terribly lonely, like he was the last person on Earth, not the girl shivering in a sleeping bag, hugging a teddy bear in a world gone quiet.
Shut up, shut up, just shut up.
HE’S GONE when I come back. And, yes, I came back. Where was I supposed to go, without my gun and especially without that damned bear, my reason for living? I wasn’t scared to go back—he’d had ten billion opportunities to kill me; what did one more matter?
There’s his rifle. His backpack. The first aid kit. And there’s his shredded jeans by Howard the log. Since he didn’t pack another pair of pants, my guess is that he’s cavorting about the freezing woods in just his hiking boots, like a calendar pinup. No, wait. His shirt and jacket are missing.
“Come on, Bear,” I growl, snatching up my backpack. “It’s time to get you back to your owner.”
I grab my rifle, check the magazine, ditto for the Luger, pull on a pair of black knit gloves because my fingers have gone numb, steal the map and flashlight from his backpack, and head for the ravine. I’ll risk the daylight to put distance between me and Sharkman. I don’t know where he went, maybe to call in the drone strikes now that his cover’s blown, but it doesn’t matter. That’s what I decided on the way back, after running until I couldn’t run anymore: It really doesn’t matter who or what Evan Walker is. He kept me from dying. Fed me, bathed me, protected me. He helped me to get strong. He even taught me how to kill. With an enemy like that, who needs friends?
Into the ravine. Ten degrees colder in the shadows. Up and over onto the blasted landscape of Camp Ashpit, running on ground as hard as asphalt, and there’s the first body, and I think, If Evan is one of them, whose team do you play for? Would Evan kill one of his own kind to keep up the facade with me—or was he forced to kill them because they thought he was human? Thinking that makes me sick with despair: There’s no bottom to this crap. The more you dig, the further down it goes.
I pass another body with barely a glance, and then that bare glance registers and I turn back. The kid soldier has no pants on.
It doesn’t matter. I keep moving. On the dirt road now, heading north. Still trotting. Move, Cassie, move, move. Forgot the food. Forgot the water. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. The sky is cloudless, huge, a gigantic blue eye staring down. I run along the edge of the road near the woods abutting the west side. If I see a drone, I’ll dive for cover. If I see Evan, I’ll shoot first and ask questions later. Well, not just Evan. Anyone.
Nothing matters but the first rule. Nothing matters except getting Sammy. I forgot that for a while.
Silencers: human, semihuman, clone human, or alien-projecting-human holograph? Doesn’t matter. The ultimate goal of the Others: eradication, internment, or enslavement? Doesn’t matter. My chances of success: one, point one, or point zero zero zero one percent? Doesn’t matter.
Follow the road, follow the road, follow the dusty dirt road…
After a couple miles it veers to the west, connecting with Highway 35. Another few miles on Highway 35 to the junction of 675. I can take cover at the overpass there and wait for the buses. If the buses still run on Highway 35. If they’re still running at all.
At the end of the dirt road, I pause long enough to scan the terrain behind me. Nothing. He’s not coming. He’s letting me go.
I head a few feet into the trees to catch my breath. The minute I sink to the ground, everything I’ve been running from catches up to me long before my breath.
I am a shark who dreamed he was a man…
Someone is screaming—I can hear her screams echoing through the trees. The sound goes on and on. Let it bring a horde of Silencers down upon me, I don’t care. I press my hands against my head and rock back and forth, and I have this weird sensation of floating above my body, and then I’m rocketing into the sky at a thousand miles an hour and watching myself dwindle into a tiny spot before the immensity of the Earth swallows me. It’s as if I’ve been loosed from the Earth. As if there were nothing to hold me down anymore and I’m being sucked into the void. As if I were bound by a silver cord and now that cord has snapped.
I thought I knew what loneliness was before he found me, but I had no clue. You don’t know what real loneliness is until you’ve known the opposite.
Two seconds: on my feet. Another two and a half: swinging the M16 toward the voice. A shadow darts between the trees on my left and I open up, spraying bullets willy-nilly at tree trunks and branches and empty air.
In front of me, about two o’clock. I empty the clip. I know I didn’t hit him. Know I don’t have a prayer of hitting him. He’s a Silencer. But if I keep shooting, maybe he’ll back off.