The 5th Wave
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Directly behind me. I take a deep breath, reload, and then deliberately turn and pump some more lead into the innocent trees.
Don’t you get it, dummy? He’s getting you to use up your ammo.
So I wait, feet wide, shoulders square, gun up, scanning right and left, and I can hear his voice in my head, giving instruction back at the farm: You have to feel the target. Like it’s connected to you. Like you’re connected to it…
It happens in the space of time between one second and the next. His arm drops around my chest, he rips the rifle from my hands, then relieves me of the Luger. After another half second, he’s locked me in a bear hug, crushing me into his chest and lifting my feet a couple inches off the ground as I kick furiously with my heels, twisting my head back and forth, snapping at his forearm with my teeth.
And the whole time his lips tickling the delicate skin of my ear. “Cassie. Don’t. Cassie…”
“That’s been the whole problem. I can’t.”
EVAN LETS ME KICK and squirm until I’m exhausted, then he plops me down against a tree and steps back.
“You know what happens if you run,” he warns me. His face is flushed. He’s having a hard time catching his breath. When he turns to retrieve my weapons, his movements are stiff, deliberate. Catching me—after taking the grenade for me—has cost him. His jacket hangs open, exposing his denim shirt, and the pants he took from the dead kid are two sizes too small, tight in all the wrong places. It looks like he’s wearing a pair of capris.
“You’ll shoot me in the back of the head,” I say.
He tucks my Luger into his belt and swings the M16 over one shoulder.
“I could have done that a long time ago.”
I guess he’s talking about the first time we met. “You’re a Silencer,” I say. It takes everything in me not to jump up and tear off through the trees again. Of course, running from him is pointless. Fighting him is pointless. So I have to outsmart him. It’s like I’m back under that car on the day we first met. No hiding from it. No running from it.
He sits down a few feet away, resting his rifle across his thighs. He’s shivering.
“If your job is to kill us, why didn’t you kill me?” I ask.
He answers without hesitating, as if he’s decided long before I asked the question what his answer would be.
“Because I’m in love with you.”
My head falls back against the rough bark of the tree. The bare branches overhead are hard-edged against the bright blue sky. “Well, this is a tragic love story, isn’t it? Alien invader falls for human girl. The hunter for his prey.”
“I am human.”
“‘I am human…but.’ Finish it, Evan.” Because I’m finished now, Evan. You were the last one, my only friend in the world, and now you’re gone. I mean, you’re here, whatever you are, but Evan, my Evan, he’s gone.
“Not but, Cassie. And. I am human and I’m not. I’m neither and I’m both. I am Other and I am you.”
I look into his eyes, deep-set and very dark in the shadowy air, and say, “You make me want to puke.”
“How could I tell you the truth when the truth meant you would leave me and leaving me meant you would die?”
“Don’t preach to me about dying, Evan.” Wagging my finger at his face. “I watched my mother die. I watched one of you kill my father. I’ve seen more death in six months than anyone else in human history.”
He pushes my hand down and says through gritted teeth, “And if there had been something you could have done to protect your father, to save your mother, wouldn’t you have done it? If you knew a lie would save Sammy, wouldn’t you lie?”
You bet I would. I would even pretend to trust the enemy to save Sammy. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around Because I’m in love with you. Trying to come up with some other reason he betrayed his species.
Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter. Only one thing matters. A door slammed closed behind Sammy the day he got on that bus, a door with a thousand locks, and I realize sitting in front of me is the guy with the keys.
“You know what’s at Wright-Patterson, don’t you?” I say. “You know exactly what happened to Sam.”
He doesn’t answer. Doesn’t nod yes. Doesn’t shake his head no. What’s he thinking? That it’s one thing to spare a single measly random human but something seriously different to give away the master plan? Is this Evan Walker’s under-the-Buick moment, when you can’t run, can’t hide, and your only option is to turn and face?
“Is he alive?” I ask. I lean forward; the rough tree bark is cutting into my spine.
He hesitates for a half breath, then: “He probably is.”
“Why did they…why did you bring him there?”
“To prepare him.”
“To prepare him for what?”
Waits a full breath this time. Then: “The 5th Wave.”
I close my eyes. For the first time, looking at that beautiful face is too much to endure. God, I’m tired. So frigging tired, I could sleep for a thousand years. If I slept for a thousand years, maybe I’d wake up and the Others would be gone and there’d be happy children frolicking in these woods. I am Other and I am you. What the hell does that mean? I’m too tired to chase the thought.
I open my eyes and force myself to look at him. “You can get us in.”
He’s shaking his head.
“Why not?” I ask. “You’re one of them. You can say you captured me.”
“Wright-Patterson isn’t a prison camp, Cassie.”
“Then what is it?”
“For you?” Leaning toward me; his breath warms my face. “A death trap. You won’t last five seconds. Why do you think I’ve been trying everything I can think of to keep you from going there?”
“Everything? Really? How about telling me the truth? How about something like, ‘Hey, Cass, about this rescue thingy of yours. I’m an alien like the guys who took Sam, so I know what you’re doing is absolutely hopeless’?”
“Would it have made a difference if I had?”
“That isn’t the point.”
“No, the point is your brother is being held at the most important base we—I mean, the Others—have established since the purge began—”
“Since the what? What did you call it? The purge?”
“Or the cleansing.” He can’t meet my eyes. “Sometimes it’s called that.”
“Oh, that’s what you’re doing? Cleaning up the human mess?”
“That’s not my word for it, and purging or cleansing or whatever you want to call it wasn’t my decision,” he protests. “If it makes you feel any better, I never thought we should—”
“I don’t want to feel better! The hatred I’m feeling at this moment is all I need, Evan. All I need.” Okay, that was honest, but don’t go too far. He’s the guy with the keys. Keep him talking. “Never thought you should do what?”
He takes a long drink from the water flask, offers it to me. I shake my head. “Wright-Patterson isn’t just any base—it’s the base,” he says, weighing each word carefully. “And Vosch isn’t just any commander—he’s the commander, the leader of all field operations and the architect of the cleans—the one who designed the attacks.”
“Vosch murdered seven billion people.” The number sounds weirdly hollow in my ears. After the Arrival, one of Dad’s favorite themes was how advanced the Others must be, how high they must have climbed on the evolutionary ladder to reach the stage of intergalactic travel. And this is their solution to the human “problem”?
“There were some of us who didn’t think annihilation was the answer,” Evan says. “I was one of them, Cassie. My side lost the argument.”
“No, Evan, that would be my side that lost.”
It’s more than I can take. I stand up, expecting him to stand, too, but he stays where he is, looking up at me.
“He doesn’t see you as some of us do…as I do,” he says. “To him, you’re a disease that will kill its host unless it’s wiped out.”
“I’m a disease. That’s what I am to you.”
I can’t look at him anymore. If I look at Evan Walker for one more second, I’m going to be sick.
Behind me, his voice is soft, level, almost sad. “Cassie, you’re up against something that is way beyond your capacity to fight. Wright-Patterson isn’t just another cleansing camp. The complex underneath it is the central coordinating hub for every drone in this hemisphere. It’s Vosch’s eyes, Cassie; it’s how he sees you. Breaking in to rescue Sammy isn’t just risky—it’s suicidal. For both of us.”
“Both of us?” I glance at him out of the corner of my eye. He hasn’t moved.
“I can’t pretend to take you prisoner. My assignment isn’t to capture people—it’s to kill them. If I try to walk in with you as my prisoner, they’ll kill you. And then they’ll kill me for not killing you. And I can’t sneak you in. The base is patrolled by drones, protected by a twenty-foot-high electric fence, watchtowers, infrared cameras, motion detectors…and a hundred people just like me, and you know what I can do.”
“Then I sneak in without you.”
He nods. “It’s the only possible way—but just because something is possible doesn’t mean it isn’t suicidal. Everyone they bring in—I mean the people they don’t kill right away—is put through a screening program that maps their entire psyche, including their memories. They’ll know who you are and why you’re there…and then they’ll kill you.”
“There’s got to be a scenario that doesn’t end with them killing me,” I insist.
“There is,” he says. “The scenario where we find a safe spot to hide and wait for Sammy to come to us.”
My mouth drops open, and I think, Huh? Then I say it: “Huh?”
“It might take a couple of years. How old is he, five? The youngest allowed is seven.”
“The youngest allowed to do what?”
He looks away. “You saw.”
The little kid whose throat he cut at Camp Ashpit, wearing fatigues, toting a rifle almost as big as he was. Now I do want a drink. I walk over to him, and he gets very still while I bend over and pick up the flask. After four big swallows, my mouth is still dry.
“Sam is the 5th Wave,” I say. The words taste bad. I take another long drink.
Evan nods. “If he passed his screening, he’s alive and being…” He searches for the word. “Processed.”
“Brainwashed, you mean.”
“More like indoctrinated. In the idea that the aliens have been using human bodies, and we—I mean humans—have figured out a way to detect them. And if you can detect them, you can—”