The 5th Wave
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“This is the point where you bop me over the head,” I say. I smell like the earth, and for some reason I think about my father kneeling in the rose bed and the white sheet. “Or offer to go in my place. Or bop me in the head and then go in my place.”
He jumps to his feet. For a second I’m afraid he is going to bop me over the head, he’s that upset. Instead, he wraps his arms around himself like he’s cold—or he does it to keep himself from bopping me over the head.
“It’s suicide,” he snaps. “We’re both thinking it. One of us might as well say it. Suicide if I go, suicide if you go. Dead or alive, he’s lost.”
I pull the Luger from my waistband. Put it on the ground at his feet. Then the M16.
“Save these for me,” I tell him. “I’m going to need them when I get back. And by the way, somebody should say this: You look ridiculous in those pants.” I scooch over to the backpack without getting up. Pull out Bear. No need to dirty him up; he’s already rough-looking.
“Are you listening to me?” he demands.
“The problem is you don’t listen to yourself,” I shoot back. “There’s only one way in, and that’s the way Sammy took. You can’t go. I have to. So don’t even open your mouth. If you say anything, I’ll slap you.”
I stand up, and a weird thing happens: As I rise, Evan seems to shrink. “I’m going to get my little brother, and there’s only one way I can do it.”
He’s looking up at me, nodding. He has been inside me. There has been no place where he ended and I began. He knows what I’m going to say:
THERE ARE THE STARS, the pinpricks of light stabbing down.
There is the empty road beneath the light stabbing down and the girl on the road with the smudged face and twigs and dead leaves entangled in her short, curly hair, clutching a battered old teddy bear, on the empty road, beneath the stars stabbing down.
There is the growl of engines and then the twin bars of the headlights cutting across the horizon, and the lights grow larger, brighter, like two stars going supernova, bearing down on the girl, who has secrets in her heart and promises to keep, and she faces the lights that bear down on her, she does not run or hide.
The driver sees me with plenty of time to stop. The brakes squeal, the door hisses open, and a soldier steps onto the asphalt. He has a gun but he doesn’t point it at me. He looks at me, pinned in the headlights, and I look back at him.
He’s wearing a white armband with a red cross on it. His name tag says PARKER. I remember that name. My heart skips a beat. What if he recognizes me? I’m supposed to be dead.
What’s my name? Lizbeth. Am I hurt? No. Am I alone? Yes.
Parker does a slow 360, surveying the landscape. He doesn’t see the hunter in the woods who is watching this play out, his scope trained on Parker’s head. Of course Parker doesn’t see him. The hunter in the woods is a Silencer.
Parker takes my arm and helps me onto the bus. It smells like blood and sweat. Half the seats are empty. There are kids. Adults, too. They don’t matter, though. Only Parker and the driver and the soldier with the name tag HUDSON matter. I flop into the last seat by the emergency door, the same seat Sam sat in when he pressed his little hand to the glass and watched me shrink until the dust swallowed me.
Parker hands me a bag of smushed gummies and a bottle of water. I don’t want either, but I consume both. The gummies have been in his pocket and are warm and gooey, and I’m afraid I’m going to be sick.
The bus picks up speed. Someone near the front is crying. Besides that, there’s the hum of the wheels and the high rev of the engine and the cold wind rushing through the cracked windows.
Parker comes back with a silver disk that he presses against my forehead. To take my temperature, he tells me. The disk glows red. I’m good, he says. What’s my bear’s name?
Sammy, I tell him.
Lights on the horizon. That’s Camp Haven, Parker tells me. It’s perfectly safe. No more running. No more hiding. I nod. Perfectly safe.
The light grows, seeps slowly through the windshield, then rushes in as we get closer, flooding the bus now, and we’re pulling up to the gate and a loud bell goes off and the gate rolls open. The silhouette of a soldier high in the watchtower.
We stop in front of a hangar. A fat man bounds onto the bus, light on the balls of his feet like a lot of fat guys. His name is Major Bob. We shouldn’t be afraid, he tells us. We are perfectly safe. There are only two rules to remember. Rule one is remember our colors. Rule two is listen and follow.
I fall into line with my group and follow Parker to the side door of the hangar. He pats Lizbeth on the shoulder and wishes her good luck.
I find a red circle and sit down. There are soldiers everywhere. But most of these soldiers are kids, some not much older than Sam. They all look very serious, especially the younger ones. The really young ones are the most serious of all.
You can manipulate a kid into believing almost anything, into doing almost anything, Evan explained in our mission briefing. With the right training, there are few things more savage than a ten-year-old.
I have a number: T-sixty-two. T for Terminator. Ha.
The numbers are called out over a loudspeaker.
“SIXTY-TWO! TEE-SIXTY-TWO! PROCEED TO THE RED DOOR, PLEASE! NUMBER TEE-SIXTY-TWO!”
The first station is the shower room.
On the other side of the red door is a thin woman wearing green scrubs. Everything comes off and into the hamper. Underwear, too. They love children here but not lice and ticks. There’s the shower. Here’s the soap. Put on the white robe when you’re finished and wait to be called.
I sit the bear against the wall and step naked onto the cold tiles. The water is tepid. The soap has a pungent mediciny smell. I’m still damp when I slip on the paper robe. It clings to my skin. You can almost see through it. I pick up Bear and wait.
Prescreening is next. A lot of questions. Some are nearly identical. That’s to test your story. Stay calm. Stay focused.
Through the next door. Up onto the exam table. A new nurse, heavier, meaner. She barely looks at me. I must be, like, the thousandth person she’s seen since the Silencers took the base.
What’s my full name? Elizabeth Samantha Morgan.
How old am I? Twelve.
Where am I from? Do I have any brothers or sisters? Is anyone in my family still alive? What happened to them? Where did I go after I left home? What happened to my leg? How was I shot? Who shot me? Do I know where any other survivors are? What are my siblings’ names? My parents’? What did my father do for a living? What was the name of my best friend? Tell her again what happened to my family.
When it’s over, she pats me on the knee and tells me not to be scared. I’m perfectly safe.
I hug Bear to my chest and nod.
The physical’s next. Then the implant. The incision is very small. She’ll probably seal it with glue.
The woman named Dr. Pam is so nice, I like her in spite of myself. The dream doctor: kind, gentle, patient. She doesn’t rush right in and start poking me; she talks first. Lets me know everything she’s going to do. Shows me the implant. Like a pet chip, only better! Now if something happens, they’ll know where to find me.
“What’s your teddy bear’s name?”
“Okay if I sit Sammy in this chair while we put in the tracker?”
I roll onto my stomach. I’m irrationally concerned she can see my butt through the paper robe. I tense, anticipating the bite of the needle.
The device can’t download you until it’s linked to Wonderland. But once it’s in you, it’s fully operational. They can use it to track you, and they can use it to kill you.
Dr. Pam asks what happened to my leg. Some bad people shot it. That won’t happen here, she assures me. There are no bad people at Camp Haven. I’m perfectly safe.
I’m tagged. I feel like she’s hung a twenty-pound rock around my neck. Time for the last test, she tells me. A program seized from the enemy.
They call it Wonderland.
I grab Bear from his seat and follow her into the next room. White walls. White floor. White ceiling. White dentist chair, straps hanging from the arms and the leg rests. A keyboard and monitor. She tells me to have a seat and steps over to the computer.
“What does Wonderland do?” I ask.
“Well, that’s kind of complicated, Lizbeth, but essentially Wonderland records a virtual map of your cognitive functions.”
“A brain map?”
“Something like that, yes. Have a seat in the chair, honey. It won’t take long, and I promise it doesn’t hurt.”
I sit down, hugging Bear to my chest.
“Oh no, honey, Sammy can’t be in the chair with you.”
“Here, give him to me. I’ll put him right over here by my computer.”
I give her a suspicious look. But she’s smiling and she has been so kind. I should trust her. After all, she completely trusts me.
But I’m so nervous, Bear slips out of my hand when I hold him out for her. He falls beside the chair onto his fat, fluffy head. I twist around to scoop him up, but Dr. Pam says to sit still, she’ll get him, and then she bends over.
I grab her head with both hands and bring it straight down into the arm of the chair. The impact makes my forearms sing with pain. She falls, stunned by the blow, but doesn’t collapse completely. By the time her knees hit the white floor, I’m out of the chair and swinging around behind her. The plan was a karate punch to her throat, but her back is to me, so I improvise. I grab the strap hanging from the chair arm and wrap it twice around her neck. Her hands come up, too late. I yank the strap tight, putting my foot against the chair for leverage, and pull.
Those seconds waiting for her to pass out are the longest of my life.
She goes limp. I immediately let go of the strap, and she falls face-first onto the floor. I check her pulse.
I know it’ll be tempting, but you can’t kill her. She and everyone else running the base is linked to a monitoring system located in the command center. If she goes down, all hell breaks loose.
I roll Dr. Pam onto her back. Blood runs from both nostrils. Probably broken. I reach up behind my head. This is the squishy part. But I’m jacked up on adrenaline and euphoria. So far everything has gone perfectly. I can do this.
I rip off the bandage and pull hard on either side of the incision, and it feels like a hot match pressing down as the wound comes open. A pair of tweezers and a mirror would come in handy right about now, but I don’t have either one of those, so I use my fingernail to dig out the tracker. The technique works better than I expected: After three tries, the device jams beneath my nail and I bring it cleanly out.
It only takes ninety seconds to run the download. That give you three, maybe four minutes. No more than five.
How many minutes in? Two? Three? I kneel beside Dr. Pam and shove the tracker as far as I can up her nose. Ugh.
No, you can’t shove it down her throat. It has to be near her brain. Sorry about that.
You’re sorry, Evan?
Blood on my finger, my blood, her blood, mixed together.