The 5th Wave
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Through the swinging doors, now in the scrub room, where a weary-looking doctor is soaped up to his elbows, preparing for surgery. He jumps when I come in.
“What are you doing in here?” he demands.
“I was looking for some gloves. We’ve run out up front.”
The surgeon jerks his head toward a row of cabinets on the opposite wall.
“You’re limping,” he says. “Are you hurt?”
“I pulled a muscle getting a fat guy to the john.”
The doctor rinses the green soap from his forearms. “You should have used a bedpan.”
Boxes of latex gloves, surgical masks, antiseptic pads, rolls of tape. Where the hell is it?
I can feel his breath against the back of my neck.
“There’s the box right in front of you,” he says. The guy’s giving me a funny look.
“Sorry,” I say. “Haven’t had much sleep.”
“Tell me about it!” The surgeon laughs and elbows me square in the gunshot wound. The room spins. Hard. I grit my teeth to keep from screaming.
He hurries through the inner doors to the operating theater. I move down the row of cabinets, throwing open doors, rummaging through the supplies, but I can’t find what I’m looking for. Light-headed, out of breath, my side throbbing like hell. How long will Kistner stay out? How long before someone ducks in for a piss and finds him?
There’s a bin on the floor beside the cabinets labeled HAZARDOUS WASTE—USE GLOVES IN HANDLING. Yank off the top and, bingo, there it is with wads of bloody surgical sponges and used syringes and discarded catheters.
Okay, so the scalpel’s coated in dried blood. I guess I could sterilize it with an antiseptic wipe or wash it in the sink, but there’s no time, and a dirty scalpel is the least of my worries.
Lean against the sink to steady yourself. Push your fingers against your neck to locate the tracker under the skin, and then press, don’t slice, the dull, dirty blade into your neck until it splits open.
STEP FIVE: NUGGET.
A very young-looking doctor hurries down the corridor toward the elevators, wearing a white lab coat and a surgical mask. Limping, favoring his left side. If you pulled open his white coat, you might see the dark red stain on his green scrubs. If you pulled down his collar, you might also see the hastily applied bandage on his neck. But if you tried to do either of these things, the young-looking doctor would kill you.
Elevator. Closing my eyes as the car descends. Unless somebody’s conveniently left a golf cart unattended by the front doors, walking distance to the yard is ten minutes. Then the hardest part, finding Nugget among the fifty-plus squads bivouacked there and getting him out without waking anybody. So maybe half an hour to seek and snatch. Another ten or so to slip over to the Wonderland hangar where the buses unload. This is where the plan begins to break down into a series of wild improbabilities: stowing away on an empty bus, overcoming the driver and any soldiers on board once we’re clear of the gate, and then when, where, and how to dump the bus and take off on foot to rendezvous with Ringer?
What if you have to wait for the bus? Where are you going to hide?
I don’t know.
And once you’re on the bus, how long will you have to wait? Thirty minutes? An hour?
I don’t know.
You don’t know? Well, here’s what I know: It’s too much time, Zombie. Somebody’s going to sound the alarm.
She’s right. It is too much time. I should have killed Kistner. It had been one of the original steps:
Step four: kill Kistner.
But Kistner isn’t one of them. Kistner’s just a kid. Like Tank. Like Oompa. Like Flint. Kistner didn’t ask for this war and he didn’t know the truth about it. Maybe he wouldn’t have believed me if I told him the truth, but I never gave him that chance.
You’re soft. You should have killed him. You can’t rely on luck and wishful thinking. The future of humanity belongs to the hardcore.
So when the elevator doors slide open to the main lobby, I make a silent promise to Nugget, the promise I didn’t make to my sister, whose locket he wears around his neck.
If anyone comes between you and me, they’re dead.
And the minute I make that promise, it’s like something in the universe decides to answer, because the air raid sirens go off with an eardrum-busting scream.
Perfect! For once things are going my way. No crossing the length of the camp now. No sneaking into the barracks searching for the Nugget in a haystack. No race to the buses. Instead, a straight shot down the stairwell to the underground complex. Grab Nugget in the organized chaos of the safe room, hide out until the all-clear sounds, and then on to the buses.
I’m halfway to the stairs when the deserted lobby lights up in a sickly green glow, the same smoky green that danced around Ringer’s head when I slipped on the eyepiece. The overhead fluorescents have cut off, standard procedure in a drill, so the light isn’t coming from inside, but from somewhere in the parking lot.
I turn around to look. I shouldn’t have.
Through the glass doors, I see a golf cart racing across the parking lot, heading toward the airfield. Then I see the source of the green light sitting in the covered entranceway of the hospital. Shaped like a football, only twice as big. It reminds me of an eye. I stare at it; it stares back at me.
Flash, flash, flash.
THE SIREN’S BLARE is so loud, I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck vibrating.
I am scooting backward toward the main duct, away from the armory, when I stop.
Cassie, it’s the armory.
Back to the grate, through which I stare for a full three minutes, scanning the room below for any sign of movement while the siren pounds against my ears, making it very difficult to concentrate, thank you, Colonel Vosch.
“Okay, you damn bear,” I mumble with my swollen tongue. “We’re going in.”
I slam the heel of my bare foot into the grate. Eich! It pops open with one kick. When I quit karate, Mom asked why, and I said it just didn’t challenge me anymore. That was my way of saying I was bored, which you were not allowed to say in front of my mother. If she heard you complain that you were bored, you found yourself with a dust rag in your hand.
I drop into the room. Well, more a medium-size warehouse than a room. Everything an alien invader might need to run a human extermination camp. Against that wall you have your Eyes, several hundred of them, stacked neatly in their own specially designed cubby. On the opposite wall, rows and rows of rifles and grenade launchers and other weaponry that I would have no clue what to do with. Smaller weapons over there, semiautomatics and grenades and ten-inch-long combat knives. There’s a wardrobe section, too, representing every branch of the service and every possible rank, with all the gear to go with it, belts and boots and the military version of the fanny pack.
And me like a kid in a candy shop.
First, off comes the white jumpsuit. I pull the smallest set of fatigues I can find and put them on. Slip on the boots.
Time to gear up. A Luger with a full clip. A couple of grenades. M16? Why not? If you’re going to play the part, look the part. I drop a couple extra clips into my fanny pack. Oh, look, my belt even has a holster for one of those ten-inch, wicked-looking knives! Hi there, ten-inch, wicked-looking knife.
There’s a wooden box beside the gun cabinet. I peek inside and see a stack of gray metal tubes. What are these, some kind of stick-grenade? I pick one up. It’s hollow and threaded at one end. Now I know what it is.
And it fits perfectly on the barrel of my new M16. Screws right in.
I stuff my hair under a cap that is too large for me and wish I had a mirror. I’m hoping to pass for one of Vosch’s tween recruits, but I probably look more like GI Joe’s little sister playing dress-up.
Now what to do with Bear. I find a leather satchel-looking thing and stuff him inside, throw the strap crossways over my shoulder. I’ve stopped noticing the blaring siren by this point. I’m all jacked up. Not only have I evened the odds a little, I know Evan is here, and Evan will not give up until I am safe or he is dead.
Back to the ductwork, and I’m debating whether to attempt it, weighed down as I am with twenty or so extra pounds, or take my chances in the corridors. What good is a disguise if you’re going all stealthy with it? I turn around and head toward the door, and that’s when the siren cuts off and silence slams down.
I don’t take that as a good sign.
It also occurs to me that being in an armory full of green bombs—one of which can level a square mile—while a dozen or so of their closest friends are being set off upstairs might not be such a good idea.
I haul ass for the door, but I don’t make it before the first Eye goes. The entire room jiggles. Only a few feet left, and the next Eye blinks its last blink, and this one must be closer, because dust rains down from the ceiling, and the duct at the other end snaps free of its supports and comes crashing down.
Um, Voschy, that was kind of close, don’t you think?
I push through the door. No time to scout the territory. The more distance I can put between me and the remaining Eyes, the better. I sprint under the swirling red lights, turning down hallways at random, trying not to think anything through, just going on instinct and luck.
Another explosion. The walls tremble. The dust falls. From above the sound of the buildings being ripped and shredded down to their last nails. And here below, the screaming of terrified children.
I follow the screams.
Sometimes I make a wrong turn and the cries grow fainter. I backtrack, then try the next corridor. This place is like a maze, and me the lab rat.
The booming from above has stopped, at least for the moment, and I slow to a trot, gripping the rifle hard with both hands, trying one passage, backtracking when the crying fades, moving on again.
I hear Major Bob’s voice on a bullhorn bouncing along the walls, coming from everywhere and nowhere.
“Okay, I want you all to stay seated with your group leader! Everybody quiet down and listen to me! Stay with your group leaders!”
I turn a corner and see a squad of soldiers running right at me. Teenagers, mostly. I throw myself against the wall, and they rush past me without even glancing in my direction. Why would they notice me? I’m just another recruit on her way to battle the alien horde.
They turn a corner, and I’m moving again. I can hear the kids jabbering and whimpering, despite Major Bob’s scolding, around the next bend.
Almost there, Sam. Now you be there.
Shouted from behind me. Not a kid’s voice. I stop. Square my shoulders. Stay still.
“Where’s your duty station, soldier? Soldier, I’m talking to you!”
“Ordered to guard the children, sir!” I say in the deepest voice I can muster.
“Turn around! Look at me when you address me, soldier.”
I sigh. Turn. He’s in his midtwenties, not bad looking, an all-American-boy type. I don’t know military insignia, but I think he might be an officer.
To be absolutely safe, anyone over eighteen is suspect. There may be some human adults in positions of authority, but knowing Vosch, I doubt it. So if it’s an adult, and especially if it’s an officer, I think you can assume they are not human.