The 5th Wave
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“I know. Major Bob says we’re going on a big plane.” He nods toward Major Bob, starts to wave at him. I push his hand down.
“A big plane? When?”
He shrugs. “Soon.” He’s picked up Bear. Now he examines him, turning him over in his hands. “His ear’s ripped,” he points out accusingly, like I’ve shirked my duty.
“Tonight?” I ask. “Sam, this is important. You’re flying out tonight?”
“That’s what Major Bob said. He said they’re vaculating all nonessentials.”
“Vaculating? Oh. Okay, so they’re evacuating the kids.” My mind is racing, trying to work through it. Is that the way out? Just stroll on board with the others and take our chances when we land—wherever we land? God, why did I ditch the white jumpsuit? But even if I kept it and was able to sneak onto the plane, that wasn’t the plan.
There’s going to be escape pods somewhere on the base—probably near the command center or Vosch’s quarters. Basically they’re one-man rockets, preprogrammed to land you safely at some spot far from the base. Don’t ask me where. But the pods are your best bet—not human technology, but I’ll explain how you operate one. If you can find one, and if both of you can fit in one, and if you live long enough to find one to fit in.
That’s a lot of ifs. Maybe I should beat up a kid my size and take her jumpsuit.
“How long have you been here, Cassie?” Sam asks. I think he suspects I’ve been avoiding him, maybe because I let Bear’s ear get torn.
“Longer than I wanted to be,” I mutter, and that decides it: We’re not staying here a minute longer than we have to, and we’re not taking some one-way flight to Camp Haven II. I’m not trading one death camp for another.
He’s playing with Bear’s torn ear. Not his first injury by a long shot. I’ve lost count of how many times Mom had to patch him up. He has more stitches in him than Frankenstein. I lean over to get Sammy’s attention, and that’s when he looks right at me and asks, “Where’s Daddy?”
My mouth moves, but no sound comes out. I hadn’t even thought about telling him—or how to tell him.
“Dad? Oh, he’s…” No, Cassie. Don’t get complicated. I don’t want him having a meltdown right as we’re preparing to make our getaway. I decide to let Dad live a little longer.
“He’s waiting for us back at Camp Ashpit.”
His lower lip starts to quiver. “Daddy isn’t here?”
“Daddy is busy,” I say, hoping to shut him down, and I feel like crap doing it. “That’s why he sent me. To get you. And that’s what I’m doing, right now, getting you.”
I pull him to his feet. He goes, “But what about the plane?”
“You’ve been bumped.” He gives me a puzzled look: Bumped? “Let’s go.”
I grab his hand and head for the tunnel, keeping my shoulders back and my head up, because skulking toward the nearest exit like Shaggy and Scooby tinkle-toeing is sure to draw attention. I even bark at some kids to get out of the way. If someone tries to stop us, I won’t shoot them. I’ll explain that the kid is sick and I’m getting him to a doctor before he pukes all over himself and everybody else. If they don’t buy my story, then I shoot them.
And then we’re in the tunnel and, incredibly, there is a doctor walking straight at us, half his face hidden behind a surgical mask. His eyes widen when he sees us, and there goes my clever cover story, which means if he stops us I’ll have to shoot him. As we draw closer, I see him casually drop his hand into the pocket of his white coat, and the alarm sounds inside my head, the same alarm that went off in the convenience store behind the beer coolers right before I pumped an entire clip into a crucifix-holding soldier.
I have one half of one half second to decide.
This is the first rule of the last war: Trust no one.
I level the silencer at his chest as his hand emerges from the pocket.
The hand that holds a gun.
But my hand holds an M16 assault rifle.
How long is one half of one half second?
Long enough for a little boy who doesn’t know the first rule to leap between the gun and the rifle.
“Sammy!” I yell, pulling up the shot. My little brother hops onto his toes; his fingers tear at the doctor’s mask and yank it down.
I’d hate to see the look on my face when that mask came down and I saw the face behind it. Thinner than I remember. Paler. The eyes sunk deep into their sockets, kind of glazed over, like he’s sick or hurt, but I recognize it, I know whose face was hidden behind that mask. I just can’t process it.
Here, in this place. A thousand years later and a million miles from the halls of George Barnard High School. Here, in the belly of the beast at the bottom of the world, standing right in front of me.
Benjamin Thomas Parish.
And Cassiopeia Marie Sullivan, having a full-bore out-of-body experience, seeing herself seeing him. The last time she saw him was in their high school gymnasium after the lights went out, and then only the back of his head, and the only times that she’s seen him since happened in her mind, the rational part of which always knew Ben Parish was dead like everyone else.
“Zombie!” Sammy calls. “I knew it was you.”
“Where are you taking him?” Ben says to me in a deep voice. I don’t remember it being that deep. Is my memory bad or is he lowering it on purpose, to sound older?
“Zombie, that’s Cassie,” Sam chides him. “You know—Cassie.”
“Cassie?” Like he’s never heard the name before.
“Zombie?” I say, because I really haven’t heard that name before.
I pull off the cap, thinking it might help him recognize me, then immediately regret it. I know what my hair must look like.
“We go to the same high school,” I say, drawing my fingers hastily through my chopped-off locks. “I sit in front of you in Honors Chemistry.”
Ben shakes his head like he’s clearing out the cobwebs.
Sammy goes, “I told you she was coming.”
“Quiet, Sam,” I scold him.
“Sam?” Ben asks.
“My name is Nugget now, Cassie,” Sam informs me.
“Well, sure it is.” I turn to Ben. “You know my brother.”
Ben nods carefully. I still don’t get his attitude. Not that I expect him to throw his arms around me or even remember me from chemistry class, but his voice is tight, and he’s still holding the gun by his side.
“Why are you dressed like a doctor?” Sammy asks.
Ben like a doctor. Me like a soldier. Like two kids playing dress-up. A fake doctor and a fake soldier debating with themselves whether to blow the other one’s brains out.
Those first few moments between me and Ben Parish were very strange.
“I came to get you out of here,” Ben says to Sam, still looking at me.
Sam glances over at me. Isn’t that why I came? Now he’s really confused.
“You’re not taking my brother anywhere,” I say.
“It’s a lie,” Ben blurts out at me. “Vosch is one of them. They’re using us to kill off the survivors, to kill each other…”
“I know that,” I snap. “How do you know that, and what does that have to do with taking Sam?”
Ben seems stunned by my response to his bombshell. Then I get it. He thinks I’ve been indoctrinated like everybody else in the camp. It’s so ridiculous, I actually laugh. While I’m laughing like an idiot, I get something else: He hasn’t been brainwashed, either.
Which means I can trust him.
Unless he’s playing me, getting me to lower my guard—and my weapon—so he can waste me and take Sam.
Which means I can’t trust him.
I also can’t read his mind, but he must be thinking along the same lines when I burst out laughing. Why is this crazy girl with the helmet-hair laughing? Because he’s stated the obvious or because I think his story’s crap?
“I know,” Sammy says to broker the peace. “We can all go together!”
“Do you know a way out of here?” I ask Ben. Sammy’s more trusting than I am, but the idea’s worth exploring. Finding the escape pods—if they even exist—has always been the weakest part of my getaway plan.
He nods. “Do you?”
“I know a way—I just don’t know the way to the way.”
“The way to the way? Okay.” He grins. He looks like hell, but the smile hasn’t changed a bit. It lights up the tunnel like a thousand-watt bulb. “I know the way and the way to the way.”
He drops the gun into his pocket and holds out his empty hand.
“Let’s go together.”
The thing that gets me is whether I’d take that hand if it belonged to anyone other than Ben Parish.
SAMMY NOTICES THE BLOOD before I do.
“It’s nothing,” Ben grunts.
I don’t get that from the look on his face. From the look on his face, it’s a lot more than nothing.
“It’s a long story, Nugget,” Ben says. “I’ll tell you later.”
“Where are we going?” I ask. Not that we’re getting there—wherever there is—very fast. Ben is shuffling along the maze of corridors like an actual zombie. The face of the Ben I remember is still there, but it’s faded…or maybe not faded, but congealed into a leaner, sharper, harder version of his old face. Like someone cut away the parts that weren’t absolutely necessary for Ben to maintain his Ben essence.
“In general? The hell out of here. After this next tunnel coming up on the right. It leads to an air shaft that we can—”
“Wait!” I grab his arm. In my shock at seeing him again, I’d completely forgotten. “Sammy’s tracker.”
He stares at me for a second, and then laughs ruefully. “I completely forgot.”
“Forgot what?” Sammy asks.
I go to one knee, take his hands in mine. We’re several corridors away from the safe room, but Major Bob’s megaphoned voice still bounces and skips along the tunnels. “Sams, there’s something we have to do. Something very important. The people here, they’re not who they say they are.”
“Who are they?” he whispers.
“Bad people, Sam. Very bad people.”
“Teds,” Ben puts in. “Dr. Pam, the soldiers, the commander…even the commander. They’re all infesteds. They tricked us, Nugget.”
Sammy’s eyes are big as pie plates. “The commander, too?”
“The commander, too,” Ben answers. “So we’re getting out of here and we’re going to meet up with Ringer.” He catches me staring at him. “That’s not her real name.”
“Really?” I shake my head. Zombie, Nugget, Ringer. Must be an army thing. I turn back to Sam. “They lied about a lot of things, Sam. About almost everything.” I let go of his hand and run my fingers up the back of his neck, finding the small lump beneath the skin. “This is one of their lies, this thing they put in you. They use it to track you—but they can also use it to hurt you.”