The 5th Wave
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Ben squats down beside me. “So we have to get it out, Nugget.”
Sam nods, fat bottom lip quivering, big eyes filling up with tears. “Oh-kay-ay…”
“But you have to be very quiet and very still,” I caution him. “You can’t yell or cry or twist around. Think you can do that?”
He nods again, and a tear pops out and drops on my forearm. I stand up, and Ben and I step away for a brief preoperative conference.
“We’ll have to use this,” I say, showing him the ten-inch combat knife, which I’m careful not to let Sammy see.
Ben’s eyes widen. “If you say so, but I was going to use this.” And he pulls a scalpel from his lab coat pocket.
“That’s probably better.”
“You want to do it?”
“I should do it. He’s my brother.” But the thought of cutting into Sammy’s neck gives me the squishies.
“I can do it,” Ben offers. “You hold him, and I’ll cut.”
“So it’s not a disguise? You earned your MD here at E.T. University?”
He smiles grimly. “Just try to keep him as still as possible so I don’t slice into something important.”
We return to Sam, who’s sitting now with his back against the wall, pressing Bear into his chest and watching us, eyes flicking fearfully back and forth. I whisper to Ben, “If you hurt him, Parish, I’m sticking this knife into your heart.”
He looks at me, startled. “I would never hurt him.”
I ease Sam into my lap. Roll him over so he’s lying facedown across my legs, his chin hanging over the edge of my thigh. Ben kneels down. I look at the hand holding the scalpel. It’s shaking.
“I’m okay,” Ben whispers. “Really. I’m okay. Don’t let him move.”
“Cassie…!” Sammy whimpers.
“Shhhh. Shhhh. Stay very still. He’ll be quick,” I say. “Be quick,” I tell Ben.
I hold Sam’s head with both hands. As Ben’s hand approaches with the scalpel, it becomes rock steady.
“Hey, Nugget,” he says. “Okay if I take the locket back first?” Sammy nods, and Ben undoes the clasp. The metal clinks in his hand as he pulls it free.
“It’s yours?” I ask Ben, startled.
“My sister’s.” Ben drops the chain into his pocket. The way he says it, I know she’s dead.
I turn my head. Thirty minutes ago I’d blown a guy’s face off, and now I can’t watch someone make the tiniest of cuts. Sammy jerks when the blade breaks his skin. He bites down on my leg to keep from screaming. Bites hard. It takes everything in me to remain still. If I move, Ben’s hand might slip.
“Hurry,” I squeak, mouse-voiced.
“Got it!” The tracker adheres to the end of Ben’s bloody middle finger.
“Get rid of it.”
Ben shakes it off his hand and slaps a bandage over the wound. He came prepared. I came with a ten-inch combat knife.
“Okay, it’s over, Sam,” I moan. “You can stop biting me now.”
“It hurts, Cassie!”
“I know, I know.” I pull him up and give him a big hug. “And you were very brave.”
He nods seriously. “I know.”
Ben offers me his hand, helps me to my feet. His hand is tacky with my brother’s blood. He drops the scalpel into his pocket and then the gun is back in his hand.
“We better get moving,” he says calmly, like we might miss a bus.
Back into the main corridor, Sammy leaning hard against my side. We make the last turn, and Ben stops so suddenly, I run right into his back. The tunnel echoes with the sound of a dozen semiautomatics being racked, and I hear a familiar voice say, “You’re late, Ben. I expected you much sooner.”
A very deep voice, hard as steel.
I LOSE SAMMY for a second time. A Silencer-soldier takes him away, back to the safe room to be evacuated with the other kids, I guess. Another Silencer brings Ben and me to the execution room. The room with the mirror and the button. The room where innocent people are wired up and electrocuted. The room of blood and lies. Seems fitting.
“Do you know why we will win this war?” Vosch asks us after we’re locked inside. “Why we cannot lose? Because we know how you think. We’ve been watching you for six thousand years. When the pyramids rose in the Egyptian desert, we were watching you. When Caesar burned the library at Alexandria, we were watching you. When you crucified that first-century Jewish peasant, we were watching. When Columbus set foot in the New World…when you fought a war to free millions of your fellow humans from bondage…when you learned how to split the atom…when you first ventured beyond your atmosphere…What were we doing?”
Ben isn’t looking at him. Neither of us is. We’re both sitting in front of the mirror, looking straight ahead at our distorted reflections in the broken glass. The room on the other side is dark.
“You were watching us,” I say. Vosch is sitting in front of the monitor, about a foot away from me. On my other side, Ben, and behind us, a very well-built Silencer.
“We were learning how you think. That’s the secret to victory, as Sergeant Parish here already knows: understanding how your enemy thinks. The arrival of the mothership was not the beginning, but the beginning of the end. And now here you are, in a front-row seat for the finale, a special sneak peek into the future. Would you like to see the future? Your future? Would you like to stare all the way down to the bottom of the human cup?”
Vosch presses a button on the keyboard. The lights in the room on the other side of the mirror flicker on.
There is a chair, a Silencer standing beside it, and strapped to the chair is my brother, Sammy, thick wires attached to his head.
“This is the future,” Vosch whispers. “The human animal bound, its death at our fingertips. And when you have finished the work that we’ve given you, we will press the execute button and your deplorable stewardship of this planet will come to an end.”
“You don’t have to do this!” I shout. The Silencer behind me puts a hand on my shoulder and squeezes hard. But not hard enough to keep me from jumping out of the chair. “All you have to do is implant us and download us into Wonderland. Won’t that tell you everything you want to know? You don’t have to kill him…”
“Cassie,” Ben says softly. “He’s going to kill him anyway.”
“You shouldn’t listen to him, young lady,” Vosch says. “He’s weak. He’s always been weak. You’ve shown more pluck and determination in a few hours than he has in his miserable lifetime.”
He nods to the Silencer, who yanks me back into the chair.
“I am going to ‘download’ you,” Vosch tells me. “And I am going to kill Sergeant Parish. But you can save the child. If you tell me who helped you infiltrate this base.”
“Won’t downloading me tell you that?” I ask. While I’m thinking, Evan is alive! And then I think, No, maybe he isn’t. He could have been killed in the bombing, vaporized like everything else on the surface. It could be that Vosch, like me, doesn’t know whether Evan’s alive or dead.
“Because someone helped you,” Vosch says, ignoring my question. “And I suspect that someone is not someone like Mr. Parish here. He—or they—would be someone more like…well, me. Someone who would know how to defeat the Wonderland program by hiding your true memories, the same method we have used for centuries to hide ourselves from you.”
I’m shaking my head. I have no idea what he’s talking about. True memories?
“Birds are the most common,” Vosch says. He’s absently running his finger over the button marked EXECUTE. “Owls. During the initial phase, when we were inserting ourselves into you, we often used the screen memory of an owl to hide the fact from the expectant mother.”
“I hate birds,” I whisper.
Vosch smiles. “The most useful of this planet’s indigenous fauna. Diverse. Considered benign, for the most part. So ubiquitous they’re practically invisible. Did you know they’re descended from the dinosaurs? There’s a very satisfying irony in that. The dinosaurs made way for you, and now, with the help of their descendants, you will make way for us.”
“No one helped me!” I screech, cutting off the lecture. “I did it all myself!”
“Really? Then how is it, at the precise moment you were killing Dr. Pam in Hangar One, two of our sentries were shot, another eviscerated, and a fourth hurled a hundred feet down from his post on the south watchtower?”
“I don’t know anything about that. I just came to find my brother.”
His face darkens. “There really is no hope, you know. All your daydreams and childish fantasies about defeating us—useless.”
I open my mouth and the words come out. They just come out.
And his finger comes down hard on the button, like he hates it, like the button has a face and its face is a human face, the face of the sentient cockroach, and his finger the boot, stomping down.
I DON’T KNOW what I did first. I think I screamed. I know I also ripped free from the Silencer’s grip and lunged at Vosch with the intention of tearing his eyeballs out. But I don’t remember which came first, the scream or the lunge. Ben throwing his arms around me to hold me back, I know that came after the scream and the lunge. He threw his arms around me and pulled me back because I was focused on Vosch, on my hate. I didn’t even look through the mirror at my brother, but Ben had been looking at the monitor and the word that popped up when Vosch hit the execute button:
I whip around to the mirror. Sammy is still alive—crying buckets, but alive. Beside me, Vosch stands up so fast, the chair flies across the room and smacks against the wall.
“He’s hacked into the mainframe and overwritten the program,” he snarls at the Silencer. “He’ll cut the power next. Hold them here.” He yells at the man standing beside Sammy. “Secure that door! No one leaves until I get back.”
He slams out of the room. The lock clicks. No way out now. Or there is a way, the way I took the first time I was trapped in this room. I glance up at the grating. Forget it, Cassie. It’s you and Ben against two Silencers, and Ben’s hurt. Don’t even think about it.
No. It’s me and Ben and Evan against the Silencers. Evan is alive. And if Evan’s alive, we haven’t reached the end—the bottom of the human cup. The boot hasn’t crushed the roach. Not yet.
And that’s when I see it drop between the slats and tumble onto the floor, the body of a real cockroach, freshly squashed. I watch it fall in slow motion, so slow I can see the tiny bounce when it hits the floor.
You want to compare yourself to an insect, Cassie?
My eyes fly back to the grate, where a shadow flickers, like the flurry of a mayfly’s wings.
And I whisper to Ben Parish, “The one with Sammy—he’s mine.”
Startled, Ben whispers back to me, “What?”