The 5th Wave
Page 58

 Rick Yancey

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“I’m okay.”
He’s weak, Vosch said. I remember the way Ben used to stroll down the hallways at school, his broad shoulders rolling, zapping people with his death-ray smile, the master of his universe. I never would have called him weak then. But the Ben Parish I knew then is very different from the Ben Parish who now pulls himself up a jagged wall of broken stone and twisted metal. The new Ben Parish has the eyes of a wounded animal. I don’t know everything that’s happened to him between that day in the gym and now, but I do know the Others have succeeded in winnowing the weak from the strong.
The weak have been swept away.
That’s the flaw in Vosch’s master plan: If you don’t kill all of us all at once, those who remain will not be the weak.
It’s the strong who remain, the bent but unbroken, like the iron rods that used to give this concrete its strength.
Floods, fires, earthquakes, disease, starvation, betrayal, isolation, murder.
What doesn’t kill us sharpens us. Hardens us. Schools us.
You’re beating plowshares into swords, Vosch. You are remaking us.
We are the clay, and you are Michelangelo.
And we will be your masterpiece.
“WELL?” I SAY after several minutes pass and Ben doesn’t come down—the slow way or the fast way.
“Just…enough…room. I think.” His voice sounds tiny. “It goes back pretty far. But I can see light up ahead.”
“Bright light. Like floodlights. And…”
“And? And what?”
“And it’s not very stable. I can feel it slipping underneath me.”
I squat down in front of Sammy, tell him to climb aboard, and wrap his arms around my neck.
“Hold on tight, Sam.” He puts me in a choke hold. “Ahhh,” I gasp. “Not that tight.”
“Don’t let me fall, Cassie,” he whispers into my ear as I start up.
“I won’t let you fall, Sam.”
He presses his face against my back, completely trusting I won’t let him fall. He’s been through four alien attacks, suffered God knows what in Vosch’s death factory, and my brother still trusts that somehow everything will be okay.
There really is no hope, you know, Vosch said. I’ve heard those words before, in another voice, my voice, in the tent in the woods, under the car on the highway. Hopeless. Useless. Pointless.
What Vosch spoke, I believed.
In the safe room I saw an infinite sea of upturned faces. If they had asked, would I have told them there was no hope, that it was pointless? Or would I have told them, Climb onto my shoulders, I will not let you fall?
Reach. Grab. Pull. Step. Rest.
Reach. Grab. Pull. Step. Rest.
Climb onto my shoulders. I will not let you fall.
BEN GRABS MY WRISTS when I near the top of the debris, but I gasp for him to pull Sammy up first. I’ve got nothing left for that final foot. I just hang there, waiting for Ben to grab me again. He heaves me into the narrow gap, a sliver of space between the ceiling and the top of the slide. The darkness up here is not as dense, and I can see his gaunt face dusted in concrete, bleeding from fresh scratches.
“Straight ahead,” he whispers. “Maybe a hundred feet.” No room to stand or sit up: We’re lying on our stomachs nearly nose to nose. “Cassie, there’s…nothing. The entire camp’s gone. Just…gone.”
I nod. I’ve seen what the Eyes can do up close and personal. “Have to rest,” I pant, and for some reason I’m worried about the quality of my breath. When was the last time I brushed my teeth? “Sams, you okay?”
“Are you?” Ben asks.
“Define okay.”
“That’s a definition that keeps changing,” he says. “They’ve lit the place up out there.”
“The plane?”
“It’s there. Big, one of those huge cargo planes.”
“There’s a lot of kids.”
We crawl toward the bar of light seeping through the crack between the ruins and the surface. It’s hard going. Sammy starts to whimper. His hands are scraped raw, his body bruised from the rough stone. We squeeze through spots so narrow, our backs scrape against the ceiling. Once I get stuck and it takes Ben several minutes to work me free. The light pushes back the dark, grows bright, so bright I can see individual particles of dust spinning against the inky backdrop.
“I’m thirsty,” Sammy whines.
“Almost there,” I assure him. “See the light?”
At the opening I can see across Death Valley East, the same barren landscape of Camp Ashpit times ten, thanks to the floodlights swinging from hastily erected poles anchored in the shafts that funneled air into the complex below.
And above us, the night sky peppered with drones. Hundreds of them, hovering a thousand feet up, motionless, their gray underbellies glimmering in the light. On the ground below them, and far to my right, an enormous plane sits perpendicular to our position: When it takes off, it’ll pass right by us.
“Have they loaded the—” I start. Ben cuts me off with a hiss.
“They’ve started the engines.”
“Which way is north?”
“About two o’clock.” He points. His face has no color. None. His mouth hangs open a little, like a dog panting. When he leans forward to look at the plane, I can see his entire shirtfront is wet.
“Can you run?” I ask.
“I have to. So, yes.”
I turn to Sam. “Once we get out in the open, climb back on, okay?”
“I can run, Cassie,” Sammy protests. “I’m fast.”
“I’ll carry him,” Ben offers.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I say.
“I’m not as weak as I look.” He must be thinking about Vosch.
“Of course not,” I say back. “But if you go down with him, we’re all dead.”
“Same with you.”
“He’s my brother. I’m carrying him. Besides, you’re hurt and—”
That’s all I get out. The rest is buried under the roar of the huge plane coming toward us, picking up speed.
“This is it!” Ben shouts, but I can’t hear him. I have to read his lips.
WE CROUCH AT THE OPENING, tips of our fingers, balls of our feet. The cold air vibrates in sympathy for the deafening thunder of the big plane screaming over the hard-packed ground. It’s even with us when the front wheel rises, and that’s when the first blast hits.
And I think, Um, a little early there, Evan.
The ground heaves and we take off, Sammy bouncing up and down on my back, and behind us the stairwell seems to collapse soundlessly, because all sound is buried beneath the roar of the plane. The blowback of the engines slams against my left side, and I stumble sideways and nearly slip. Ben catches me and hurls me forward.
Then I go airborne. The earth bulges like a balloon inflating and then snaps back, the ground splitting apart with such force, I’m afraid my eardrums have shattered. Luckily for Sam, I land on my chest, but that’s unlucky for me, because the impact knocks every cubic inch of breath out of my lungs. I feel Sammy’s weight disappear and see Ben sling him over his shoulder, and then I’m up but falling behind and thinking, Like hell weak, like hell.
Before us the ground seems to stretch to infinity. Behind us, it’s being sucked into a black hole, and the hole chases us as it expands, devouring everything in its path. One slip and we’ll be sucked in, our bodies ground into microscopic pieces.
I hear a high-pitched screaming from above, and a drone slams into the earth a dozen yards away. The impact blows it apart, turns it into a grenade the size of a Prius, and a thousand pieces of razor-sharp shrapnel from the blast shred my khaki T-shirt and tear into my exposed skin.
There’s a rhythm to this rain of drones. First the banshee scream. Then the explosion when they meet the rock-hard ground. Then the blast of debris. And we dodge between these raindrops of death, zigzagging across the lifeless landscape as that landscape is consumed by the hungry black hole chasing us.
I have another problem, too. My knee. The old injury where a Silencer in the woods cut me down. Every time my foot strikes the hard ground, a stabbing pain shoots down my leg, throwing off my stride, slowing me down. I’m falling farther and farther behind, and that’s what it feels like, not running so much as falling forward while someone smashes a sledgehammer against my knee, over and over.
A scar appears in the perfect nothingness ahead. Grows larger. It’s coming on fast, barreling straight toward us.
“Ben!” I yell, but he can’t hear me over the screaming and booms and the ear-shattering implosion of two hundred tons of rock collapsing into the vacuum created by the Eyes.
The fuzzy shadow coming toward us hardens into a shape, and then the shape becomes a Humvee, bristling with gun turrets, bearing down.
Determined little bastards.
Ben sees it now but we have no choice, we can’t stop, we can’t turn back. At least it will suck them down, too, I think.
And then I fall.
I’m not sure why. I don’t remember the fall itself. One minute I’m up, the next my face is against hard stone and I’m like, Where did this wall come from? Maybe my knee locked up. Maybe I slipped. But I’m down and I feel the earth beneath me crying and screaming as the hole tears it apart, like a living creature being eaten alive by a hungry predator.
I try to push myself up, but the ground is not cooperating. It buckles beneath me, and I fall again. There’s Ben and Sam several yards ahead, still on their feet, and there’s the Humvee, cutting in front of them at the last second, burning rubber. It barely slows down. The door flies open and a skinny kid leans out, his hand reaching for Ben.
Ben hurls Sammy toward the kid, who hauls my brother inside and then bangs his hand hard against the side of the vehicle like he’s saying, Let’s go, Parish, let’s go!
And then, instead of jumping onto the Humvee like a normal person, Ben Parish turns and races back for me.
I wave him back. No time, no time, no time no time no time no time.
I can feel the breath of the beast on my bare legs—hot, dusty, pulverized stone and dirt—and then the ground splits open between Ben and me as the chunk I’m lying on breaks free and starts to slide into its lightless mouth.
Which makes me start to slide backward, away from Ben, who’s wisely thrown himself on his stomach at the edge of the fissure to avoid riding the chunk with me straight into the black hole. Our fingertips touch, flirt with one another, his pinky hooks around mine—Save me, Parish, pinky swear, okay?—but he can’t pull me up by my pinky, so in the half second he has to decide, he decides, flicks my finger free, and takes his one and only shot to grab my wrist.
I see his mouth open but hear nothing come out as he throws himself backward, hauling me up and over, and he doesn’t let go, he hangs on to my wrist with both hands and spins around like a shot-putter, launching me toward the Humvee. I think my feet actually leave the ground.
Another hand catches my arm and pulls me inside. I end up straddling the skinny guy’s legs, only now up close I see it isn’t a guy but a dark-eyed girl with shiny, straight black hair. Over her shoulder I see Ben leap for the back of the Humvee, but I can’t see if he makes it. Then I’m slammed against the door as the driver whips the wheel hard to the left to avoid a falling drone. He floors the gas.