The 5th Wave
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The hole has gobbled up all the lights by this point, but it’s a clear night and I have no trouble watching the edge of the pit rocketing toward the Humvee, the mouth of the beast opening wide. The driver, who is way too young to have even a permit, whips the wheel back and forth to avoid the torrent of drones exploding all around us. One hits a car length in front of us, no time to swerve around it, so we barrel through the blast. The windshield disintegrates, showering us with glass.
The back wheels slip, we jounce, then leap forward, inches ahead of the hole now. I can’t look at it anymore, so I look up.
Where the mothership sails serenely across the sky.
And beneath it, dropping fast toward the horizon, another drone.
No, not a drone, I think. It’s glowing.
A falling star, it must be, its fiery tail like a silver cord connecting it to the heavens.
BY THE TIME dawn approaches, we’re miles away, hunkering beneath a highway overpass, where the kid with the very big ears they call Dumbo kneels beside Ben, applying a fresh dressing to the wound in his side. He’s already worked on me and Sammy, pulling out pieces of shrapnel, swabbing, stitching, bandaging.
He asked what happened to my leg. I told him I was shot by a shark. He doesn’t react. Doesn’t seem confused or amused or anything. Like getting shot by a shark is a perfectly natural thing in the aftermath of the Arrival. Like changing your name to Dumbo. When I asked him what his real name was, he said it was…Dumbo.
Ben is Zombie, Sammy is Nugget, Dumbo is Dumbo. Then there’s Poundcake, a sweet-faced kid who doesn’t talk, whether he can’t or won’t, I don’t know. Teacup, a little girl not much older than Sams, who might be seriously messed up, and that worries me, because she holds and strokes and cuddles with an M16 that appears to be carrying a full clip.
Finally the pretty dark-haired girl called Ringer, who’s about my age, who not only has very shiny and very straight black hair, but also has the flawless complexion of an airbrushed model, the kind you see on the covers of fashion magazines smiling arrogantly at you in the checkout line. Except Ringer never smiles, like Poundcake never talks. So I’ve decided to cling to the possibility that she’s missing some teeth.
There’s also something between her and Ben. Something as in they appear to be tight. They spent a long time talking when we first got here. Not that I was spying on them or anything, but I was close enough to overhear the words chess, circle, and smile.
Then I heard Ben ask, “Where’d you get the Humvee?”
“Got lucky,” she said. “They moved a bunch of equipment and supplies to a staging area about two klicks due west of the camp, I guess in anticipation of the bombing. Guarded, but Poundcake and I had the advantage.”
“You shouldn’t have come back, Ringer.”
“If I hadn’t, we wouldn’t be talking right now.”
“That’s not what I mean. Once you saw the camp blow, you should have fallen back to Dayton. We might be the only ones who know the truth about the 5th Wave. This is bigger than me.”
“You went back for Nugget.”
“Zombie, you’re not that stupid.” Like Ben is only a little bit stupid. “Don’t you get it yet? The minute we decide that one person doesn’t matter anymore, they’ve won.”
I have to agree with Li’l Miss Microscopic Pores on that point. While I hold my little brother in my lap to keep him warm. On the rise of ground that overlooks the abandoned highway. Beneath a sky crowded with a billion stars. I don’t care what the stars say about how small we are. One, even the smallest, weakest, most insignificant one, matters.
It’s almost dawn. You can feel it coming. The world holds its breath, because there’s really no guarantee that the sun will rise. That there was a yesterday doesn’t mean there will be a tomorrow.
What did Evan say?
We’re here, and then we’re gone, and it’s not about the time we’re here, but what we do with the time.
And I whisper, “Mayfly.” His name for me.
He had been in me. He had been in me and I had been in him, together in an infinite space, and there had been no spot where he ended and I began.
Sammy stirs in my lap. He dozed off; now he’s awake again. “Cassie, why are you crying?”
“I’m not. Shush and go back to sleep.”
He brushes his knuckles across my cheek. “You are crying.”
Someone is coming toward us. It’s Ben. I hurriedly wipe the tears away. He sits beside me, very carefully, with a soft grunt of pain. We don’t look at each other. We watch the fiery hiccups of the fallen drones in the distance. We listen to the lonely wind whistling through dry tree branches. We feel the coldness of the frozen ground seeping up through the soles of our shoes.
“I wanted to thank you,” he says.
“For what?” I ask.
“You saved my life.”
I shrug. “You picked me up when I fell,” I say. “So we’re even.”
My face is covered in bandages, my hair looks like a bird nested in it, I’m dressed up like one of Sammy’s toy soldiers, and Ben Parish leans over and kisses me anyway. A light little peck, half cheek, half mouth.
“What’s that for?” I ask, my voice coming out in a tiny squeak, the little girl’s from long ago, the freckle-faced Cassie-I-was with the fuzzy hair and knobby knees, an ordinary girl who shared an ordinary yellow school bus with him for an ordinary day.
In all my fantasies about our first kiss—and there’d been about six hundred thousand of them—I never once imagined it would be like that one. Our dream kiss usually involved moonlight, or fog, or moonlight and fog, a very mysterious and romantic combination, at least in the right locale. Moonlit fog beside a lake or a lazy river: romantic. Moonlit fog in almost any other place, like a narrow alleyway: Jack the Ripper.
Do you remember the babies? I asked in my fantasies. And Ben always goes, Oh yes. Sure I do. The babies!
“Hey, Ben, I was wondering if you remember…We rode the bus together in middle school, and you were talking about your little sister, and I told you Sammy was just born, too, and I was wondering if you remembered that. About them being born together. Not together, that would make them twins, ha-ha—I mean at the same time. Not the exact same time, but about a week apart. Sammy and your sister. The babies.”
“Never mind. It’s not important.”
“Nothing is not important anymore.”
I’m shaking. He must notice, because he puts his arm around me and we sit like that for a while, my arms around Sammy, Ben’s arm around me, and together the three of us watch the sun break over the horizon, obliterating the dark in a burst of golden light.