puffyboa.xyz Speedreed

Speedreed

THE

5TH

WAVE

By

Rick

Yancey

For

Sandy,

whose

dreams

inspire

and

whose

love

endures

IF

ALIENS

EVER

VISIT

US,

I

think

the

outcome

would

be

much

as

when

Christopher

Columbus

first

landed

in

America,

which

didn’t

turn

out

very

well

for

the

Native

Americans.

—Stephen

Hawking

THE

1ST

WAVE:

Lights

Out

THE

2ND

WAVE:

Surf’s

Up

THE

3RD

WAVE:

Pestilence

THE

4TH

WAVE:

Silencer

INTRUSION:

1995

THERE

WILL

BE

NO

AWAKENING.

The

sleeping

woman

will

feel

nothing

the

next

morning,

only

a

vague

sense

of

unease

and

the

unshakable

feeling

that

someone

is

watching

her.

Her

anxiety

will

fade

in

less

than

a

day

and

will

soon

be

forgotten.

The

memory

of

the

dream

will

linger

a

little

longer.

In

her

dream,

a

large

owl

perches

outside

the

window,

staring

at

her

through

the

glass

with

huge,

white-rimmed

eyes.

She

will

not

awaken.

Neither

will

her

husband

beside

her.

The

shadow

falling

over

them

will

not

disturb

their

sleep.

And

what

the

shadow

has

come

for—the

baby

within

the

sleeping

woman—will

feel

nothing.

The

intrusion

breaks

no

skin,

violates

not

a

single

cell

of

her

or

the

baby’s

body.

It

is

over

in

less

than

a

minute.

The

shadow

withdraws.

Now

it

is

only

the

man,

the

woman,

the

baby

inside

her,

and

the

intruder

inside

the

baby,

sleeping.

The

woman

and

man

will

awaken

in

the

morning,

the

baby

a

few

months

later

when

he

is

born.

The

intruder

inside

him

will

sleep

on

and

not

wake

for

several

years,

when

the

unease

of

the

child’s

mother

and

the

memory

of

that

dream

have

long

since

faded.

Five

years

later,

at

a

visit

to

the

zoo

with

her

child,

the

woman

will

see

an

owl

identical

to

the

one

in

the

dream.

Seeing

the

owl

is

unsettling

for

reasons

she

cannot

understand.

She

is

not

the

first

to

dream

of

owls

in

the

dark.

She

will

not

be

the

last.

1

ALIENS

ARE

STUPID.

I’m

not

talking

about

real

aliens.

The

Others

aren’t

stupid.

The

Others

are

so

farahead

of

us,

it’s

like

comparing

the

dumbest

human

to

the

smartest

dog.

No

contest.

No,

I’m

talking

about

the

aliens

inside

our

own

heads.

The

ones

we

made

up,

the

ones

we’ve

been

making

up

since

we

realized

those

glittering

lights

in

the

sky

were

suns

like

ours

and

probably

had

planets

like

ours

spinning

around

them.

You

know,

the

aliens

we

imagine,

the

kind

of

aliens

we’d

like

to

attack

us,

human

aliens.

You’ve

seen

them

a

million

times.

They

swoop

down

fromthe

sky

in

their

flying

saucers

to

level

New

York

and

Tokyo

and

London,

or

they

march

across

the

countryside

in

huge

machines

that

look

like

mechanical

spiders,

ray

guns

blasting

away,

and

always,

always,

humanity

sets

aside

its

differences

and

bands

together

to

defeat

the

alien

horde.

David

slays

Goliath,

and

everybody

(except

Goliath)

goes

home

happy.

What

crap.

It’s

like

a

cockroach

working

up

a

plan

to

defeat

the

shoe

on

its

way

down

to

crush

it.

There’s

no

way

to

know

for

sure,

but

I

bet

the

Others

knew

about

the

human

aliens

we’d

imagined.

And

I

bet

they

thought

it

was

funny

as

hell.

They

must

have

laughedtheir

asses

off.

If

they

have

a

sense

of

humor…or

asses.

They

must

have

laughed

the

way

we

laugh

when

a

dog

does

something

totally

cute

and

dorky.

Oh,

those

cute,

dorky

humans!

They

think

we

think

like

they

do!

Isn’t

that

adorable?

Forget

about

flying

saucers

and

little

green

men

and

giant

mechanical

spiders

spitting

out

death

rays.

Forget

about

epic

battles

with

tanks

and

fighter

jets

and

the

final

victory

of

us

scrappy,

unbroken,

intrepid

humans

over

the

bug-eyed

swarm.

That’s

about

as

far

from

the

truth

as

their

dying

planet

was

from

our

living

one.

The

truth

is,

once

they

found

us,

we

were

toast.

2

SOMETIMES

I

THINK

I

might

be

the

last

human

on

Earth.

Which

means

I’m

the

last

human

in

the

universe.

I

know

that’s

dumb.

They

can’t

have

killed

everyone…yet.

I

see

how

it

could

happen,

though,

eventually.

And

then

I

think

that’s

exactly

what

the

Others

want

me

to

see.

Remember

the

dinosaurs?

Well.

So

I’m

probably

not

the

last

human

on

Earth,

but

I’m

one

of

the

last.

Totally

alone—andlikely

to

stay

that

way—until

the

4th

Wave

rolls

over

me

and

carries

me

down.

That’s

one

of

my

night

thoughts.

You

know,

the

three-in-the-morning,

oh-my-God-I’m-screwed

thoughts.

When

I

curl

into

a

little

ball,

so

scared

I

can’t

close

my

eyes,

drowningin

fear

so

intense

I

have

to

remind

myself

to

breathe,

will

my

heart

to

keep

beating.

When

my

brain

checks

out

and

begins

to

skip

like

a

scratched

CD.

Alone,

alone,

alone,

Cassie,

you’re

alone.

That’s

my

name.

Cassie.

Not

Cassie

for

Cassandra.

Or

Cassie

for

Cassidy.

Cassie

for

Cassiopeia,

the

constellation,the

queen

tied

to

her

chair

in

the

northern

sky,

who

was

beautiful

but

vain,

placed

in

the

heavens

by

the

sea

god

Poseidon

as

a

punishment

for

her

boasting.

In

Greek,her

name

means

“she

whose

words

excel.”

My

parents

didn’t

know

the

first

thing

about

that

myth.

They

just

thought

the

name

was

pretty.

Even

when

there

were

people

around

to

call

me

anything,

no

one

ever

called

me

Cassiopeia.Just

my

father,

and

only

when

he

was

teasing

me,

and

always

in

a

very

bad

Italian

accent:

Cass-ee-ohPEE-a.

It

drove

me

crazy.

I

didn’t

think

he

was

funny

or

cute,

and

it

made

me

hate

my

own

name.

“I’m

Cassie!”

I’d

holler

at

him.

“Just

Cassie!”

Now

I’d

give

anything

to

hearhim

say

it

just

one

more

time.

When

I

was

turning

twelve—four

years

before

the

Arrival—my

father

gave

me

a

telescope

for

my

birthday.

On

a

crisp,

clear

fall

evening,

he

set

it

up

in

the

backyard

and

showed

me

the

constellation.

“See

how

it

looks

like

a

W?”

he

asked.

“Why

did

they

name

it

Cassiopeia

if

it’s

shaped

like

a

W?”

I

replied.

“W

for

what?”

“Well…I

don’t

know

that

it’s

for

anything,”

he

answered

with

a

smile.

Mom

always

told

him

it

was

his

best

feature,

so

he

trotted

it

out

a

lot,

especially

after

he

started

going

bald.

You

know,

to

drag

the

other

person’s

eyes

downward.

“So,

it’s

for

anything

you

like!

How

about

wonderful?

Or

winsome?

Or

wise?”

He

dropped

his

hand

on

my

shoulder

as

I

squinted

through

the

lens

at

the

five

stars

burning

over

fifty

light-years

from

the

spot

on

which

we

stood.

I

could

feel

my

father’s

breath

against

my

cheek,

warm

and

moist

in

the

cool,

dry

autumn

air.

His

breath

so

close,

the

stars

of

Cassiopeia

so

very

far

away.

The

stars

seem

a

lot

closer

now.

Closer

than

the

three

hundred

trillion

miles

that

separate

us.

Close

enough

to

touch,

for

me

to

touch

them,

for

them

to

touch

me.

They’re

as

close

to

me

as

his

breath

had

been.

That

sounds

crazy.

Am

I

crazy?

Have

I

lost

my

mind?

You

can

only

call

someone

crazy

if

there’s

someone

else

who’s

normal.

Like

good

and

evil.

If

everything

was

good,

then

nothing

would

be

good.

Whoa.

That

sounds,

well…crazy.

Crazy:

the

new

normal.

I

guess

I

could

call

myself

crazy,

since

there

is

one

other

person

I

can

compare

myselfto:

me.

Not

the

me

I

am

now,

shivering

in

a

tent

deep

in

the

woods,

too

afraid

to

even

poke

her

head

from

the

sleeping

bag.

Not

this

Cassie.

No,

I’m

talking

about

theCassie

I

was

before

the

Arrival,

before

the

Others

parked

their

alien

butts

in

high

orbit.

The

twelve-year-old

me,

whose

biggest

problems

were

the

spray

of

tiny

freckles

on

her

nose

and

the

curly

hair

she

couldn’t

do

anything

with

and

the

cute

boy

who

saw

her

every

day

and

had

no

clue

she

existed.

The

Cassie

who

was

coming

to

terms

with

the

painful

fact

that

she

was

just

okay.

Okay

in

looks.

Okay

in

school.

Okayat

sports

like

karate

and

soccer.

Basically

the

only

unique

things

about

her

were

the

weird

name—Cassie

for

Cassiopeia,

which

nobody

knew

about,

anyway—and

her

ability

to

touch

her

nose

with

the

tip

of

her

tongue,

a

skill

that

quickly

lost

its

impressiveness

by

the

time

she

hit

middle

school.

I’m

probably

crazy

by

that

Cassie’s

standards.

And

she

sure

is

crazy

by

mine.

I

scream

at

her

sometimes,

thattwelve-year-old

Cassie,

moping

over

her

hair

or

her

weird

name

or

at

being

just

okay.

“What

are

you

doing?”

I

yell.

“Don’t

you

know

what’s

coming?”

But

that

isn’t

fair.

The

fact

is

she

didn’t

know,

had

no

way

of

knowing,

and

that

was

her

blessing

and

why

I

miss

her

so

much,

more

than

anyone,

if

I’m

being

honest.

When

I

cry—when

I

let

myself

cry

—that’s

who

I

cry

for.

I

don’t

cry

for

myself.

I

cry

for

the

Cassie

that’s

gone.

And

I

wonder

what

that

Cassie

would

think

of

me.

The

Cassie

who

kills.

3

HE

COULDN’T

HAVE

BEEN

much

older

than

me.

Eighteen.

Maybe

nineteen.

But

hell,

he

could

have

been

seven

hundred

and

nineteen

for

all

I

know.

Five

months

into

it

and

I’m

still

not

sure

if

the

4th

Wave

is

human

or

some

kind

of

hybrid

or

even

the

Others

themselves,

though

I

don’t

like

to

think

that

the

Others

look

just

like

us

and

talk

just

like

us

and

bleed

just

like

us.

I

like

to

think

of

the

Others

as

being…well,

other.

I

was

on

my

weekly

foray

for

water.

There’s

a

stream

not

far

from

my

campsite,

but

I’m

worried

it

might

be

contaminated,

either

from

chemicals

or

sewage

or

maybe

a

body

or

two

upstream.

Or

poisoned.

Depriving

us

of

clean

water

would

be

an

excellent

way

to

wipe

us

out

quickly.

So

once

a

week

I

shoulder

my

trusty

M16

and

hike

out

ofthe

forest

to

the

interstate.

Two

miles

south,

just

off

Exit

175,

there’re

a

couple

of

gas

stations

with

convenience

stores

attached.

I

load

up

as

much

bottled

water

as

I

can

carry,

which

isn’t

a

lot

because

water

is

heavy,

and

get

back

to

the

highway

and

the

relative

safety

of

the

trees

as

quickly

as

I

can,

before

night

falls

completely.

Dusk

is

the

best

time

to

travel.

I’ve

never

seen

a

drone

at

dusk.

Three

or

four

duringthe

day

and

a

lot

more

at

night,

but

never

at

dusk.

From

the

moment

I

slipped

through

the

gas

station’s

shattered

front

door,

I

knew

something

was

different.

I

didn’tsee

anything

different—the

store

looked

exactly

like

it

had

a

week

earlier,

the

same

graffiti-scrawled

walls,

overturned

shelves,

floor

strewn

with

empty

boxes

and

caked-in

rat

feces,

the

busted-open

cash

registers

and

looted

beer

coolers.

It

was

the

same

disgusting,

stinking

mess

I’d

waded

through

every

week

for

the

past

month

to

get

to

the

storage

area

behind

the

refrigerated

display

cases.

Why

people

grabbed

the

beer

and

soda,

the

cash

from

the

registers

and

safe,

the

rolls

of

lottery

tickets,

but

left

the

two

pallets

of

drinking

water

was

beyond

me.

What

were

they

thinking?

It’s

an

alien

apocalypse!

Quick,

grab

the

beer!

The

same

disaster

of

spoilage,

the

same

stench

of

rats

and

rotted

food,

the

same

fitful

swirl

of

dust

in

the

murky

light

pushing

through

the

smudged

windows,

every

out-of-place

thing

in

its

place,

undisturbed.

Still.

Something

was

different.

I

was

standing

in

the

little

pool

of

broken

glass

just

inside

the

doorway.

I

didn’t

see

it.

I

didn’t

hear

it.

I

didn’t

smell

or

feel

it.

But

I

knew

it.

Something

was

different.

It’s

been

a

long

time

since

humans

were

prey

animals.

A

hundred

thousand

years

or

so.

But

buried

deep

in

our

genes

the

memory

remains:

the

awareness

of

the

gazelle,

the

instinct

of

the

antelope.

The

wind

whispers

through

the

grass.

A

shadow

flits

between

the

trees.

And

up

speaks

the

little

voice

that

goes,

Shhhh,

it’s

close

now.

Close.

I

don’t

remember

swinging

the

M16

from

my

shoulder.

One

minute

it

was

hanging

behindmy

back,

the

next

it

was

in

my

hands,

muzzle

down,

safety

off.

Close.

I’d

never

fired

it

at

anything

bigger

than

a

rabbit,

and

that

was

a

kind

of

experiment,

to

see

if

I

could

actually

use

the

thing

without

blowing

off

one

of

my

own

body

parts.

Once

I

shot

over

the

heads

of

a

pack

of

feral

dogs

that

had

gotten

a

little

too

interested

in

my

campsite.

Another

time

nearly

straight

up,

sighting

the

tiny,

glowering

speck

of

greenish

light

that

was

their

mothership

sliding

silently

across

the

backdrop

of

the

Milky

Way.

Okay,

I

admit

that

was

stupid.

I

might

as

well

have

erected

a

billboard

with

a

big

arrow

pointing

at

my

head

and

the

words

YOO-HOO,

HERE

I

AM!

After

the

rabbit

experiment—it

blew

that

poor

damn

bunny

apart,

turning

Peter

into

this

unrecognizable

mass

of

shredded

guts

and

bone—I

gave

up

the

idea

of

using

the

rifle

to

hunt.

I

didn’t

even

do

target

practice.

In

the

silence

that

had

slammed

down

after

the

4th

Wave

struck,

the

report

of

the

rounds

sounded

louder

than

an

atomic

blast.

Still,

I

considered

the

M16

my

bestest

of

besties.

Always

by

my

side,

even

at

night,burrowed

into

my

sleeping

bag

with

me,

faithful

and

true.

In

the

4th

Wave,

you

can’t

trust

that

people

are

still

people.

But

you

can

trust

that

your

gun

is

still

your

gun.

Shhh,

Cassie.

It’s

close.

Close.

I

should

have

bailed.

That

little

voice

had

my

back.

That

little

voice

is

older

thanI

am.

It’s

older

than

the

oldest

person

who

ever

lived.

I

should

have

listened

to

that

voice.

Instead,

I

listened

to

the

silence

of

the

abandoned

store,

listened

hard.

Somethingwas

close.

I

took

a

tiny

step

away

from

the

door,

and

the

broken

glass

crunched

ever

so

softly

under

my

foot.

And

then

the

Something

made

a

noise,

somewhere

between

a

cough

and

a

moan.

It

camefrom

the

back

room,

behind

the

coolers,

where

my

water

was.

That’s

the

moment

when

I

didn’t

need

a

little

old

voice

to

tell

me

what

to

do.

Itwas

obvious,

a

nobrainer.

Run.

But

I

didn’t

run.

The

first

rule

of

surviving

the

4th

Wave

is

don’t

trust

anyone.

It

doesn’t

matter

what

they

look

like.

The

Others

are

very

smart

about

that—okay,

they’re

smart

about

everything.

It

doesn’t

matter

if

they

look

the

right

way

and

say

the

right

things

and

act

exactly

like

you

expect

them

to

act.

Didn’t

my

father’s

death

prove

that?

Even

if

the

stranger

is

a

little

old

lady

sweeter

than

your

great-aunt

Tilly,

hugging

a

helpless

kitten,

you

can’t

know

for

certain—you

can

never

know—that

she

isn’t

one

of

them,

and

that

there

isn’t

a

loaded

.45

behind

that

kitten.

It

isn’t

unthinkable.

And

the

more

you

think

about

it,

the

more

thinkable

it

becomes.

Little

old

lady

has

to

go.

That’s

the

hard

part,

the

part

that,

if

I

thought

about

it

too

much,

would

make

me

crawl

into

my

sleeping

bag,

zip

myself

up,

and

die

of

slow

starvation.

If

you

can’t

trust

anyone,

then

you

can

trust

no

one.

Better

to

take

the

chance

that

Aunty

Tilly

is

one

of

them

than

play

the

odds

that

you’ve

stumbled

across

a

fellow

survivor.

That’s

friggin’

diabolical.

It

tears

us

apart.

It

makes

us

that

much

easier

to

hunt

down

and

eradicate.

The

4thWave

forces

us

into

solitude,

where

there’s

no

strength

in

numbers,

where

we

slowly

go

crazy

from

the

isolation

and

fear

and

terrible

anticipation

of

the

inevitable.

So

I

didn’t

run.

I

couldn’t.

Whether

it

was

one

of

them

or

an

Aunt

Tilly,

I

had

todefend

my

turf.

The

only

way

to

stay

alive

is

to

stay

alone.

That’s

rule

number

two.

I

followed

the

sobbing

coughs

or

coughing

sobs

or

whatever

you

want

to

call

them

till

I

reached

the

door

that

opened

to

the

back

room.

Hardly

breathing,

on

the

balls

of

my

feet.

The

door

was

ajar,

the

space

just

wide

enough

for

me

to

slip

through

sideways.

A

metal

rack

on

the

wall

directly

in

front

of

me

and,

to

the

right,

the

long

narrow

hallway

that

ran

the

length

of

the

coolers.

There

were

no

windows

back

here.

The

only

lightwas

the

sickly

orange

of

the

dying

day

behind

me,

still

bright

enough

to

hurl

my

shadow

onto

the

sticky

floor.

I

crouched

down;

my

shadow

crouched

with

me.

I

couldn’t

see

around

the

edge

of

the

cooler

into

the

hall.

But

I

could

hear

whoever—orwhatever

—it

was

at

the

far

end,

coughing,

moaning,

and

that

gurgling

sob.

Either

hurt

badly

or

acting

hurt

badly,

I

thought.

Either

needs

help

or

it’s

a

trap.

This

is

what

life

on

Earth

has

become

since

the

Arrival.

It’s

an

either/or

world.

Either

it’s

one

of

them

and

it

knows

you’re

here

or

it’s

not

one

of

them

and

he

needs

your

help.

Either

way,

I

had

to

get

up

and

turn

that

corner.

So

I

got

up.

And

I

turned

the

corner.

4

HE

LAY

SPRAWLED

against

the

back

wall

twenty

feet

away,

long

legs

spread

out

in

frontof

him,

clutching

his

stomach

with

one

hand.

He

was

wearing

fatigues

and

black

boots

and

he

was

covered

in

grime

and

shimmering

with

blood.

There

was

blood

everywhere.

On

the

wall

behind

him.

Pooling

on

the

cold

concrete

beneath

him.

Coating

his

uniform.

Matted

in

his

hair.

The

blood

glittered

darkly,

black

as

tar

in

the

semidarkness.

In

his

other

hand

was

a

gun,

and

that

gun

was

pointed

at

my

head.

I

mirrored

him.

His

handgun

to

my

rifle.

Fingers

flexing

on

the

triggers:

his,

mine.

It

didn’t

prove

anything,

his

pointing

a

gun

at

me.

Maybe

he

really

was

a

wounded

soldier

and

thought

I

was

one

of

them.

Or

maybe

not.

“Drop

your

weapon,”

he

sputtered

at

me.

Like

hell.

“Drop

your

weapon!”

he

shouted,

or

tried

to

shout.

The

words

came

out

all

cracked

and

crumbly,

beaten

up

by

the

blood

rising

from

his

gut.

Blood

dribbled

over

his

bottom

lip

and

hung

quivering

from

his

stubbly

chin.

His

teeth

shone

with

blood.

I

shook

my

head.

My

back

was

to

the

light,

and

I

prayed

he

couldn’t

see

how

badlyI

was

shaking

or

the

fear

in

my

eyes.

This

wasn’t

some

damn

rabbit

that

was

stupid

enough

to

hop

into

my

camp

one

sunny

morning.

This

was

a

person.

Or,

if

it

wasn’t,

it

looked

just

like

one.

The

thing

about

killing

is

you

don’t

know

if

you

can

actually

do

it

until

you

actually

do

it.

He

said

it

a

third

time,

not

as

loud

as

the

second.

It

came

out

like

a

plea.

“Drop

your

weapon.”

The

hand

holding

his

gun

twitched.

The

muzzle

dipped

toward

the

floor.

Not

much,

but

my

eyes

had

adjusted

to

the

light

by

this

point,

and

I

saw

a

speck

of

blood

run

down

the

barrel.

And

then

he

dropped

the

gun.

It

fell

between

his

legs

with

a

sharp

cling.

He

brought

up

his

empty

hand

and

held

it,

palm

outward,

over

his

shoulder.

“Okay,”

he

said

with

a

bloody

half

smile.

“Your

turn.”

I

shook

my

head.

“Other

hand,”

I

said.

I

hoped

my

voice

sounded

stronger

than

I

felt.My

knees

had

begun

to

shake

and

my

arms

ached

and

my

head

was

spinning.

I

was

also

fighting

the

urge

to

hurl.

You

don’t

know

if

you

can

do

it

until

you

do

it.

“I

can’t,”

he

said.

“Other

hand.”

“If

I

move

this

hand,

I’m

afraid

my

stomach

will

fall

out.”

I

adjusted

the

butt

of

the

rifle

against

my

shoulder.

I

was

sweating,

shaking,

trying

to

think.

Either/or,

Cassie.

What

are

you

going

to

do,

either/or?

“I’m

dying,”

he

said

matter-of-factly.

From

this

distance,

his

eyes

were

just

pinpricks

of

reflected

light.

“So

you

can

either

finish

me

off

or

help

me.

I

know

you’re

human—”

“How

do

you

know?”

I

asked

quickly,

before

he

could

die

on

me.

If

he

was

a

real

soldier,

he

might

know

how

to

tell

the

difference.

It

would

be

an

extremely

useful

bit

of

information.

“Because

if

you

weren’t,

you

would

have

shot

me

already.”

He

smiled

again,

his

cheeks

dimpled,

and

that’s

when

it

hit

me

how

young

he

was.

Only

a

couple

years

older

than

me.

“See?”

he

said

softly.

“That’s

how

you

know,

too.”

“How

I

know

what?”

My

eyes

were

tearing

up.

His

crumpled-up

body

wiggled

in

my

visionlike

an

image

in

a

fun-house

mirror.

But

I

didn’t

dare

release

my

grip

on

the

rifle

to

rub

my

eyes.

“That

I’m

human.

If

I

wasn’t,

I

would

have

shot

you.”

That

made

sense.

Or

did

it

make

sense

because

I

wanted

it

to

make

sense?

Maybe

hedropped

the

gun

to

get

me

to

drop

mine,

and

once

I

did,

the

second

gun

he

was

hiding

under

his

fatigues

would

come

out

and

the

bullet

would

say

hello

to

my

brain.

This

is

what

the

Others

have

done

to

us.

You

can’t

band

together

to

fight

without

trust.

And

without

trust,

there

was

no

hope.

How

do

you

rid

the

Earth

of

humans?

Rid

the

humans

of

their

humanity.

“I

have

to

see

your

other

hand,”

I

said.

“I

told

you—”

“I

have

to

see

your

other

hand!”

My

voice

cracked

then.

Couldn’t

help

it.

He

lost

it.

“Then

you’re

just

going

to

have

to

shoot

me,

bitch!

Just

shoot

me

and

get

it

over

with!”

His

head

fell

back

against

the

wall,

his

mouth

came

open,

and

a

terrible

howl

of

anguish

tumbled

out

and

bounced

from

wall

to

wall

and

floor

to

ceiling

and

pounded

against

my

ears.

I

didn’t

know

if

he

was

screaming

from

the

pain

or

the

realization

that

I

wasn’t

going

to

save

him.

He

had

given

in

to

hope,

and

that

will

kill

you.

It

kills

you

before

you

die.

Long

before

you

die.

“If

I

show

you,”

he

gasped,

rocking

back

and

forth

against

the

bloody

concrete,

“if

I

show

you,

will

you

help

me?”

I

didn’t

answer.

I

didn’t

answer

because

I

didn’t

have

an

answer.

I

was

playing

this

one

nanosecond

at

a

time.

So

he

decided

for

me.

He

wasn’t

going

to

let

them

win,

that’s

what

I

think

now.

He

wasn’t

going

to

stop

hoping.

If

it

killed

him,

at

least

he

would

die

with

a

sliver

of

his

humanity

intact.

Grimacing,

he

slowly

pulled

out

his

left

hand.

Not

much

day

left

now,

hardly

any

light

at

all,

and

what

light

there

was

seemed

to

be

flowing

away

from

its

source,

from

him,

past

me

and

out

the

halfopen

door.

His

hand

was

caked

in

half-dried

blood.

It

looked

like

he

was

wearing

a

crimson

glove.

The

stunted

light

kissed

his

bloody

hand

and

flicked

along

the

length

of

something

long

and

thin

and

metallic,

and

my

finger

yanked

back

on

the

trigger,

and

the

rifle

kicked

against

my

shoulder

hard,

and

the

barrel

bucked

in

my

hand

as

I

emptied

the

clip,

and

from

a

great

distance

I

heard

someone

screaming,

but

it

wasn’t

him

screaming,

it

was

me

screaming,

me

and

everybody

else

who

was

left,

if

there

was

anybody

left,

all

of

us

helpless,

hopeless,

stupid

humans

screaming,

because

we

got

it

wrong,

we

got

it

all

wrong,

there

was

no

alien

swarm

descending

from

the

sky

in

their

flying

saucers

or

big

metal

walkers

like

something

out

of

Star

Wars

or

cute

little

wrinkly

E.T.s

who

just

wanted

to

pluck

a

couple

of

leaves,

eat

some

Reese’s

Pieces,

and

go

home.

That’s

not

how

it

ends.

That’s

not

how

it

ends

at

all.

It

ends

with

us

killing

each

other

behind

rows

of

empty

beer

coolers

in

the

dying

light

of

a

latesummer

day.

I

went

up

to

him

before

the

last

of

the

light

was

gone.

Not

to

see

if

he

was

dead.

I

knew

he

was

dead.

I

wanted

to

see

what

he

was

still

holding

in

his

bloody

hand.

It

was

a

crucifix.

5

THAT

WAS

THE

LAST

PERSON

I’ve

seen.

The

leaves

are

falling

heavy

now,

and

the

nights

have

turned

cold.

I

can’t

stay

in

these

woods.

No

leaves

for

cover

from

the

drones,

can’t

risk

a

campfire—I

gotta

get

out

of

here.

I

know

where

I

have

to

go.

I’ve

known

for

a

long

time.

I

made

a

promise.

The

kindof

promise

you

don’t

break

because,

if

you

break

it,

you’ve

broken

part

of

yourself,

maybe

the

most

important

part.

But

you

tell

yourself

things.

Things

like,

I

need

to

come

up

with

something

first.

I

can’t

just

walk

into

the

lion’s

den

without

a

plan.

Or,

It’s

hopeless,

there’s

no

point

anymore.

You’ve

waited

too

long.

Whatever

the

reason

I

didn’t

leave

before,

I

should

have

left

the

night

I

killed

him.I

don’t

know

how

he

was

wounded;

I

didn’t

examine

his

body

or

anything,

and

I

should

have,

no

matter

how

freaked

out

I

was.

I

guess

he

could

have

gotten

hurt

in

an

accident,

but

the

odds

were

better

that

someone—or

something—had

shot

him.

And

if

someone

or

something

had

shot

him,

that

someone

or

something

was

still

out

there…unless

the

Crucifix

Soldier

had

offed

her/him/them/it.

Or

he

was

one

of

them

and

the

crucifix

was

a

trick…

Another

way

the

Others

mess

with

your

head:

the

uncertain

circumstances

of

your

certain

destruction.

Maybe

that

will

be

the

5th

Wave,

attacking

us

from

the

inside,

turning

our

own

minds

into

weapons.

Maybe

the

last

human

being

on

Earth

won’t

die

of

starvation

or

exposure

or

as

a

meal

for

wild

animals.

Maybe

the

last

one

to

die

will

be

killed

by

the

last

one

alive.

Okay,

that’s

not

someplace

you

want

to

go,

Cassie.

Honestly,

even

though

it’s

suicide

to

stay

here

and

I

have

a

promise

to

keep,

I

don’t

want

to

leave.

These

woods

have

been

home

for

a

long

time.

I

know

every

path,

everytree,

every

vine

and

bush.

I

lived

in

the

same

house

for

sixteen

years

and

I

can’t

tell

you

exactly

what

my

backyard

looked

like,

but

I

can

describe

in

detail

every

leaf

and

twig

in

this

stretch

of

forest.

I

have

no

clue

what’s

out

there

beyond

these

woods

and

the

two-mile

stretch

of

interstate

I

hike

every

week

to

forage

for

supplies.

I’m

guessing

a

lot

more

of

the

same:

abandoned

towns

reeking

of

sewage

and

rotting

corpses,

burnedout

shells

of

houses,

feral

dogs

and

cats,

pileups

that

stretch

for

miles

on

the

highway.

And

bodies.

Lots

and

lots

of

bodies.

I

pack

up.

This

tent

has

been

my

home

for

a

long

time,

but

it’s

too

bulky

and

I

need

to

travel

light.

Just

the

essentials,

with

the

Luger,

the

M16,

the

ammo,

and

my

trustybowie

knife

topping

the

list.

Sleeping

bag,

first

aid

kit,

five

bottles

of

water,

three

boxes

of

Slim

Jims,

and

some

tins

of

sardines.

I

hated

sardines

before

the

Arrival.

Now

I’ve

developed

a

real

taste

for

them.

First

thing

I

look

for

when

I

hit

a

grocery

store?

Sardines.

Books?

They’re

heavy

and

take

up

room

in

my

already

bulging

backpack.

But

I

have

athing

about

books.

So

did

my

father.

Our

house

was

stacked

floor

to

ceiling

with

every

book

he

could

find

after

the

3rd

Wave

took

out

more

than

3.5

billion

people.

While

the

rest

of

us

scrounged

for

potable

water

and

food

and

stocked

up

on

the

weaponry

for

the

last

stand

we

were

sure

was

coming,

Daddy

was

out

with

my

little

brother’s

Radio

Flyer

carting

home

the

books.

The

mind-blowing

numbers

didn’t

faze

him.

The

fact

that

we’d

gone

from

seven

billionstrong

to

a

couple

hundred

thousand

in

four

months

didn’t

shake

his

confidence

that

our

race

would

survive.

“We

have

to

think

about

the

future,”

he

insisted.

“When

this

is

over,

we’ll

have

to

rebuild

nearly

every

aspect

of

civilization.”

Solar

flashlight.

Toothbrush

and

paste.

I’m

determined,

when

the

time

comes,

to

at

least

go

out

with

clean

teeth.

Gloves.

Two

pairs

of

socks,

underwear,

travel-size

box

of

Tide,

deodorant,

and

shampoo.

(Gonna

go

out

clean.

See

above.)

Tampons.

I’m

constantly

worrying

about

my

stash

and

if

I’ll

be

able

to

find

more.

My

plastic

baggie

stuffed

with

pictures.

Dad.

Mom.

My

little

brother,

Sammy.

My

grandparents.

Lizbeth,

my

best

friend.

One

of

Ben

You-Were-Some-Kind-of-Serious-Gorgeous

Parish,clipped

from

my

yearbook,

because

Ben

was

my

future

boyfriend

and/or/maybe

future

husband—not

that

he

knew

it.

He

barely

knew

I

existed.

I

knew

some

of

the

same

peoplehe

knew,

but

I

was

a

girl

in

the

background,

several

degrees

of

separation

removed.

The

only

thing

wrong

with

Ben

was

his

height:

He

was

six

inches

taller

than

me.

Well,

make

that

two

things

now:

his

height

and

the

fact

that

he’s

dead.

My

cell

phone.

It

was

fried

in

the

1st

Wave,

and

there’s

no

way

to

charge

it.

Cell

towers

don’t

work,

and

there’s

no

one

to

call

if

they

did.

But,

you

know,

it’s

my

cell

phone.

Nail

clippers.

Matches.

I

don’t

light

fires,

but

at

some

point

I

may

need

to

burn

something

or

blow

it

up.

Two

spiral-bound

notebooks,

college

ruled,

one

with

a

purple

cover,

the

other

red.

My

favorite

colors,

plus

they’re

my

journals.

It’s

part

of

the

hope

thing.

But

if

I

am

the

last

and

there’s

no

one

left

to

read

them,

maybe

an

alien

will

and

they’ll

know

exactly

what

I

think

of

them.

In

case

you’re

an

alien

and

you’re

reading

this:

BITE

ME.

My

Starburst,

already

culled

of

the

orange.

Three

packs

of

Wrigley’s

Spearmint.

Mylast

two

Tootsie

Pops.

Mom’s

wedding

ring.

Sammy’s

ratty

old

teddy

bear.

Not

that

it’s

mine

now.

Not

that

I

ever

cuddle

with

it

or

anything.

That’s

everything

I

can

stuff

into

the

backpack.

Weird.

Seems

like

too

much

and

not

enough.

Still

room

for

a

couple

of

paperbacks,

barely.

Huckleberry

Finn

or

The

Grapes

of

Wrath?

The

poems

of

Sylvia

Plath

or

Sammy’s

Shel

Silverstein?

Probably

not

a

good

ideato

take

the

Plath.

Depressing.

Silverstein

is

for

kids,

but

it

still

makes

me

smile.

I

decide

to

take

Huckleberry

(seems

appropriate)

and

Where

the

Sidewalk

Ends.

See

you

there

soon,

Shel.

Climb

aboard,

Jim.

I

heave

the

backpack

over

one

shoulder,

sling

the

rifle

over

the

other,

and

head

down

the

trail

toward

the

highway.

I

don’t

look

back.

I

pause

inside

the

last

line

of

trees.

A

twenty-foot

embankment

runs

down

to

the

southbound

lanes,

littered

with

disabled

cars,

piles

of

clothing,

shredded

plastic

garbage

bags,

the

burned-out

hulks

of

tractor

trailers

carrying

everything

from

gasoline

to

milk.

There

are

wrecks

everywhere,

some

no

worse

than

fender

benders,

some

pileups

that

snake

along

the

interstate

for

miles,

and

the

morning

sunlight

sparkles

on

all

the

broken

glass.

There

are

no

bodies.

These

cars

have

been

here

since

the

1st

Wave,

long

abandoned

by

their

owners.

Not

many

people

died

in

the

1st

Wave,

the

massive

electromagnetic

pulse

that

ripped

through

the

atmosphere

at

precisely

eleven

A.M.

on

the

tenth

day.

Only

around

half

a

million,

Dad

guessed.

Okay,

half

a

million

sounds

like

a

lot

of

people,

but

really

it’s

just

a

drop

in

the

population

bucket.

World

War

II

killed

over

a

hundred

times

that

number.

And

we

did

have

some

time

to

prepare

for

it,

though

we

weren’t

exactly

sure

what

we

were

preparing

for.

Ten

days

from

the

first

satellite

pictures

of

the

mothership

passing

Mars

to

the

launch

of

the

1st

Wave.

Ten

days

of

mayhem.

Martial

law,

sit-ins

at

the

UN,

parades,

rooftop

parties,

endless

Internet

chatter,

and

24/7

coverage

of

the

Arrival

over

every

medium.

The

president

addressed

the

nation—and

then

disappeared

into

his

bunker.

The

Security

Council

went

into

a

lockeddown,

closed-to-the-press

emergency

session.

A

lot

of

people

just

split,

like

our

neighbors,

the

Majewskis.

Packed

up

their

camper

on

the

afternoon

of

the

sixth

day

with

everything

they

could

fit

and

hit

the

road,

joining

a

mass

exodus

to

somewhere

else,

because

anywhere

else

seemed

safer

for

some

reason.

Thousands

of

people

took

off

for

the

mountains…or

the

desert…or

the

swamps.

You

know,

somewhere

else.

The

Majewskis’

somewhere

else

was

Disney

World.

They

weren’t

the

only

ones.

Disneyset

attendance

records

during

those

ten

days

before

the

EMP

strike.

Daddy

asked

Mr.

Majewski,

“So

why

Disney

World?”

And

Mr.

Majewski

said,

“Well,

the

kids

have

never

been.”

His

kids

were

both

in

college.

Catherine,

who

had

come

home

from

her

freshman

year

at

Baylor

the

day

before,

asked,

“Where

are

you

guys

going?”

“Nowhere,”

I

said.

And

I

didn’t

want

to

go

anywhere.

I

was

still

living

in

denial,pretending

all

this

crazy

alien

stuff

would

work

out,

I

didn’t

know

how,

maybe

with

the

signing

of

some

intergalactic

peace

treaty.

Or

maybe

they’d

dropped

by

to

take

a

couple

of

soil

samples

and

go

home.

Or

maybe

they

were

here

on

vacation,

like

the

Majewskis

going

to

Disney

World.

“You

need

to

get

out,”

she

said.

“They’ll

hit

the

cities

first.”

“You’re

probably

right,”

I

said.

“They’d

never

dream

of

taking

out

the

Magic

Kingdom.”

“How

would

you

rather

die?”

she

snapped.

“Hiding

under

your

bed

or

riding

Thunder

Mountain?”

Good

question.

Daddy

said

the

world

was

dividing

into

two

camps:

runners

and

nesters.

Runners

headed

for

the

hills—or

Thunder

Mountain.

Nesters

boarded

up

the

windows,

stocked

up

on

thecanned

goods

and

ammunition,

and

kept

the

TV

tuned

to

CNN

24/7.

There

were

no

messages

from

our

galactic

party

crashers

during

those

first

ten

days.

No

light

shows.

No

landing

on

the

South

Lawn

or

bug-eyed,

butt-headed

dudes

in

silverjumpsuits

demanding

to

be

taken

to

our

leader.

No

bright,

spinning

tops

blaring

the

universal

language

of

music.

And

no

answer

when

we

sent

our

message.

Something

like,

“Hello,

welcome

to

Earth.

Hope

you

enjoy

your

stay.

Please

don’t

kill

us.”

Nobody

knew

what

to

do.

We

figured

the

government

sort

of

did.

The

government

had

a

plan

for

everything,

so

we

assumed

they

had

a

plan

for

E.T.

showing

up

uninvited

and

unannounced,

like

the

weird

cousin

nobody

in

the

family

likes

to

talk

about.

Some

people

nested.

Some

people

ran.

Some

got

married.

Some

got

divorced.

Some

madebabies.

Some

killed

themselves.

We

walked

around

like

zombies,

blank-faced

and

robotic,

unable

to

absorb

the

magnitude

of

what

was

happening.

It’s

hard

to

believe

now,

but

my

family,

like

the

vast

majority

of

people,

went

about

our

daily

lives

as

if

the

most

monumentally

mind-blowing

thing

in

human

history

wasn’t

happening

right

over

our

heads.

Mom

and

Dad

went

to

work,

Sammy

went

to

day

care,and

I

went

to

school

and

soccer

practice.

It

was

so

normal,

it

was

damn

weird.

Bythe

end

of

Day

One,

everybody

over

the

age

of

two

had

seen

the

mothership

up

close

a

thousand

times,

this

big

grayish-green

glowing

hulk

about

the

size

of

Manhattan

circling

250

miles

above

the

Earth.

NASA

announced

its

plan

to

pull

a

space

shuttleout

of

mothballs

to

attempt

contact.

Well,

that’s

good,

we

thought.

This

silence

is

deafening.

Why

did

they

come

billions

of

miles

just

to

stare

at

us?

It’s

rude.

On

Day

Three,

I

went

out

with

a

guy

named

Mitchell

Phelps.

Well,

technically

we

wentoutside.

The

date

was

in

my

backyard

because

of

the

curfew.

He

hit

the

drive-through

at

Starbucks

on

his

way

over,

and

we

sat

on

the

back

patio

sipping

our

drinks

and

pretending

we

didn’t

see

Dad’s

shadow

passing

back

and

forth

as

he

paced

the

living

room.

Mitchell

had

moved

into

town

a

few

days

before

the

Arrival.

He

sat

behind

me

in

World

Lit,

and

I

made

the

mistake

of

loaning

him

my

highlighter.

So

the

next

thing

I

know

he’s

asking

me

out,

because

if

a

girl

loans

you

a

highlighter

she

must

think

you’re

hot.

I

don’t

know

why

I

went

out

with

him.

He

wasn’t

that

cute

and

he

wasn’t

thatinteresting

beyond

the

whole

New

Kid

aura,

and

he

definitely

wasn’t

Ben

Parish.

Nobodywas—except

Ben

Parish—

and

that

was

the

whole

problem.

By

the

third

day,

you

either

talked

about

the

Others

all

the

time

or

you

tried

not

to

talk

about

them

at

all.

I

fell

into

the

second

category.

Mitchell

was

in

the

first.

“What

if

they’re

us?”

he

asked.

It

didn’t

take

long

after

the

Arrival

for

all

the

conspiracy

nuts

to

start

buzzing

about

classified

government

projects

or

the

secret

plan

to

manufacture

an

alien

crisis

in

order

to

take

away

our

liberties.

I

thought

that’s

where

he

was

going

and

groaned.

“What?”

he

said.

“I

don’t

mean

us

us.

I

mean,

what

if

they’re

us

from

the

future?”

“And

it’s

like

The

Terminator,

right?”

I

said,

rolling

my

eyes.

“They’ve

come

to

stop

the

uprising

of

the

machines.

Or

maybe

they

are

the

machines.

Maybe

it’s

Skynet.”

“I

don’t

think

so,”

he

said,

acting

like

I

was

serious.

“It’s

the

grandfather

paradox.”

“What

is?

And

what

the

hell

is

the

grandfather

paradox?”

He

said

it

like

he

assumed

I

knew

what

the

grandfather

paradox

was,

because,

if

I

didn’t

know,

then

I

was

a

moron.

I

hate

when

people

do

that.

“They—I

mean

we—can’t

go

back

in

time

and

change

anything.

If

you

went

back

in

timeand

killed

your

grandfather

before

you

were

born,

then

you

wouldn’t

be

able

to

go

back

in

time

to

kill

your

grandfather.”

“Why

would

you

want

to

kill

your

grandfather?”

I

twisted

the

straw

in

my

strawberryFrappuccino

to

produce

that

unique

straw-in-a-lid

squeak.

“The

point

is

that

just

showing

up

changes

history,”

he

said.

Like

I

was

the

one

who

brought

up

time

travel.

“Do

we

have

to

talk

about

this?”

“What

else

is

there

to

talk

about?”

His

eyebrows

climbed

toward

his

hairline.

Mitchellhad

very

bushy

eyebrows.

It

was

one

of

the

first

things

I

noticed

about

him.

He

alsochewed

his

fingernails.

That

was

the

second

thing

I

noticed.

Cuticle

care

can

tell

you

a

lot

about

a

person.

I

pulled

out

my

phone

and

texted

Lizbeth:

help

me

“Are

you

scared?”

he

asked.

Trying

to

get

my

attention.

Or

for

some

reassurance.

Hewas

looking

at

me

very

intently.

I

shook

my

head.

“Just

bored.”

A

lie.

Of

course

I

was

scared.

I

knew

I

was

being

mean,but

I

couldn’t

help

it.

For

some

reason

I

can’t

explain,

I

was

mad

at

him.

Maybe

Iwas

really

mad

at

myself

for

saying

yes

to

a

date

with

a

guy

I

wasn’t

actually

interested

in.

Or

maybe

I

was

mad

at

him

for

not

being

Ben

Parish,

which

wasn’t

his

fault.

But

still.

help

u

do

wat?

“I

don’t

care

what

we

talk

about,”

he

said.

He

was

looking

toward

the

rose

bed,

swirlingthe

dregs

of

his

coffee,

his

knee

popping

up

and

down

so

violently

under

the

table

that

my

cup

jiggled.

mitchell.

I

didn’t

think

I

needed

to

say

any

more.

“Who

are

you

texting?”

told

u

not

to

go

out

w

him

“Nobody

you

know,”

I

said.

dont

know

why

i

did

“We

can

go

somewhere

else,”

he

said.

“You

want

to

go

to

a

movie?”

“There’s

a

curfew,”

I

reminded

him.

No

one

was

allowed

on

the

streets

after

nine

except

military

and

emergency

vehicles.

lol

to

make

ben

jealous

“Are

you

pissed

or

something?”

“No,”

I

said.

“I

told

you

what

I

was.”

He

pursed

his

lips

in

frustration.

He

didn’t

know

what

to

say.

“I

was

just

trying

to

figure

out

who

they

might

be,”

he

said.

“You

and

everybody

else

on

the

planet,”

I

said.

“Nobody

actually

knows,

and

they

won’t

tell

us,

so

everybody

sits

around

guessing

and

theorizing,

and

it’s

all

kind

of

pointless.

Maybe

they’re

spacefaring

micemen

from

Planet

Cheese

and

they’ve

come

for

our

provolone.”

bp

doesnt

know

i

exist

“You

know,”

he

said,

“it’s

kind

of

rude,

texting

while

I’m

trying

to

have

a

conversation

with

you.”

He

was

right.

I

slipped

the

phone

into

my

pocket.

What’s

happening

to

me?

I

wondered.

The

old

Cassie

never

would

have

done

that.

Already

the

Others

were

changingme

into

someone

different,

but

I

wanted

to

pretend

nothing

had

changed,

especially

me.

“Did

you

hear?”

he

asked,

going

right

back

to

the

topic

that

I

said

bored

me.

“They’rebuilding

a

landing

site.”

I

had

heard.

In

Death

Valley.

That’s

right:

Death

Valley.

“Personally,

I

don’t

think

it’s

a

very

smart

idea,”

he

said.

“Rolling

out

the

welcome

mat.”

“Why

not?”

“It’s

been

three

days.

Three

days

and

they’ve

refused

all

contact.

If

they’re

friendly,

why

wouldn’t

they

say

hello

already?”

“Maybe

they’re

just

shy.”

Twisting

my

hair

around

my

finger,

tugging

on

it

gently

to

produce

that

semipleasant

pain.

“Like

being

the

new

kid,”

he

said,

the

new

kid.

That

can’t

be

easy,

being

the

new

kid.

I

felt

like

I

should

apologize

for

being

rude.

“I

was

kind

of

mean

before,”

I

admitted.

“I’m

sorry.”

He

gave

me

a

confused

look.

He

was

talking

about

the

aliens,

not

himself,

and

then

I

said

something

about

me,

which

was

about

neither.

“It’s

okay,”

he

said.

“I

heard

you

don’t

date

much.”

Ouch.

“What

else

did

you

hear?”

One

of

those

questions

you

don’t

want

to

know

the

answer

to,

but

still

have

to

ask.

He

sipped

his

latte

through

the

little

hole

in

the

plastic

lid.

“Not

much.

It’s

not

like

I

asked

around.”

“You

asked

somebody

and

they

told

you

I

didn’t

date

much.”

“I

just

said

I

was

thinking

about

asking

you

out

and

they

go,

Cassie’s

pretty

cool.

And

I

said,

what’s

she

like?

And

they

said

you

were

nice

but

don’t

get

my

hopes

up

because

you

had

this

thing

for

Ben

Parish—”

“They

told

you

that?

Who

told

you

that?”

He

shrugged.

“I

don’t

remember

her

name.”

“Was

it

Lizbeth

Morgan?”

I’ll

kill

her.

“I

don’t

know

her

name,”

he

said.

“What

did

she

look

like?”

“Long

brown

hair.

Glasses.

I

think

her

name

is

Carly

or

something.”

“I

don’t

know

any…”

Oh

God.

Some

Carly

person

I

don’t

even

know

knows

about

me

and

Ben

Parish—or

the

lackof

any

me

and

Ben

Parish.

And

if

Carly-or-something

knew

about

it,

then

everybody

knew

about

it.

“Well,

they’re

wrong,”

I

sputtered.

“I

don’t

have

a

thing

for

Ben

Parish.”

“It

doesn’t

matter

to

me.”

“It

matters

to

me.”

“Maybe

this

isn’t

working

out,”

he

said.

“Everything

I

say,

you

either

get

bored

or

mad.”

“I’m

not

mad,”

I

said

angrily.

“Okay,

I’m

wrong.”

No,

he

was

right.

And

I

was

wrong

for

not

telling

him

the

Cassie

he

knew

wasn’t

theCassie

I

used

to

be,

the

pre-Arrival

Cassie

who

wouldn’t

have

been

mean

to

a

mosquito.

I

wasn’t

ready

to

admit

the

truth:

It

wasn’t

just

the

world

that

had

changed

with

the

coming

of

the

Others.

We

changed.

I

changed.

The

moment

the

mothership

appeared,

I

started

down

a

path

that

would

end

in

the

back

of

a

convenience

store

behind

some

empty

beer

coolers.

That

night

with

Mitchell

was

only

the

beginning

of

my

evolution.

Mitchell

was

right

about

the

Others

not

stopping

by

just

to

say

howdy.

On

the

eve

of

the

1st

Wave,

the

world’s

leading

theoretical

physicist,

one

of

the

smartest

guys

in

the

world

(that’s

what

popped

up

on

the

screen

under

his

talking

head:

ONE

OF

THE

SMARTEST

GUYS

IN

THE

WOR)L,

Dappeared

on

CNN

and

said,

“I’m

not

encouraged

by

the

silence.

I

can

think

of

no

benign

reason

for

it.

I’m

afraid

we

may

expect

something

closer

to

Christopher

Columbus’s

arrival

in

the

Americas

than

a

scene

from

Close

Encounters,

and

we

all

know

how

that

turned

out

for

the

Native

Americans.”

I

turned

to

my

father

and

said,

“We

should

nuke

’em.”

I

had

to

raise

my

voice

to

be

heard

over

the

TV—Dad

always

jacked

up

the

volume

during

the

news

so

he

could

hearit

over

Mom’s

TV

in

the

kitchen.

She

liked

to

watch

TLC

while

she

cooked.

I

called

it

the

War

of

the

Remotes.

“Cassie!”

He

was

so

shocked,

his

toes

began

to

curl

inside

his

white

athletic

socks.

He

grew

up

on

Close

Encounters

and

E.T.

and

Star

Trek

and

totally

bought

into

the

idea

that

the

Others

had

come

to

liberate

us

from

ourselves.

No

more

hunger.

No

more

wars.

The

eradication

of

disease.

The

secrets

of

the

cosmos

unveiled.

“Don’t

you

understand

this

could

be

the

next

step

in

our

evolution?

A

huge

leap

forward.

Huge.”

He

gave

me

a

consoling

hug.

“We’re

all

very

fortunate

to

be

here

to

see

it.”

Then

he

added

casually,

like

he

was

talking

about

how

to

fix

a

toaster,

“Besides,

a

nuclear

device

can’t

do

much

damage

in

the

vacuum

of

space.

There’s

nothing

to

carry

the

shock

wave.”

“So

this

brainiac

on

TV

is

just

full

of

shit?”

“Don’t

use

that

language,

Cassie,”

he

chided

me.

“He’s

entitled

to

his

opinion,

butthat’s

all

it

is.

An

opinion.”

“But

what

if

he’s

right?

What

if

that

thing

up

there

is

their

version

of

a

Death

Star?”

“Travel

halfway

across

the

universe

just

to

blow

us

up?”

He

patted

my

leg

and

smiled.

Mom

turned

up

the

kitchen

TV.

He

pushed

the

volume

in

the

family

room

to

twenty-seven.

“Okay,

but

what

about

an

intergalactic

Mongol

horde,

like

he

was

talking

about?”

I

demanded.

“Maybe

they’ve

come

to

conquer

us,

shove

us

into

reservations,

enslave

us…”

“Cassie,”

he

said.

“Simply

because

somethingcould

happen

doesn’t

mean

it

will

happen.

Anyway,

it’s

all

just

speculation.

This

guy’s.

Mine.

Nobody

knows

why

they’re

here.

Isn’t

it

just

as

likely

they’ve

come

all

this

way

to

save

us?”

Four

months

after

saying

those

words,

my

father

was

dead.

He

was

wrong

about

the

Others.

And

I

was

wrong.

And

One

of

the

Smartest

Guys

in

theWorld

was

wrong.

It

wasn’t

about

saving

us.

And

it

wasn’t

about

enslaving

us

or

herding

us

into

reservations.

It

was

about

killing

us.

All

of

us.

6

I

DEBATED

WHETHER

to

travel

by

day

or

night

for

a

long

time.

Darkness

is

best

if

you’reworried

about

them.

But

daylight

is

preferable

if

you

want

to

spot

a

drone

before

it

spots

you.

The

drones

showed

up

at

the

tag

end

of

the

3rd

Wave.

Cigar-shaped,

dull

gray

in

color,

gliding

swiftly

and

silently

thousands

of

feet

up.

Sometimes

they

streak

across

the

sky

without

stopping.

Sometimes

they

circle

overhead

like

buzzards.

They

can

turnon

a

dime

and

come

to

a

sudden

stop,

from

Mach

2

to

zero

in

less

than

a

second.

That’s

how

we

knew

the

drones

weren’t

ours.

We

knew

they

were

unmanned

(or

un-Othered)

because

one

of

them

crashed

a

couple

miles

from

our

refugee

camp.

A

thu-whump!

when

it

broke

the

sound

barrier,

an

ear-piercing

shriek

as

it

rocketed

to

earth,

the

ground

shuddering

under

our

feet

when

it

plowed

into

a

fallow

cornfield.

A

recon

team

hiked

to

the

crash

site

to

check

it

out.

Okay,

it

wasn’t

really

a

team,

just

Dad

and

Hutchfield,

the

guy

in

charge

of

the

camp.

They

came

back

to

report

the

thingwas

empty.

Were

they

sure?

Maybe

the

pilot

bailed

before

impact.

Dad

said

it

was

packed

with

instruments;

there

wasn’t

any

room

for

a

pilot.

“Unless

they’re

two

inches

tall.”

That

got

a

big

laugh.

Somehow

it

made

the

horror

less

horrible,

thinking

of

the

Others

as

being

two-inch

Borrower

types.

I

opted

to

travel

by

day.

I

could

keep

one

eye

on

the

sky

and

another

on

the

ground.

What

I

ended

up

doing

is

rocking

my

head

up

and

down,

up

and

down,

side

to

side,

then

up

again,

like

some

groupie

at

a

rock

concert,

until

I

was

dizzy

and

a

little

sick

to

my

stomach.

Plus

there

are

other

things

at

night

to

worry

about

besides

drones.

Wild

dogs,

coyotes,

bears,

and

wolves

coming

down

from

Canada,

maybe

even

an

escaped

lion

or

tiger

froma

zoo.

I

know,

I

know,

there’s

a

Wizard

of

Oz

joke

buried

in

there.

Shoot

me.

And

though

it

wouldn’t

be

much

better,

I

do

think

I’d

have

a

better

chance

against

one

of

them

in

the

daylight.

Or

even

against

one

of

my

own,

if

I’m

not

the

last

one.

What

if

I

stumble

onto

another

survivor

who

decides

the

best

course

of

action

is

to

go

all

Crucifix

Soldier

on

anyone

they

come

across?

That

brings

up

the

problem

of

my

best

course

of

action.

Do

I

shoot

on

sight?

Do

Iwait

for

them

to

make

the

first

move

and

risk

it

being

a

deadly

one?

I

wonder,

not

for

the

first

time,

why

the

hell

we

didn’t

come

up

with

some

kind

of

code

or

secret

handshake

or

something

before

they

showed

up—

something

that

would

identify

us

as

the

good

guys.

We

had

no

way

of

knowing

they

would

show

up,

but

we

were

pretty

sure

something

would

sooner

or

later.

It’s

hard

to

plan

for

what

comes

next

when

what

comes

next

is

not

something

you

planned

for.

Try

to

spot

them

first,

I

decided.

Take

cover.

No

showdowns.

No

more

Crucifix

Soldiers!

The

day

is

bright

and

windless

but

cold.

The

sky

cloudless.

Walking

along,

bobbingmy

head

up

and

down,

swinging

it

from

side

to

side,

backpack

popping

against

one

shoulder

blade,

the

rifle

against

the

other,

walking

on

the

outside

edge

of

the

median

that

separates

the

southbound

from

the

northbound

lanes,

stopping

every

few

strides

to

whip

around

and

scan

the

terrain

behind

me.

An

hour.

Two.

And

I’ve

traveled

no

more

than

a

mile.

The

creepiest

thing,

creepier

than

the

abandoned

cars

and

the

snarl

of

crumpled

metal

and

the

broken

glass

sparkling

in

the

October

sunlight,

creepier

than

all

the

trash

and

discarded

crap

littering

the

median,

most

of

it

hidden

by

the

knee-high

grass

so

the

strip

of

land

looks

lumpy,

covered

in

boils,

the

creepiest

thing

is

the

silence.

The

Hum

is

gone.

You

remember

the

Hum.

Unless

you

grew

up

on

top

of

a

mountain

or

lived

in

a

cave

your

whole

life,

the

Humwas

always

around

you.

That’s

what

life

was.

It

was

the

sea

we

swam

in.

The

constantsound

of

all

the

things

we

built

to

make

life

easy

and

a

little

less

boring.

The

mechanical

song.

The

electronic

symphony.

The

Hum

of

all

our

things

and

all

of

us.

Gone.

This

is

the

sound

of

the

Earth

before

we

conquered

it.

Sometimes

in

my

tent,

late

at

night,

I

think

I

can

hear

the

stars

scraping

againstthe

sky.

That’s

how

quiet

it

is.

After

a

while

it’s

almost

more

than

I

can

stand.

I

want

to

scream

at

the

top

of

my

lungs.

I

want

to

sing,

shout,

stamp

my

feet,

clap

my

hands,

anything

to

declare

my

presence.

My

conversation

with

the

soldier

had

been

the

first

words

I’d

said

aloud

in

weeks.

The

Hum

died

on

the

tenth

day

after

the

Arrival.

I

was

sitting

in

third

period

textingLizbeth

the

last

text

I

will

ever

send.

I

don’t

remember

exactly

what

it

said.

Eleven

A.M.

A

warm,

sunny

day

in

early

spring.

A

day

for

doodling

and

dreaming

and

wishing

you

were

anywhere

but

Ms.

Paulson’s

calculus

class.

The

1st

Wave

rolled

in

without

much

fanfare.

It

wasn’t

dramatic.

There

was

no

shock

and

awe.

The

lights

just

winked

out.

Ms.

Paulson’s

overhead

died.

The

screen

on

my

phone

went

black.

Somebody

in

the

back

of

the

room

squealed.

Classic.

It

doesn’t

matter

what

time

ofday

it

happens

—the

power

goes

out,

and

somebody

yelps

like

the

building’s

collapsing.

Ms.

Paulson

told

us

to

stay

in

our

seats.

That’s

the

other

thing

people

do

when

the

power

goes

out.

They

jump

up

to…To

what?

It’s

weird.

We’re

so

used

to

electricity,

when

it’s

gone,

we

don’t

know

what

to

do.

So

we

jump

up

or

squeal

or

start

jabbering

like

idiots.

We

panic.

It’s

like

someone

cut

off

our

oxygen.

The

Arrival

had

made

it

worse,

though.

Ten

days

on

pins

and

needles

waiting

for

something

to

happen

while

nothing

is

happening

makes

you

jumpy.

So

when

they

pulled

the

plug

on

us,

we

freaked

a

little

more

than

normal.

Everybody

started

talking

at

once.

When

I

announced

that

my

phone

had

died,

out

cameeveryone’s

dead

phone.

Neal

Croskey,

who

was

sitting

in

the

back

of

the

room

listening

to

his

iPod

while

Ms.

Paulson

lectured,

pulled

the

buds

from

his

ears

and

wondered

aloud

why

the

music

had

died.

The

next

thing

you

do

when

the

plug’s

pulled,

after

panicking,

is

run

to

the

nearest

window.

You

don’t

know

why

exactly.

It’s

that

better-see-what’s-going-on

feeling.

The

world

works

from

the

outside

in.

So

if

the

lights

go

off,

you

look

outside.

And

Ms.

Paulson,

randomly

moving

around

the

mob

milling

in

front

of

the

windows:

“Quiet!Back

to

your

seats.

I’m

sure

there’ll

be

an

announcement…”

There

was

one,

about

a

minute

later.

Not

over

the

intercom,

though,

and

not

from

Mr.

Faulks,

the

vice

principal.

It

came

from

the

sky,

from

them.

In

the

form

of

a

727

tumbling

end

over

end

to

the

Earth

from

ten

thousand

feet

until

it

disappeared

behind

a

line

of

trees

and

exploded,

sending

up

a

fireball

that

reminded

me

of

the

mushroom

cloud

of

an

atomic

blast.

Hey,

Earthlings!

Let’s

get

this

party

started!

You’d

think

seeing

something

like

that

would

send

us

diving

under

our

desks.

It

didn’t.

We

crowded

against

the

window

and

scanned

the

cloudless

sky

for

the

flying

saucer

that

must

have

taken

the

plane

down.

It

had

to

be

a

flying

saucer,

right?

We

knew

how

a

top-notch

alien

invasion

was

run.

Flying

saucers

zipping

through

the

atmosphere,

squadrons

of

F-16s

hot

on

their

heels,

surface-to-air

missiles

and

tracers

screaming

from

the

bunkers.

In

an

unreal

and

admittedly

sick

way,

we

wanted

to

see

something

like

that.

It

would

make

this

a

perfectly

normal

alien

invasion.

For

a

half

hour

we

waited

by

the

windows.

Nobody

said

much.

Ms.

Paulson

told

us

togo

back

to

our

seats.

We

ignored

her.

Thirty

minutes

into

the

1st

Wave

and

already

social

order

was

breaking

down.

People

kept

checking

their

phones.

We

couldn’t

connect

it:

the

plane

crashing,

the

lights

going

out,

our

phones

dying,

the

clock

on

the

wall

with

the

big

hand

frozen

on

the

twelve,

little

hand

on

the

eleven.

Then

the

door

flew

open

and

Mr.

Faulks

told

us

to

head

over

to

the

gym.

I

thoughtthat

was

really

smart.

Get

all

of

us

in

one

place

so

the

aliens

didn’t

have

to

waste

a

lot

of

ammunition.

So

we

trooped

over

to

the

gym

and

sat

in

the

bleachers

in

near

total

darkness

while

the

principal

paced

back

and

forth,

stopping

every

now

and

then

to

yell

at

us

to

be

quiet

and

wait

for

our

parents

to

get

there.

What

about

the

students

whose

cars

were

at

school?

Couldn’t

they

leave?

“Your

cars

won’t

work.”

WTF?

What

does

he

mean,

our

cars

won’t

work?

An

hour

passed.

Then

two.

I

sat

next

to

Lizbeth.

We

didn’t

talk

much,

and

when

wedid,

we

whispered.

We

weren’t

afraid

of

the

principal;

we

were

listening.

I’m

not

sure

what

we

were

listening

for,

but

it

was

like

that

quiet

before

the

clouds

open

up

and

the

thunder

smashes

down.

“This

could

be

it,”

Lizbeth

whispered.

She

rubbed

her

nose

nervously.

Dug

her

lacquerednails

into

her

dyed

blond

hair.

Tapped

her

foot.

Rolled

the

pad

of

her

finger

over

her

eyelid:

She

had

just

started

wearing

contacts

and

they

bugged

her

constantly.

“It’s

definitely

something,”

I

whispered

back.

“I

mean,

this

could

be

it.

Like

it

it.

The

end.”

She

kept

slipping

the

battery

out

of

her

phone

and

putting

it

back

in.

It

was

better

than

doing

nothing,

I

guess.

She

started

to

cry.

I

took

her

phone

away

and

held

her

hand.

Looked

around.

She

wasn’tthe

only

one

crying.

Other

kids

were

praying.

And

others

were

doing

both,

crying

and

praying.

The

teachers

were

huddled

up

by

the

gym

doors,

forming

a

human

shield

in

case

the

creatures

from

outer

space

decided

to

storm

the

floor.

“There’s

so

much

I

wanted

to

do,”

Lizbeth

said.

“I’ve

never

even…”

She

choked

backa

sob.

“You

know.”

“I’ve

got

a

feeling

a

lot

of

‘you

know’

is

going

on

right

now,”

I

said.

“Probably

right

underneath

these

bleachers.”

“You

think?”

She

wiped

her

cheeks

with

the

palm

of

her

hand.

“What

about

you?”

“About

‘you

know’?”

I

had

no

problem

with

talking

about

sex.

My

problem

was

talkingabout

sex

as

it

related

to

me.

“Oh,

I

know

you

haven’t

‘you

know.’

God!

I’m

not

talking

about

that.”

“I

thought

we

were.”

“I’m

talking

about

our

lives,

Cassie!

Jesus,

this

could

be

the

end

of

the

freakin’world,

and

all

you

want

to

do

is

talk

about

sex!”

She

pulled

her

phone

out

of

my

hand

and

fumbled

with

the

battery

cover.

“Which

is

why

you

should

just

tell

him,”

she

said,

fiddling

with

the

drawstrings

of

her

hoodie.

“Tell

who

what?”

I

knew

exactly

what

she

meant;

I

was

just

buying

time.

“Ben!

You

should

tell

him

how

you

feel.

How

you’ve

felt

since

the

third

grade.”

“This

is

a

joke,

right?”

I

felt

my

face

getting

hot.

“And

then

you

should

have

sex

with

him.”

“Lizbeth,

shut

up.”

“It’s

the

truth.”

“I

haven’t

wanted

to

have

sex

with

Ben

Parish

since

the

third

grade,”

I

whispered.The

third

grade?

I

glanced

over

at

her

to

see

if

she

was

really

listening.

Apparently,

she

wasn’t.

“If

I

were

you,

I’d

go

right

up

to

him

and

say,

‘I

think

this

is

it.

This

is

it,

andI’ll

be

damned

if

I’m

going

to

die

in

this

school

gymnasium

without

ever

having

sex

with

you.’

And

then

you

know

what

I’d

do?”

“What?”

I

was

fighting

back

a

laugh,

picturing

the

look

on

his

face.

“I’d

take

him

outside

to

the

flower

garden

and

have

sex

with

him.”

“In

the

flower

garden?”

“Or

the

locker

room.”

She

waved

her

hand

around

frantically

to

include

the

entire

school—or

maybe

the

whole

world.

“It

doesn’t

matter

where.”

“The

locker

room

smells.”

I

looked

two

rows

down

at

the

outline

of

Ben

Parish’s

gorgeoushead.

“That

kind

of

thing

only

happens

in

the

movies,”

I

said.

“Yeah,

totally

unrealistic,

not

like

what’s

happening

right

now.”

She

was

right.

It

was

totally

unrealistic.

Both

scenarios,

an

alien

invasion

of

theEarth

and

a

Ben

Parish

invasion

of

me.

“At

least

you

could

tell

him

how

you

feel,”

she

said,

reading

my

mind.

Could,

yes.

Ever

would,

well…

And

I

never

did.

That

was

the

last

time

I

saw

Ben

Parish,

sitting

in

that

dark,

stuffygymnasium

(Home

of

the

Hawks!)

two

rows

down

from

me,

and

only

the

back

part

of

him.

He

probably

died

in

the

3rd

Wave

like

almost

everybody

else,

and

I

never

told

him

how

I

felt.

I

could

have.

He

knew

who

I

was;

he

sat

behind

me

in

a

couple

of

classes.

He

probably

doesn’t

remember,

but

in

middle

school

we

rode

the

same

bus,

and

there

was

an

afternoon

when

I

overheard

him

talking

about

his

little

sister

being

born

the

day

before

and

I

turned

around

and

said,

“My

brother

was

born

last

week!”

And

he

said,

“Really?”

Not

sarcastic,

but

like

he

thought

it

was

a

cool

coincidence,

and

for

about

a

month

I

went

around

thinking

we

had

this

special

connection

based

on

babies.

Then

we

were

in

high

school

and

he

became

the

star

wide

receiver

for

the

team

and

I

became

just

another

girl

watching

him

score

from

the

stands.

I

would

see

him

in

class

or

in

the

hallway,

and

sometimes

I

had

to

fight

the

urge

to

run

up

to

him

and

say,

“Hi,

I’m

Cassie,

the

girl

from

the

bus.

Do

you

remember

the

babies?”

The

funny

thing

is,

he

probably

would

have.

Ben

Parish

couldn’t

be

satisfied

withbeing

the

most

gorgeous

guy

in

school.

Just

to

torment

me

with

his

perfection,

he

also

insisted

on

being

one

of

the

smartest.

And

have

I

mentioned

he

was

kind

to

small

animals

and

children?

His

little

sister

was

on

the

sidelines

at

every

game,

and

when

we

took

the

district

title,

Ben

ran

straight

to

the

sidelines,

hoisted

her

onto

his

shoulders,

and

led

the

parade

around

the

track

with

her

waving

to

the

crowd

like

a

homecoming

queen.

Oh,

and

one

more

thing:

his

killer

smile.

Don’t

get

me

started.

After

another

hour

in

the

dark

and

stuffy

gym,

I

saw

my

dad

appear

in

the

doorway.

He

gave

a

little

wave,

like

he

showed

up

at

my

school

every

day

to

take

me

home

after

alien

attacks.

I

hugged

Lizbeth

and

told

her

I’d

call

as

soon

as

the

phones

started

working

again.

I

was

still

practicing

pre-invasion

thinking.

You

know,

the

power

goes

out,

but

it

always

comes

back

on.

So

I

just

gave

her

a

hug

and

I

don’t

remember

telling

her

that

I

loved

her.

We

went

outside

and

I

said,

“Where’s

the

car?”

And

Dad

said

the

car

wasn’t

working.

No

cars

were

working.

The

streets

were

litteredwith

stalled-out

cars

and

buses

and

motorcycles

and

trucks,

smashups

and

clusters

of

wrecks

on

every

block,

cars

folded

around

light

poles

and

sticking

out

of

buildings.

A

lot

of

people

were

trapped

when

the

EMP

hit;

the

automatic

locks

on

the

doors

didn’twork,

and

they

had

to

break

out

of

their

own

cars

or

sit

there

and

wait

for

someone

to

rescue

them.

The

injured

people

who

could

still

move

crawled

onto

the

roadside

and

sidewalks

to

wait

for

the

paramedics,

but

no

paramedics

came

because

the

ambulances

and

the

fire

trucks

and

the

cop

cars

didn’t

work,

either.

Everything

that

ran

on

batteries

or

electricity

or

had

an

engine

died

at

eleven

A.M.

Dad

walked

as

he

talked,

keeping

a

tight

grip

on

my

wrist,

like

he

was

afraid

somethingmight

swoop

down

out

of

the

sky

and

snatch

me

away.

“Nothing’s

working.

No

electricity,

no

phones,

no

plumbing…”

“We

saw

a

plane

crash.”

He

nodded.

“I’m

sure

they

all

did.

Anything

and

everything

in

the

sky

when

it

hit.

Fighter

jets,

helicopters,

troop

transports…”

“When

what

hit?”

“EMP,”

he

said.

“Electromagnetic

pulse.

Generate

one

large

enough

and

you

knock

outthe

entire

grid.

Power.

Communications.

Transportation.

Anything

that

flies

or

drives

is

zapped

out.”

It

was

a

mile

and

a

half

from

my

school

to

our

house.

The

longest

mile

and

a

half

I’ve

ever

walked.

It

felt

as

if

a

curtain

had

fallen

over

everything,

a

curtain

painted

to

look

exactly

like

what

it

was

hiding.

There

were

glimpses,

though,

little

peeks

behind

the

curtain

that

told

you

something

had

gone

very

wrong.

Like

all

the

people

standing

on

their

front

porches

holding

their

dead

phones,

looking

up

at

the

sky,

or

bending

over

the

open

hoods

of

their

cars,

fiddling

with

wires,

because

that’s

what

you

do

when

your

car

dies—you

fiddle

with

wires.

“But

it’s

okay,”

he

said,

squeezing

my

wrist.

“It’s

okay.

There’s

a

good

chance

our

backup

systems

weren’t

crippled,

and

I’m

sure

the

government

has

a

contingency

plan,

protected

bases,

that

sort

of

thing.”

“And

how

does

pulling

our

plug

fit

into

their

plan

to

help

us

along

in

the

next

stage

of

our

evolution,

Dad?”

I

regretted

the

words

the

instant

I

said

them.

But

I

was

freaking

out.

He

didn’t

takeit

the

wrong

way.

He

looked

at

me

and

smiled

reassuringly

and

said,

“Everything’s

going

to

be

okay,”

because

that’s

what

I

wanted

him

to

say

and

it’s

what

he

wanted

to

say

and

that’s

what

you

do

when

the

curtain

is

falling—you

give

the

line

that

the

audience

wants

to

hear.

7

AROUND

NOON

on

my

mission

to

keep

my

promise,

I

stop

for

a

water

break

and

a

SlimJim.

Every

time

I

eat

a

Slim

Jim

or

a

can

of

sardines

or

anything

prepackaged,

I

think,Well,

there’s

one

less

of

that

in

the

world.

Whittling

away

the

evidence

of

our

having

been

here

one

bite

at

a

time.

One

of

these

days,

I’ve

decided,

I’m

going

to

work

up

the

nerve

to

catch

a

chickenand

wring

its

delicious

neck.

I

would

kill

for

a

cheeseburger.

Honestly.

If

I

stumbled

across

someone

eating

a

cheeseburger,

I

would

kill

them

for

it.

There

are

plenty

of

cows

around.

I

could

shoot

one

and

carve

it

up

with

my

bowie

knife.

I’m

pretty

sure

I’d

have

no

problem

slaughtering

a

cow.

The

hard

part

would

be

cooking

it.

Having

a

fire,

even

in

daylight,

was

the

surest

way

to

invite

them

to

the

cookout.

A

shadow

shoots

across

the

grass

a

dozen

yards

in

front

of

me.

I

jerk

my

head

back,

knocking

it

hard

against

the

side

of

a

Honda

Civic

I

was

leaning

against

while

I

enjoyedmy

snack.

It

wasn’t

a

drone.

It

was

a

bird,

a

seagull

of

all

things,

skimming

along

with

barely

a

flick

of

its

outstretched

wings.

A

shiver

of

revulsion

goes

down

my

spine.

I

hate

birds.

I

didn’t

before

the

Arrival.

I

didn’t

after

the

1st

Wave.

I

didn’t

after

the

2nd

Wave,

which

really

didn’t

affect

me

that

much.

But

after

the

3rd

Wave,

I

hated

them.

It

wasn’t

their

fault,

I

knew

that.

It

was

like

a

man

in

front

of

a

firing

squad

hating

the

bullets,

but

I

couldn’t

help

it.

Birds

suck.

8

AFTER

THREE

DAYS

on

the

road,

I’ve

determined

that

cars

are

pack

animals.

They

prowl

in

groups.

They

die

in

clumps.

Clumps

of

smashups.

Clumps

of

stalls.

Theyglimmer

in

the

distance

like

jewels.

And

suddenly

the

clumps

stop.

The

road

is

empty

for

miles.

There’s

just

me

and

the

asphalt

river

cutting

through

a

defile

of

half-naked

trees,

their

leaves

crinkled

and

clinging

desperately

to

their

dark

branches.

There’s

the

road

and

the

naked

sky

and

the

tall,

brown

grass

and

me.

These

empty

stretches

are

the

worst.

Cars

provide

cover.

And

shelter.

I

sleep

in

the

undamaged

ones

(I

haven’t

found

a

locked

one

yet).

If

you

can

call

it

sleep.

Stale,stuffy

air;

you

can’t

crack

the

windows,

and

leaving

the

door

open

is

out

of

the

question.

The

gnaw

of

hunger.

And

the

night

thoughts.

Alone,

alone,

alone.

And

the

baddest

of

the

bad

night

thoughts:

I’m

no

alien

drone

designer,

but

if

I

were

going

to

make

one,

I’d

make

sure

that

its

detection

device

was

sensitive

enough

to

pick

up

a

body’s

heat

signature

through

a

car

roof.

It

never

failed:

The

moment

I

started

to

drift

off,

I

imagined

all

four

doors

flying

open

and

dozens

of

hands

reaching

for

me,

hands

attached

to

arms

attached

to

whatever

they

are.

And

then

I’m

up,

fumbling

with

my

M16,

peeking

over

the

backseat,

then

doing

a

360,

feeling

trapped

and

more

than

a

little

blind

behind

the

fogged-up

windows.

Dawn

comes.

I

wait

for

the

morning

fog

to

burn

off,

then

sip

some

water,

brush

my

teeth,

doublecheck

my

weapons,

inventory

my

supplies,

and

hit

the

road

again.

Look

up,

look

down,

look

all

around.

Don’t

pause

at

the

exits.

Water’s

fine

for

now.

No

way

am

I

going

anywhere

near

a

town

unless

I

have

to.

For

a

lot

of

reasons.

You

know

how

you

can

tell

when

you’re

getting

close

to

one?

The

smell.

You

can

smell

a

town

from

miles

away.

It

smells

like

smoke.

And

raw

sewage.

And

death.

In

the

city

it’s

hard

to

take

two

steps

without

stumbling

over

a

corpse.

Funny

thing:

People

die

in

clumps,

too.

I

begin

to

smell

Cincinnati

about

a

mile

before

spotting

the

exit

sign.

A

thick

column

of

smoke

rises

lazily

toward

the

cloudless

sky.

Cincinnati

is

burning.

I’m

not

surprised.

After

the

3rd

Wave,

the

second

most

common

thing

you

found

in

cities,

after

the

bodies,

were

fires.

A

single

lightning

strike

could

take

out

ten

city

blocks.

There

was

no

one

left

to

put

the

fires

out.

My

eyes

start

to

water.

The

stench

of

Cincinnati

makes

me

gag.

I

stop

long

enoughto

tie

a

rag

around

my

mouth

and

nose

and

then

quicken

my

pace.

I

pull

the

rifle

off

my

shoulder

and

cradle

it

as

I

quickstep.

I

have

a

bad

feeling

about

Cincinnati.

The

old

voice

inside

my

head

is

awake.

Hurry,

Cassie.

Hurry.

And

then,

somewhere

between

Exits

17

and

18,

I

find

the

bodies.

9

THERE

ARE

THREE

OF

THEM,

not

in

a

clump

like

city

folk,

but

spaced

out

in

the

mediasntrip.

The

first

one

is

an

older

guy,

around

my

dad’s

age,

I

guess.

Wearing

blue

jeans

and

a

Bengals

warmup.

Facedown,

arms

outstretched.

He

was

shot

in

the

back

of

the

head.

The

second,

about

a

dozen

feet

away,

is

a

young

woman,

a

little

older

than

I

am

and

dressed

in

a

pair

of

men’s

pajama

pants

and

Victoria’s

Secret

tee.

A

streak

of

purple

in

her

short-cropped

hair.

A

skull

ring

on

her

left

index

finger.

Black

nail

polish,

badly

chipped.

And

a

bullet

hole

in

the

back

of

her

head.

Another

few

feet

and

there’s

the

third.

A

kid

around

eleven

or

twelve.

Brand-new

white

basketball

high-tops.

Black

sweatshirt.

Hard

to

tell

what

his

face

used

to

look

like.

I

leave

the

kid

and

go

back

to

the

woman.

Kneel

in

the

tall

brown

grass

beside

her.

Touch

her

pale

neck.

Still

warm.

Oh

no.

No,

no,

no.

I

trot

back

to

the

first

guy.

Kneel.

Touch

the

palm

of

his

outstretched

hand.

Look

over

at

the

bloody

hole

between

his

ears.

Shiny.

Still

wet.

I

freeze.

Behind

me,

the

road.

In

front

of

me,

more

road.

To

my

right,

trees.

To

my

left,

more

trees.

Clumps

of

cars

on

the

southbound

lane,

the

nearest

grouping

about

a

hundred

feet

away.

Something

tells

me

to

look

up.

Straight

up.

A

fleck

of

dull

gray

against

the

backdrop

of

dazzling

autumnal

blue.

Motionless.

Hello,

Cassie.

My

name

is

Mr.

Drone.

Nice

to

meet

you!

I

stand

up,

and

when

I

stand

up—the

moment

I

stand

up;

if

I

had

stayed

frozen

therea

millisecond

longer,

Mr.

Bengals

and

I

would

be

sporting

matching

holes—something

slams

into

my

leg,

a

hot

punch

just

above

my

knee

that

knocks

me

off

balance,

sending

me

sprawling

backward

onto

my

butt.

I

didn’t

hear

the

shot.

There

was

the

cool

wind

in

the

grass

and

my

own

hot

breathunder

the

rag

and

the

blood

rushing

in

my

ears—that’s

all

there

was

before

the

bullet

struck.

Silencer.

That

makes

sense.

Of

course

they’d

use

silencers.

And

now

I

have

the

perfect

namefor

them:

Silencers.

A

name

that

fits

the

job

description.

Something

takes

over

when

you’re

facing

death.

The

front

part

of

your

brain

lets

go,

gives

up

control

to

the

oldest

part

of

you,

the

part

that

takes

care

of

your

heartbeat

and

breathing

and

the

blinking

of

your

eyes.

The

part

nature

built

first

to

keep

your

ass

alive.

The

part

that

stretches

time

like

a

gigantic

piece

of

toffee,

making

a

second

seem

like

an

hour

and

a

minute

longer

than

a

summer

afternoon.

I

lunge

forward

for

my

rifle—I

had

dropped

the

M16

when

the

round

punched

home—andthe

ground

in

front

of

me

explodes,

showering

me

with

shredded

grass

and

hunks

of

dirt

and

gravel.

Okay,

forget

the

M16.

I

yank

the

Luger

from

my

waistband

and

do

a

sort

of

running

hop—or

a

hopping

run—toward

the

closest

car.

There

isn’t

much

pain—although

my

guess

is

that

we’re

going

to

get

very

intimate

later—

but

I

can

feel

the

blood

soaking

into

my

jeans

by

the

time

I

reach

the

car,

an

older

model

Buick

sedan.

The

rear

windshield

shatters

as

I

dive

down.

I

scoot

on

my

back

till

I’m

all

the

wayunder

the

car.

I’m

not

a

big

girl

by

any

stretch,

but

it’s

a

tight

fit,

no

room

to

roll

over,

no

way

to

turn

if

he

shows

up

on

the

left

side.

Cornered.

Smart,

Cassie,

real

smart.

Straight

As

last

semester?

Honor

roll?

Riiiiiight.

You

should

have

stayed

in

your

little

stretch

of

woods

in

your

little

tent

with

your

little

books

and

your

cute

little

mementos.

At

least

when

they

came

for

you,

there’d

be

room

to

run.

The

minutes

spin

out.

I

lie

on

my

back

and

bleed

onto

the

cold

concrete.

Rolling

myhead

to

the

right,

to

the

left,

raising

it

a

half

inch

to

look

past

my

feet

toward

the

back

of

the

car.

Where

the

hell

is

he?

What’s

taking

so

long?

Then

it

hits

me:

He’s

using

a

high-powered

sniper

rifle.

Has

to

be.

Which

means

he

could

have

beenover

a

half

mile

away

when

he

shot

me.

Which

also

means

I

have

more

time

than

I

first

thought.

Time

to

come

up

with

somethingbesides

a

blubbery,

desperate,

disjointed

prayer.

Make

him

go

away.

Make

him

be

quick.

Let

me

live.

Let

him

end

it…

Shaking

uncontrollably.

I’m

sweating;

I’m

freezing

cold.

You’re

going

into

shock.

Think,

Cassie.

Think.

It’s

what

we’re

made

for.

It’s

what

got

us

here.

It’s

the

reason

I

have

this

car

to

hide

under.

We

are

human.

And

humans

think.

They

plan.

They

dream,

and

then

they

make

the

dream

real.

Make

it

real,

Cassie.

Unless

he

drops

down,

he

won’t

be

able

to

get

to

me.

And

when

he

drops

down…when

he

dips

his

head

to

look

at

me…when

he

reaches

in

to

grab

my

ankle

and

drag

me

out…

No.

He’s

too

smart

for

that.

He’s

going

to

assume

I’m

armed.

He

wouldn’t

risk

it.Not

that

Silencers

care

whether

they

live

or

die…or

do

they

care?

Do

Silencers

know

fear?

They

don’t

love

life—I’ve

seen

enough

to

prove

that.

But

do

they

love

their

own

lives

more

than

they

love

taking

someone

else’s?

Time

stretches

out.

A

minute’s

longer

than

a

season.

What’s

taking

him

so

damn

long?

It’s

an

either/or

world

now.

Either

he’s

coming

to

finish

it

or

he

isn’t.

But

he

has

to

finish

it,

doesn’t

he?

Isn’t

that

the

reason

he’s

here?

Isn’t

that

the

whole

friggin’

point?

Either/or:

Either

I

run—or

hop

or

crawl

or

roll—or

I

stay

under

this

car

and

bleedto

death.

If

I

risk

escape,

it’s

a

turkey

shoot.

I

won’t

make

it

two

feet.

If

I

stay,

same

result,

only

more

painful,

more

fearful,

and

much,

much

slower.

Black

stars

blossom

and

dance

in

front

of

my

eyes.

I

can’t

get

enough

air

into

my

lungs.

I

reach

up

with

my

left

hand

and

yank

the

cloth

from

my

face.

The

cloth.

Cassie,

you’re

an

idiot.

I

set

the

gun

down

beside

me.

That’s

the

hardest

part—making

myself

let

go

of

the

gun.

I

lift

my

leg,

slide

the

rag

beneath

it.

I

can’t

lift

my

head

to

see

what

I’m

doing.I

stare

past

the

black,

blossoming

stars

at

the

grimy

guts

of

the

Buick

as

I

pull

the

two

ends

together,

cinch

them

tight,

as

tight

as

I

can,

and

fumble

with

the

knot.

I

reach

down

and

explore

the

wound

with

my

fingertips.

It’s

still

bleeding,

but

a

trickle

compared

to

the

bubbling

gusher

I

had

before

tying

off

the

tourniquet.

I

pick

up

the

gun.

Better.

My

eyesight

clears

a

little,

and

I

don’t

feel

quite

socold.

I

shift

a

couple

of

inches

to

the

left;

I

don’t

like

lying

in

my

own

blood.

Where

is

he?

He’s

had

plenty

of

time

to

finish

this…

Unless

he

is

finished.

That

brings

me

up

short.

For

a

few

seconds,

I

totally

forget

to

breathe.

He’s

not

coming.

He’s

not

coming

because

he

doesn’t

need

to

come.

He

knows

you

won’t

dare

come

out,

and

if

you

don’t

come

out

and

run,

you

won’t

make

it.

He

knows

you’ll

starve

or

bleed

to

death

or

die

of

dehydration.

He

knows

what

you

know:

Run

=

die.

Stay

=

die.

Time

for

him

to

move

on

to

the

next

one.

If

there

is

a

next

one.

If

I’m

not

the

last

one.

Come

on,

Cassie!

From

seven

billion

to

just

one

in

five

months?

You’re

not

the

last,

and

even

if

you

are

the

last

human

being

on

Earth—especially

if

you

are—you

can’t

let

it

end

this

way.

Trapped

under

a

goddamned

Buick,

bleeding

until

all

the

blood

is

gone—is

this

how

humanity

waves

good-bye?

Hell

no.

10

THE

1ST

WAVE

took

out

half

a

million

people.

The

2nd

Wave

put

that

number

to

shame.

In

case

you

don’t

know,

we

live

on

a

restless

planet.

The

continents

sit

on

slabs

of

rock,

called

tectonic

plates,

and

those

plates

float

on

a

sea

of

molten

lava.

They’re

constantly

scraping

and

rubbing

and

pushing

against

one

another,

creating

enormous

pressure.

Over

time

the

pressure

builds

and

builds,

until

the

plates

slip,

releasing

huge

amounts

of

energy

in

the

form

of

earthquakes.

If

one

of

those

quakes

happens

along

one

of

the

fault

lines

that

ring

every

continent,

the

shock

wave

produces

a

superwave

called

a

tsunami.

Over

40

percent

of

the

world’s

population

lives

within

sixty

miles

of

a

coastline.

That’s

three

billion

people.

All

the

Others

had

to

do

was

make

it

rain.

Take

a

metal

rod

twice

as

tall

as

the

Empire

State

Building

and

three

times

as

heavy.

Position

it

over

one

of

these

fault

lines.

Drop

it

from

the

upper

atmosphere.

You

don’t

need

any

propulsion

or

guidance

system;

just

let

it

fall.

Thanks

to

gravity,

by

the

time

it

reaches

the

surface,

it’s

traveling

twelve

miles

per

second,

twenty

times

faster

than

a

speeding

bullet.

It

hits

the

surface

with

a

force

one

billion

times

greater

than

the

bomb

dropped

on

Hiroshima.

Bye-bye,

New

York.

Bye,

Sydney.

Good-bye,

California,

Washington,

Oregon,

Alaska,British

Columbia.

So

long,

Eastern

Seaboard.

Japan,

Hong

Kong,

London,

Rome,

Rio.

Nice

to

know

you.

Hope

you

enjoyed

your

stay!

The

1st

Wave

was

over

in

seconds.

The

2nd

Wave

lasted

a

little

longer.

About

a

day.

The

3rd

Wave?

That

took

a

little

longer—twelve

weeks.

Twelve

weeks

to

kill…well,

Dad

figured

97

percent

of

those

of

us

unlucky

enough

to

have

survived

the

first

two

waves.

Ninety-seven

percent

of

four

billion?

You

do

the

math.

That’s

when

the

Alien

Empire

descended

in

their

flying

saucers

and

started

blasting

away,

right?

When

the

peoples

of

the

Earth

united

under

one

banner

to

play

David

versusGoliath.

Our

tanks

against

your

ray

guns.

Bring

it

on!

We

weren’t

that

lucky.

And

they

weren’t

that

stupid.

How

do

you

waste

nearly

four

billion

people

in

three

months?

Birds.

How

many

birds

are

there

in

the

world?

Wanna

guess?

A

million?

A

billion?

How

about

over

three

hundred

billion?

That’s

about

seventy-five

birds

for

each

man,

woman,

and

child

still

alive

after

the

first

two

waves.

There

are

thousands

of

species

of

bird

on

every

continent.

And

birds

don’t

recognize

borders.

They

also

crap

a

lot.

They

crap

five

or

six

times

a

day.

That’s

over

a

trillion

little

missiles

raining

down

each

day,

every

day.

You

couldn’t

invent

a

more

efficient

delivery

system

for

a

virus

that

has

a

97

percent

kill

rate.

My

father

thought

they

must

have

taken

something

like

Ebola

Zaire

and

geneticallyaltered

it.

Ebola

can’t

spread

through

the

air.

But

change

a

single

protein

and

you

can

make

it

airborne,

like

the

flu.

The

virus

takes

up

residence

in

your

lungs.

You

get

a

bad

cough.

Fever.

Your

head

starts

to

hurt.

Hurt

bad.

You

start

spitting

up

little

drops

of

virus-laden

blood.

The

bug

moves

into

your

liver,

your

kidneys,

your

brain.

You’re

packing

a

billion

of

them

now.

You’ve

become

a

viral

bomb.

And

when

you

explode,

you

blast

everyone

around

you

with

the

virus.

They

call

it

bleeding

out.

Like

rats

fleeing

a

sinking

ship,

the

virus

erupts

out

of

every

opening.

Your

mouth,

your

nose,

your

ears,

your

ass,

even

your

eyes.

You

literally

cry

tears

of

blood.

We

had

different

names

for

it.

The

Red

Death

or

the

Blood

Plague.

The

Pestilence.The

Red

Tsunami.

The

Fourth

Horseman.

Whatever

you

wanted

to

call

it,

after

threemonths,

ninety-seven

out

of

every

hundred

people

were

dead.

That’s

a

lot

of

bloody

tears.

Time

was

flowing

in

reverse.

The

1st

Wave

knocked

us

back

to

the

eighteenth

century.

The

next

two

slammed

us

into

the

Neolithic.

We

were

hunter-gatherers

again.

Nomads.

Bottom

of

the

pyramid.

But

we

weren’t

ready

to

give

up

hope.

Not

yet.

There

were

still

enough

of

us

left

to

fight

back.

We

couldn’t

take

them

head-on,

but

we

could

fight

a

guerilla

war.

We

could

go

all

asymmetrical

on

their

alien

asses.

We

had

enough

guns

and

ammo

and

even

some

transport

that

survived

the

1st

Wave.

Our

militaries

had

been

decimated,

but

there

were

still

functional

units

on

every

continent.

There

were

bunkers

and

caves

and

underground

bases

where

we

could

hide

for

years.

You

be

America,

alien

invaders,

and

we’ll

be

Vietnam.

And

the

Others

go,

Yeah,

okay,

right.

We

thought

they

had

thrown

everything

at

us—or

at

least

the

worst,

because

it

was

hard

to

imagine

anything

worse

than

the

Red

Death.

Those

of

us

who

survived

the

3rdWave—the

ones

with

a

natural

immunity

to

the

disease—hunkered

down

and

stocked

up

and

waited

for

the

People

in

Charge

to

tell

us

what

to

do.

We

knew

somebody

had

to

be

in

charge,

because

occasionally

a

fighter

jet

would

scream

across

the

sky

and

we

heard

what

sounded

like

gun

battles

in

the

distance

and

the

rumble

of

troop

carriers

just

over

the

horizon.

I

guess

my

family

was

luckier

than

most.

The

Fourth

Horseman

rode

off

with

my

mom,but

Dad,

Sammy,

and

I

survived.

Dad

boasted

about

our

superior

genes.

Not

somethingyou’d

normally

do,

brag

on

top

of

an

Everest

of

nearly

seven

billion

dead

people.

Dad

was

just

being

Dad,

trying

to

put

the

best

spin

he

could

on

the

eve

of

human

extinction.

Most

cities

and

towns

were

abandoned

in

the

wake

of

the

Red

Tsunami.

There

was

no

electricity,

no

plumbing,

the

shops

and

stores

had

long

since

been

looted

of

anything

valuable.

Raw

sewage

was

an

inch

deep

on

some

streets.

Fires

from

summer

lightning

storms

were

common.

Then

there

was

the

problem

of

the

bodies.

As

in,

they

were

everywhere.

Houses,

shelters,

hospitals,

apartments,

office

buildings,schools,

churches

and

synagogues,

and

warehouses.

There’s

a

tipping

point

when

the

sheer

volume

of

death

overwhelms

you.

You

can’t

bury

or

burn

the

bodies

fast

enough.

That

summer

of

the

Pestilence

was

brutally

hot,

and

the

stench

of

rotting

flesh

hung

in

the

air

like

an

invisible,

noxious

fog.

We

soaked

strips

of

cloth

in

perfume

and

tied

them

over

our

mouths

and

noses,

and

by

the

end

of

the

day

the

reek

had

soaked

into

the

material

and

all

you

could

do

was

sit

there

and

gag.

Until—funny

thing—you

got

used

to

it.

We

waited

out

the

3rd

Wave

barricaded

inside

our

house.

Partly

because

there

was

a

quarantine.

Partly

because

some

pretty

whacked-out

people

roamed

the

streets,

breaking

into

houses

and

setting

fires,

the

whole

murder,

rape,

and

pillaging

thing.

Partly

because

we

were

scared

out

of

our

minds

waiting

for

what

might

come

next.

But

mostly

because

Dad

didn’t

want

to

leave

Mom.

She

was

too

sick

to

travel,

and

hecouldn’t

bring

himself

to

abandon

her.

She

told

him

to

go.

Leave

her

behind.

She

was

going

to

die

anyway.

It

wasn’t

abouther

anymore.

It

was

about

me

and

Sammy.

About

keeping

us

safe.

About

the

future

and

hanging

on

to

the

hope

that

tomorrow

would

be

better

than

today.

Dad

didn’t

argue.

But

he

didn’t

leave

her,

either.

He

waited

for

the

inevitable,

keeping

her

as

comfortable

as

possible,

and

looked

at

maps

and

made

lists

and

gathered

supplies.

This

was

around

the

time

the

whole

book-hoarding,

we-have-to-rebuild-civilization

kick

started.

On

nights

when

the

sky

wasn’t

totally

blanketed

in

smoke,

we

went

into

the

backyard

and

took

turns

with

my

old

telescope,

watching

the

mothership

sail

majestically

across

the

backdrop

of

the

Milky

Way.

The

stars

were

brighter

now,

brilliantly

bright,

without

our

man-made

lights

to

dim

them.

“What

are

they

waiting

for?”

I

would

ask

him.

I

was

still

expecting—like

everybodyelse—the

saucers

and

the

mechanical

walkers

and

the

laser

cannons.

“Why

don’t

they

just

get

it

over

with?”

And

Daddy

would

shake

his

head.

“I

don’t

know,

pumpkin,”

he

would

say.

“Maybe

it

is

over.

Maybe

the

goal

isn’t

to

kill

all

of

us,

just

wean

us

down

to

a

manageable

number.”

“And

then

what?

What

do

they

want?”

“I

think

the

better

question

is

what

they

need,”

he

said

gently,

as

if

he

were

breaking

some

really

bad

news.

“They’re

being

very

careful,

you

know.”

“Careful?”

“To

not

damage

it

more

than

absolutely

necessary.

It’s

the

reason

they’re

here,

Cassie.

They

need

the

Earth.”

“But

not

us,”

I

whispered.

I

was

about

to

lose

it—again.

For

about

the

trillionth

time.

He

put

his

hand

on

my

shoulder—for

about

the

trillionth

time—and

said,

“Well,

we

had

our

shot.

And

we

weren’t

handling

our

inheritance

very

well.

I

bet

if

we

could

somehow

go

back

and

interview

the

dinosaurs

before

the

asteroid

struck…”

That’s

when

I

punched

him

as

hard

as

I

could.

Ran

inside.

I

don’t

know

which

is

worse,

inside

or

outside.

Outside

you

feel

totally

exposed,

constantly

watched,

naked

beneath

the

naked

sky.

But

inside

it’s

perpetual

twilight.

Boarded-up

windows

that

block

out

the

sun

during

the

day.

Candles

at

night,

but

we’re

running

low

on

candles,

can’t

spare

more

than

one

per

room,

and

deep

shadows

lurk

in

once-familiar

corners.

“What

is

it,

Cassie?”

Sammy.

Five.

Adorable.

Big

brown

teddy-bear

eyes,

clutchingthe

other

member

of

the

family

with

big

brown

eyes,

the

stuffed

one

I

now

have

stowed

in

the

bottom

of

my

backpack.

“Why

are

you

crying?”

Seeing

my

tears

got

his

started.

I

brushed

past

him,

headed

for

the

room

of

the

sixteen-year-old

human

dinosaur,

Cassiopeia

Sullivanus

extinctus.

Then

I

went

back

to

him.

I

couldn’t

leave

him

crying

like

that.

We’d

gotten

pretty

tight

since

Mom

got

sick.

Nearly

every

night

bad

dreams

chased

him

into

my

room,

and

he’d

crawl

in

bed

with

me

and

press

his

face

against

my

chest,

and

sometimes

he

forgot

and

called

me

Mommy.

“Did

you

see

them,

Cassie?

Are

they

coming?”

“No,

kiddo,”

I

said,

wiping

away

his

tears.

“No

one’s

coming.”

Not

yet.

11

MOM

DIED

ON

A

TUESDAY.

Dad

buried

her

in

the

backyard,

in

the

rose

bed.

She

had

asked

for

that

before

she

died.

At

the

height

of

the

Pestilence,

when

hundreds

were

dying

every

day,

most

of

the

bodies

were

hauled

to

the

outskirts

and

burned.

Dying

towns

were

ringed

by

the

constantly

smoldering

bonfires

of

the

dead.

He

told

me

to

stay

with

Sammy.

Sammy,

who’d

gone

zombielike

on

us,

shuffling

around,

mouth

hanging

open

or

sucking

his

thumb

like

he

was

two

again,

with

this

blankness

in

his

teddy-bear

eyes.

Just

a

few

months

ago,

Mom

was

pushing

him

on

a

swing,

takinghim

to

karate

classes,

washing

his

hair,

dancing

with

him

to

his

favorite

song.

Now

she

was

wrapped

in

a

white

sheet

and

riding

on

his

daddy’s

shoulder

into

the

backyard.

I

saw

Dad

through

the

kitchen

window

kneeling

by

the

shallow

grave.

His

head

was

down.

Shoulders

jerking.

I’d

never

seen

him

lose

it,

not

once,

since

the

Arrival.

Thingskept

getting

worse,

and

just

when

you

thought

they

couldn’t

get

any

worse,

they

got

even

worse,

but

Dad

never

freaked.

Even

when

Mom

started

showing

the

first

signs

of

infection,

he

stayed

calm,

especially

in

front

of

her.

He

didn’t

talk

about

what

was

happening

outside

the

barricaded

doors

and

windows.

He

laid

wet

cloths

over

her

forehead.

He

bathed

her,

changed

her,

fed

her.

Not

once

did

I

see

him

cry

in

front

of

her.

While

some

people

were

shooting

themselves

and

hanging

themselves

and

swallowing

handfuls

of

pills

and

jumping

from

high

places,

Dad

pushed

back

against

the

darkness.

He

sang

to

her

and

repeated

stupid

jokes

she’d

heard

a

thousand

times,

and

he

lied.

He

lied

the

way

a

parent

lies

to

you,

the

good

lie

that

helps

you

go

to

sleep.

“Heard

another

plane

today.

Sounded

like

a

fighter.

Means

some

of

our

stuff

must

have

made

it

through.”

“Your

fever’s

down

a

bit,

and

your

eyes

look

clearer

today.

Maybe

this

isn’t

it.

Might

just

be

your

garden-variety

flu.”

In

the

final

hours,

wiping

away

her

bloody

tears.

Holding

her

while

she

barfed

up

the

black,

viral

stew

her

stomach

had

become.

Bringing

me

and

Sammy

into

the

room

to

say

good-bye.

“It’s

all

right,”

she

told

Sammy.

“Everything

is

going

to

be

all

right.”

To

me

she

said,

“He

needs

you

now,

Cassie.

Take

care

of

him.

Take

care

of

your

father.”

I

told

her

she

was

going

to

get

better.

Some

people

did.

They

got

sick,

and

then

suddenlythe

virus

let

go.

Nobody

understood

why.

Maybe

it

decided

it

didn’t

like

the

way

you

tasted.

And

I

didn’t

say

she

was

going

to

get

better

to

ease

her

fear.

I

really

believed

it.

I

had

to

believe

it.

“You’re

all

they

have,”

Mom

said.

Her

last

words

to

me.

The

mind

was

the

last

thing

to

go,

washed

away

in

the

red

waters

of

the

Tsunami.

The

virus

took

total

control.

Some

people

went

into

a

frenzy

as

it

boiled

their

brains.

They

punched,

clawed,

kicked,

bit.

Like

the

virus

that

needed

us

also

hated

us

and

couldn’t

wait

to

get

rid

of

us.

My

mother

looked

at

my

dad

and

didn’t

know

him.

Didn’t

know

where

she

was.

Who

shewas.

What

was

happening

to

her.

There

was

this,

like,

permanent,

creepy

smile,

cracked

lips

pulled

back

from

bleeding

gums,

her

teeth

stained

with

blood.

Sounds

came

out

of

her

mouth,

but

they

weren’t

words.

The

place

in

her

brain

that

made

words

was

packed

with

virus,

and

the

virus

didn’t

know

language—it

knew

only

how

to

make

more

of

itself.

And

then

my

mother

died

in

a

fury

of

jerks

and

gargled

screams,

her

uninvited

guests

rocketing

out

of

every

orifice,

because

she

was

done,

they’d

used

her

up,

time

to

turn

off

the

lights

and

find

a

new

home.

Dad

bathed

her

one

last

time.

Combed

her

hair.

Scrubbed

the

dried

blood

from

her

teeth.

When

he

came

to

tell

me

she

was

gone,

he

was

calm.

He

didn’t

lose

it.

He

held

me

while

I

lost

it.

Now

I

was

watching

him

through

the

kitchen

window.

Kneeling

beside

her

in

the

rose

bed,

thinking

no

one

could

see

him,

my

father

let

go

of

the

rope

he’d

been

clinging

to,

loosened

the

line

that

had

kept

him

steady

all

that

time

while

everyone

around

him

went

into

free

fall.

I

made

sure

Sammy

was

okay

and

went

outside.

I

sat

next

to

him.

Put

my

hand

on

hisshoulder.

The

last

time

I’d

touched

my

father,

it

was

a

lot

harder

and

with

my

fist.

I

didn’t

say

anything,

and

he

didn’t,

either,

not

for

a

long

time.

He

slipped

something

into

my

hand.

Mom’s

wedding

ring.

He

said

she’d

want

me

to

have

it.

“We’re

leaving,

Cassie.

Tomorrow

morning.”

I

nodded.

I

knew

she

was

the

only

reason

we

hadn’t

left

yet.

The

delicate

stems

onthe

roses

bobbed

and

swayed,

as

if

echoing

my

nod.

“Where

are

we

going?”

“Away.”

He

looked

around,

and

his

eyes

were

wide

and

frightened.

“It

isn’t

safe

anymore.”

Duh,

I

thought.

When

was

it

ever?

“Wright-Patterson

Air

Force

Base

is

just

over

a

hundred

miles

from

here.

If

we

pushand

the

weather

stays

good,

we

can

be

there

in

five

or

six

days.”

“And

then

what?”

The

Others

had

conditioned

us

to

think

this

way:Okay,

this,

and

then

what?

I

looked

to

my

father

to

tell

me.

He

was

the

smartest

man

I

knew.

If

he

didn’t

have

an

answer,

there

was

no

one

who

did.

I

sure

didn’t.

And

I

sure

wanted

him

to.

I

needed

him

to.

He

shook

his

head

like

he

didn’t

understand

the

question.

“What’s

at

Wright-Patterson?”

I

asked.

“I

don’t

know

that

anything’s

there.”

He

tried

out

a

smile

and

grimaced,

like

smiling

hurt.

“Then

why

are

we

going?”

“Because

we

can’t

stay

here,”

he

said

through

gritted

teeth.

“And

if

we

can’t

stayhere,

we

have

to

go

somewhere.

If

there’s

anything

like

a

government

left

at

all…”

He

shook

his

head.

He

hadn’t

come

outside

for

this.

He

had

come

outside

to

bury

his

wife.

“Go

inside,

Cassie.”

“I’ll

help

you.”

“I

don’t

need

your

help.”

“She’s

my

mother.

I

loved

her,

too.

Please

let

me

help.”

I

was

crying

again.

He

didn’tsee.

He

wasn’t

looking

at

me,

and

he

wasn’t

looking

at

Mom.

He

wasn’t

looking

at

anything,really.

There

was,

like,

this

black

hole

where

the

world

used

to

be,

and

we

were

both

falling

toward

it.

What

could

we

hold

on

to?

I

pulled

his

hand

off

Mom’s

body

and

pressed

it

against

my

cheek

and

told

him

I

loved

him

and

that

Mom

loved

him

and

that

everything

would

be

okay,

and

the

black

hole

lost

a

little

of

its

strength.

“Go

inside,

Cassie,”

he

said

gently.

“Sammy

needs

you

more

than

she

does.”

I

went

inside.

Sammy

was

sitting

on

the

floor

in

his

room,

playing

with

his

X-wingstarfighter,

destroying

the

Death

Star.

“Shroooooom,

shroooooom.

I’m

going

in,

Red

One!”

And

outside,

my

father

knelt

in

the

freshly

turned

earth.

Brown

dirt,

red

rose,

graysky,

white

sheet.

12

I

GUESS

I

have

to

talk

about

Sammy

now.

I

don’t

know

how

else

to

get

there.

There

being

that

first

inch

in

the

open,

where

the

sunlight

kissed

my

scraped-up

cheek

when

I

slid

out

from

under

the

Buick.

That

first

inch

was

the

hardest.

The

longestinch

in

the

universe.

The

inch

that

stretched

a

thousand

miles.

There

being

that

place

on

the

highway

where

I

turned

to

face

the

enemy

I

couldn’t

see.

There

being

the

one

thing

that’s

kept

me

from

going

completely

crazy,

the

thing

the

Others

haven’t

been

able

to

take

from

me

after

taking

everything

from

me.

Sammy

is

the

reason

I

didn’t

give

up.

Why

I

didn’t

stay

beneath

that

car

and

wait

for

the

end.

The

last

time

I

saw

him

was

through

the

back

window

of

a

school

bus.

His

foreheadpressing

against

the

glass.

Waving

at

me.

And

smiling.

Like

he

was

going

on

a

field

trip:

excited,

nervous,

not

scared

at

all.

Being

with

all

those

other

kids

helped.

And

the

school

bus,

which

was

so

normal.

What’s

more

everyday

than

a

big,

yellow

school

bus?

So

ordinary,

in

fact,

that

the

sight

of

them

pulling

into

the

refugee

camp

after

the

last

four

months

of

horror

was

shocking.

It

was

like

seeing

a

McDonald’s

on

the

moon.

Totally

weird

and

crazy

and

something

that

just

shouldn’t

be.

We’d

been

in

the

camp

only

a

couple

of

weeks.

Of

the

fifty

or

so

people

there,

ours

was

the

only

family.

Everybody

else

was

a

widow,

a

widower,

an

orphan.

The

last

ones

standing

in

their

family,

strangers

before

coming

to

the

camp.

The

oldest

was

probably

in

his

sixties.

Sammy

was

the

youngest,

but

there

were

seven

other

kids,

none

except

me

older

than

fourteen.

The

camp

lay

twenty

miles

east

of

where

we

lived,

hacked

out

of

the

woods

during

the

3rd

Wave

to

build

a

field

hospital

after

the

ones

in

town

had

reached

full

capacity.

The

buildings

were

slapped

together,

made

out

of

hand-sawed

lumber

and

salvaged

tin,

one

main

ward

for

the

infected

and

a

smaller

shack

for

the

two

doctors

who

tended

the

dying

before

they,

too,

were

sucked

down

by

the

Red

Tsunami.

There

was

a

summer

garden

and

a

system

that

captured

rainwater

for

washing

and

bathing

and

drinking.

We

ate

and

slept

in

the

big

building.

Between

five

and

six

hundred

people

had

bled

out

in

there,

but

the

floor

and

walls

had

been

bleached

and

the

cots

they

died

on

had

been

burned.

It

still

smelled

faintly

of

the

Pestilence

(a

little

like

soured

milk),

and

the

bleach

hadn’t

removed

all

the

bloodstains.

There

were

patterns

of

tiny

spots

covering

the

walls

and

long,

sickle-shaped

stains

on

the

floor.

It

was

like

living

in

a

3-D

abstract

painting.

The

shack

was

a

combination

storehouse

and

weapons

cache.

Canned

vegetables,

packagedmeats,

dry

goods,

and

staples,

like

salt.

Shotguns,

pistols,

semiautomatics,

even

a

couple

of

flare

guns.

Every

man

walked

around

armed

to

the

teeth;

it

was

the

Wild

West

all

over

again.

A

shallow

pit

had

been

dug

a

few

hundred

yards

into

the

woods

behind

the

compound.

The

pit

was

for

burning

bodies.

We

weren’t

allowed

to

go

back

there,

so

of

course

me

and

some

of

the

older

kids

did.

There

was

this

one

creep

they

called

Crisco,

Iguess

because

of

his

long,

greased-back

hair.

Crisco

was

thirteen

and

a

trophy

hunter.

He’d

actually

wade

into

the

ashes

to

scavenge

for

jewelry

and

coins

and

anything

else

he

might

find

valuable

or

“interesting.”

He

swore

he

didn’t

do

it

because

he

was

a

sicko.

“This

is

the

difference

now,”

he

would

say,

chortling,

sorting

through

his

latest

haul

with

crudencrusted

fingernails,

his

hands

gloved

in

the

gray

dust

of

human

remains.

The

difference

between

what?

“Between

being

the

Man

or

not.

The

barter

system

is

back,

baby!”

Holding

up

a

diamondnecklace.

“And

when

it’s

all

over

except

for

the

shouting,

the

people

with

the

good

stuff

are

going

to

call

the

shots.”

The

idea

that

they

wanted

to

kill

all

of

us

still

wasn’t

something

that

had

occurred

to

anyone,

even

the

adults.

Crisco

saw

himself

as

one

of

the

Native

Americans

who

sold

Manhattan

for

a

handful

of

beads,

not

as

a

dodo

bird,

which

was

a

lot

closer

to

the

truth.

Dad

had

heard

about

the

camp

a

few

weeks

back,

when

Mom

started

showing

early

symptoms

of

the

Pestilence.

He

tried

to

get

Mom

to

go,

but

she

knew

there

was

nothing

anyonecould

do.

If

she

was

going

to

die,

she

wanted

to

do

it

in

her

own

home,

not

in

some

bogus

hospice

in

the

middle

of

the

woods.

Then

later,

as

she

was

entering

the

final

hours,

the

rumor

came

around

that

the

hospital

had

been

turned

into

a

rendezvous

point,

a

kind

of

survivor

safe

house,

far

enough

from

town

to

be

reasonably

safe

in

the

next

wave,

whatever

that

was

going

to

be

(though

the

smart

money

was

on

some

kind

of

aerial

bombardment),

but

close

enough

for

the

People

in

Charge

to

find

when

they

came

to

rescue

us—if

there

were

People

in

Charge

and

if

they

came.

The

unofficial

boss

of

the

camp

was

a

retired

marine

named

Hutchfield.

He

was

a

humanLEGO

person:

square

hands,

square

head,

square

jaw.

Wore

the

same

muscle

tee

every

day,

stained

with

something

that

might

have

been

blood,

though

his

black

boots

always

sported

a

mirror

finish.

He

shaved

his

head

(though

not

his

chest

or

back,

which

he

really

should

have

considered).

He

was

covered

in

tattoos.

And

he

liked

guns.

Two

on

his

hip,

one

tucked

behind

his

back,

another

slung

over

his

shoulder.

No

one

carried

more

guns

than

Hutchfield.

Maybe

thathad

something

to

do

with

his

being

the

unofficial

boss.

Sentries

had

spotted

us

coming,

and

when

we

reached

the

dirt

road

that

led

into

the

woods

to

the

camp,

Hutchfield

was

there

with

another

guy

named

Brogden.

I’m

prettysure

we

were

supposed

to

notice

the

firepower

draped

all

over

their

bodies.

Hutchfield

ordered

us

to

split

up.

He

was

going

to

talk

to

Dad;

Brogden

got

me

and

Sams.

I

toldHutchfield

what

I

thought

about

that

idea.

You

know,

like

where

exactly

on

his

tattooed

behind

he

could

stick

it.

I’d

just

lost

one

parent.

I

wasn’t

too

keen

on

the

idea

of

losing

another.

“It’s

all

right,

Cassie,”

my

father

said.

“We

don’t

know

these

guys,”

I

argued

with

him.

“They

could

be

just

another

bunch

of

Twigs,

Dad.”

Twigs

was

street

for

“thugs

with

guns,”

the

murderers,

rapists,

black

marketers,

kidnappers,

and

just

your

general

punks

who

showed

up

midway

through

the

3rd

Wave,

the

reason

people

barricaded

their

houses

and

stockpiled

food

and

weapons.

It

wasn’t

the

aliens

that

first

made

us

gear

up

for

war;

it

was

our

fellow

humans.

“They’re

just

being

careful,”

Dad

argued

back.

“I’d

do

the

same

thing

in

their

position.”He

patted

me.

I

was

like,

Damn

it,

old

man,

if

you

give

me

that

g.d.

condescending

little

pat

one

more

time…

“It’ll

be

fine,

Cassie.”

He

went

off

with

Hutchfield,

out

of

earshot

but

still

in

sight.

That

made

me

feel

a

little

better.

I

hauled

Sammy

onto

my

hip

and

did

my

best

to

answer

Brogden’s

questions

without

popping

him

with

my

free

hand.

What

were

our

names?

Where

were

we

from?

Was

anyone

in

our

party

infected?

Was

there

anything

we

could

tell

him

about

what

was

going

on?

What

had

we

seen?

What

had

we

heard?

Why

were

we

here?

“You

mean

here

at

this

camp,

or

are

you

being

existential?”

I

asked.

His

eyebrows

drew

together

into

a

single

harsh

line,

and

he

said,

“Huh?”

“If

you’d

asked

me

that

before

all

this

shit

happened,

I’d

have

said

something

like,‘We’re

here

to

serve

our

fellow

man

or

contribute

to

society.’

If

I

wanted

to

be

a

smartass,

I’d

say,

‘Because

if

we

weren’t

here,

we’d

be

somewhere

else.’

But

since

all

this

shit

has

happened,

I’m

going

to

say

it’s

because

we’re

just

dumb

lucky.”

He

squinted

at

me

for

a

second

before

saying

snarkily,

“You

are

a

smartass.”

I

don’t

know

how

Dad

answered

that

question,

but

apparently

it

passed

inspection,

because

we

were

allowed

into

camp

with

full

privileges,

which

meant

Dad

(not

me,

though)

was

allowed

to

have

his

pick

of

weapons

from

the

cache.

Dad

had

a

thing

about

guns.

Never

liked

them.

Said

guns

might

not

kill

people,

but

they

sure

made

it

easier.

Now

he

didn’t

think

they

were

dangerous

so

much

as

he

thought

they

were

ridiculously

lame.

“How

effective

do

you

think

our

guns

are

going

to

be

against

a

technology

thousands,

if

not

millions,

of

years

ahead

of

ours?”

he

asked

Hutchfield.

“It’s

like

using

a

club

and

stones

against

a

tactical

missile.”

The

argument

was

lost

on

Hutchfield.

He

was

a

marine,

for

God’s

sake.

His

rifle

washis

best

friend,

his

most

trusted

companion,

the

answer

to

every

possible

question.

I

didn’t

get

that

back

then.

I

get

it

now.

13

IN

GOOD

WEATHER,

everyone

stayed

outside

until

it

was

time

to

go

to

bed.

That

ramshackle

building

had

a

bad

vibe.

Because

of

why

it

was

built.

Why

it

existed.

What

had

broughtit—and

us—

into

these

woods.

Some

nights

the

mood

was

light,

almost

like

a

summer

camp

where

by

some

miracle

everybody

liked

one

another.

Someone

would

say

they

heard

the

sound

of

a

helicopter

that

afternoon,

which

would

set

off

a

round

of

hopeful

speculation

that

the

People

in

Charge

were

getting

their

acts

together

and

preparing

for

the

counterpunch.

Other

times

the

mood

was

darker

and

angst

was

heavy

in

the

twilight

air.

We

were

the

lucky

ones.

We’d

survived

the

EMP

attack,

the

obliteration

of

the

coasts,

the

plague

that

wasted

everyone

we

knew

and

loved.

We’d

beaten

the

odds.

We’d

stared

into

the

face

of

Death,

and

Death

blinked

first.

You’d

think

that

would

make

us

feel

brave

and

invincible.

It

didn’t.

We

were

like

the

Japanese

who

survived

the

initial

blast

of

the

Hiroshima

bomb.

We

didn’t

understand

why

we

were

still

here,

and

we

weren’t

completely

sure

we

wanted

to

be.

We

told

the

stories

of

our

lives

before

the

Arrival.

We

cried

openly

over

the

ones

we

lost.

We

wept

secretly

for

our

smartphones,

our

cars,

our

microwave

ovens,

and

the

Internet.

We

watched

the

night

sky.

The

mothership

would

stare

down

at

us,

a

pale

green,

malevolent

eye.

There

were

debates

about

where

we

should

go.

It

was

pretty

much

understood

we

couldn’tsquat

in

these

woods

indefinitely.

Even

if

the

Others

weren’t

coming

anytime

soon,

winter

was.

We

had

to

find

better

shelter.

We

had

several

months’

worth

of

supplies—or

less,

depending

upon

how

many

more

refugees

wandered

into

camp.

Did

we

wait

for

rescue

or

hit

the

road

to

find

it?

Dad

was

all

for

the

latter.

He

still

wanted

to

check

out

Wright-Patterson.

If

there

were

People

in

Charge,

the

odds

were

a

lot

better

we’d

find

them

there.

I

got

sick

of

it

after

a

while.

Talking

about

the

problem

had

replaced

actually

doing

something

about

it.

I

was

ready

to

tell

Dad

we

should

tell

these

douchebags

to

stuffit,

take

off

for

WrightPatterson

with

whoever

wanted

to

go

with

us

and

screw

the

rest.

Sometimes,

I

thought,

strength

in

numbers

was

a

highly

overrated

concept.

I

brought

Sammy

inside

and

put

him

to

bed.

Said

his

prayer

with

him.

“‘Now

I

lay

medown

to

sleep…’”

To

me,

just

random

noise.

Gibberish.

I

wasn’t

sure

exactly

what

it

was,

but

I

felt

that,

when

it

came

to

God,

there

was

a

broken

promise

in

there

somewhere.

It

was

a

clear

night.

The

moon

was

full.

I

felt

comfortable

enough

to

take

a

walk

in

the

woods.

Somebody

in

camp

had

picked

up

a

guitar.

The

melody

skipped

along

the

trail,

followingme

into

the

woods.

It

was

the

first

music

I’d

heard

since

the

1st

Wave.

“And,

in

the

end,

we

lie

awake

And

we

dream

of

making

our

escape.”

Suddenly

I

just

wanted

to

curl

into

a

little

ball

and

cry.

I

wanted

to

take

off

throughthose

woods

and

keep

running

until

my

legs

fell

off.

I

wanted

to

puke.

I

wanted

to

scream

until

my

throat

bled.

I

wanted

to

see

my

mother

again,

and

Lizbeth

and

all

my

friends,

even

the

friends

I

didn’t

like,

and

Ben

Parish,

just

to

tell

him

I

loved

him

and

wanted

to

have

his

baby

more

than

I

wanted

to

live.

The

song

faded,

was

drowned

out

by

the

definitely

less

melodic

song

of

the

crickets.

A

twig

snapped.

And

a

voice

came

out

of

the

woods

behind

me.

“Cassie!

Wait

up!”

I

kept

walking.

I

recognized

that

voice.

Maybe

I’d

jinxed

myself,

thinking

about

Ben.Like

when

you’re

craving

chocolate

and

the

only

thing

in

your

backpack

is

a

half-crushed

bag

of

Skittles.

“Cassie!”

Now

he

was

running.

I

didn’t

feel

like

running,

so

I

let

him

catch

up

to

me.

That

was

one

thing

that

hadn’t

changed:

The

one

sure

way

of

not

being

alone

was

wantingto

be

alone.

“Whatcha

doing?”

Crisco

asked.

He

was

pulling

hard

for

air.

Bright

red

cheeks.

Shinytemples,

maybe

from

all

the

hair

grease.

“Isn’t

it

obvious?”

I

shot

back.

“I’m

building

a

nuclear

device

to

take

out

the

mothership.”

“Nukes

won’t

do

it,”

he

said,

squaring

his

shoulders.

“We

should

build

Fermi’s

steam

cannon.”

“Fermi?”

“The

guy

who

invented

the

bomb.”

“I

thought

that

was

Oppenheimer.”

He

seemed

impressed

I

knew

something

about

history.

“Well,

maybe

he

didn’t

invent

it,

but

he

was

the

godfather.”

“Crisco,

you’re

a

freak,”

I

said.

That

sounded

harsh,

so

I

added,

“But

I

didn’t

knowyou

before

the

invasion.”

“You

dig

this

big

hole.

Put

a

warhead

at

the

bottom.

Fill

the

hole

with

water

and

cap

it

off

with

a

few

hundred

tons

of

steel.

The

explosion

turns

the

water

instantly

into

steam,

which

shoots

the

steel

into

space

at

six

times

the

speed

of

sound.”

“Yeah,”

I

said.

“Somebody

should

definitely

do

that.

Is

that

why

you’re

stalking

me?

You

want

me

to

help

you

build

a

nuclear

steam

cannon?”

“Can

I

ask

you

something?”

“No.”

“I’m

serious.”

“So

am

I.”

“If

you

had

twenty

minutes

to

live,

what

would

you

do?”

“I

don’t

know,”

I

answered.

“But

it

wouldn’t

have

anything

to

do

with

you.”

“How

come?”

He

didn’t

wait

for

an

answer.

He

probably

figured

it

wasn’t

somethinghe

wanted

to

hear.

“What

if

I

was

the

last

person

on

Earth?”

“If

you

were

the

last

person

on

Earth,

I

wouldn’t

be

here

to

do

anything

with

you.”

“Okay.

What

if

we

were

the

last

two

people

on

Earth?”

“Then

you’d

still

end

up

being

the

last,

because

I’d

kill

myself.”

“You

don’t

like

me.”

“Really,

Crisco?

What

was

your

first

clue?”

“Say

we

saw

them,

right

here,

right

now,

coming

down

to

finish

us

off.

What

would

you

do?”

“I

don’t

know.

Ask

them

to

kill

you

first.

What’s

the

point,

Crisco?”

“Are

you

a

virgin?”

he

asked

suddenly.

I

stared

at

him.

He

was

totally

serious.

But

most

thirteen-year-old

boys

are

whenit

comes

to

hormonal

issues.

“Screw

you,”

I

said,

and

brushed

past

him,

heading

back

toward

the

camp.

Bad

choice

of

words.

He

trotted

after

me

and

not

one

strand

of

plastered-down

hair

moved

as

he

ran.

It

was

like

a

shiny

black

helmet.

“I’m

serious,

Cassie,”

he

puffed.

“These

are

the

times

when

any

night

could

be

your

last

night.”

“Dork,

it

was

that

way

before

they

came,

too.”

He

grabbed

my

wrist.

Tugged

me

around.

Pushed

his

wide,

greasy

face

close

to

mine.

I

had

an

inch

on

him,

but

he

had

twenty

pounds

on

me.

“Do

you

really

want

to

die

without

knowing

what

it’s

like?”

“How

do

you

know

I

don’t?”

I

said,

yanking

free.

“Don’t

ever

touch

me

again.”

Changingthe

subject.

“Nobody’s

gonna

know,”

he

said.

“I

won’t

tell

anyone.”

He

tried

to

grab

me

again.

I

slapped

his

hand

away

with

my

left

and

popped

him

hard

in

the

nose

with

the

open

palm

of

my

right.

It

opened

up

a

faucet

of

bright

red

blood.

It

ran

into

his

mouth,

and

he

gagged.

“Bitch,”

he

gasped.

“At

least

you’ve

got

someone.

At

least

everybody

you

ever

friggingknew

in

your

life

isn’t

dead.”

He

busted

out

in

tears.

Fell

onto

the

path

and

gave

in

to

it,

the

bigness

of

it,

the

big

Buick

that’s

parked

over

you,

the

horrible

feeling

that,

as

bad

as

it’s

been,

it’s

going

to

get

worse.

Ah,

crap.

I

sat

on

the

path

next

to

him.

Told

him

to

lean

his

head

back.

He

complained

that

made

the

blood

run

down

his

throat.

“Don’t

tell

anybody,”

he

begged.

“I’ll

lose

my

cred.”

I

laughed.

I

couldn’t

help

it.

“Where’d

you

learn

to

do

that?”

he

asked.

“Girl

Scouts.”

“There’s

badges

for

that?”

“There’s

badges

for

everything.”

Actually,

it

was

seven

years

of

karate

classes.

I

dropped

karate

last

year.

Don’t

remember

my

reasons

now.

They

seemed

like

good

ones

at

the

time.

“I’m

one,

too,”

he

said.

“What?”

He

spat

a

wad

of

blood

and

mucus

into

the

dirt.

“A

virgin.”

What

a

shock.

“What

makes

you

think

I’m

a

virgin?”

I

asked.

“You

wouldn’t

have

hit

me

if

you

weren’t.”

14

ON

OUR

SIXTH

DAY

in

camp,

I

saw

a

drone

for

the

first

time.

Glittering

gray

in

the

bright

afternoon

sky.

There

was

a

lot

of

shouting

and

running

around,

people

grabbing

guns,

waving

their

hats

and

shirts

or

just

spazzing

in

general:

crying,

jumping,

hugging,

high-fiving

one

another.

They

thought

they

were

rescued.

Hutchfield

and

Brogden

tried

to

calmeverybody

down,

but

weren’t

very

successful.

The

drone

zipped

across

the

sky,

disappeared

behind

the

trees,

then

came

back,

slower

this

time.

From

the

ground,

it

looked

like

a

blimp.

Hutchfield

and

Dad

huddled

in

the

doorway

of

the

barracks,

watching

it,

swapping

a

pair

of

binoculars

back

and

forth.

“No

wings.

No

markings.

And

did

you

see

that

first

pass?

Mach

2

at

least.

Unless

we’velaunched

some

kind

of

classified

aircraft,

no

way

this

thing

is

terrestrial.”

As

he

spoke,

Hutchfield

was

popping

his

fist

up

and

down

in

the

dirt,

beating

out

a

rhythm

to

match

the

words.

Dad

agreed.

We

were

herded

into

the

barracks.

Dad

and

Hutchfield

hovered

in

the

doorway,

still

swapping

the

binoculars

back

and

forth.

“Is

it

the

aliens?”

Sammy

asked.

“Are

they

coming,

Cassie?”

“Shhh.”

I

looked

over

and

saw

Crisco

watching

me.

Twenty

minutes,

he

mouthed.

“If

they

come,

I’m

going

to

beat

them

up,”

Sammy

whispered.

“I’m

going

to

karate

kickthem

and

I’m

going

to

kill

them

all!”

“That’s

right,”

I

said,

nervously

running

my

hand

over

his

hair.

“I’m

not

going

to

run,”

he

said.

“I’m

going

to

kill

them

for

killing

Mommy.”

The

drone

vanished—straight

up,

Dad

told

me

later.

If

you

blinked,

you

missed

it.

We

reacted

to

the

drone

the

way

anyone

would

react.

We

freaked.

Some

people

ran.

Grabbed

whatever

they

could

carry

and

raced

into

the

woods.

Somejust

took

off

with

the

clothes

on

their

backs

and

the

fear

in

their

guts.

Nothing

Hutchfield

said

could

stop

them.

The

rest

of

us

huddled

in

the

barracks

until

night

came

on,

then

we

took

the

freakout

party

to

the

next

level.

Had

they

spotted

us?

Were

the

Stormtroopers

or

clone

army

or

robot

walkers

next?

Were

we

about

to

be

fried

by

laser

cannons?

It

was

pitch-black.

We

couldn’t

see

a

foot

in

front

of

our

noses,

because

we

didn’t

dare

light

the

kerosene

lamps.

Frantic

whispers.

Muffled

crying.

Huddled

on

our

cots,

jumping

at

every

little

sound.

Hutchfield

assigned

the

best

marksmen

to

the

night

watch.

If

it

moved,

shoot

it.

No

one

was

allowed

outside

without

permission.

And

Hutchfield

never

gave

permission.

That

night

lasted

a

thousand

years.

Dad

came

up

to

me

in

the

dark

and

pressed

something

into

my

hands.

A

loaded

semiautomatic

Luger.

“You

don’t

believe

in

guns,”

I

whispered.

“I

used

to

not

believe

in

a

lot

of

things.”

A

lady

started

to

recite

the

Lord’s

Prayer.

We

called

her

Mother

Teresa.

Big

legs.

Skinny

arms.

A

faded

blue

dress.

Wispy

gray

hair.

Somewhere

along

the

way

she

had

lost

her

dentures.

She

was

always

working

her

beads

and

talking

to

Jesus.

A

few

others

joined

her.

Then

some

more.

“‘Forgive

us

our

trespasses,

as

we

forgive

those

who

trespass

against

us.’”

At

which

point

her

arch

nemesis,

the

sole

atheist

in

Camp

Ashpit’s

foxhole,

a

college

professor

named

Dawkins,

shouted

out,

“Particularly

those

of

extraterrestrial

origin!”

“You’re

going

to

hell!”

a

voice

yelled

at

him

in

the

dark.

“How

will

I

know

the

difference?”

Dawkins

hollered

back.

“Quiet!”

Hutchfield

called

softly

from

his

spot

in

the

doorway.

“Stow

that

praying,

people!”

“His

judgment

has

come

upon

us,”

Mother

Teresa

wailed.

Sammy

scooted

closer

to

me

on

the

cot.

I

shoved

the

gun

between

my

legs.

I

was

afraidhe

might

grab

it

and

accidently

blow

my

head

off.

“Shut

up,

all

of

you!”

I

said.

“You’re

scaring

my

brother.”

“I’m

not

scared,”

Sammy

said.

His

little

fist

twisting

in

my

shirt.

“Are

you

scared,

Cassie?”

“Yes,”

I

said.

I

kissed

the

top

of

his

head.

His

hair

smelled

a

little

sour.

I

decided

to

wash

it

in

the

morning.

If

we

were

still

there

in

the

morning.

“No,

you’re

not,”

he

said.

“You’re

never

scared.”

“I’m

so

scared

right

now,

I

could

pee

my

pants.”

He

giggled.

His

face

felt

warm

in

the

crook

of

my

arm.

Did

he

have

a

fever?

That’show

it

starts.

I

told

myself

I

was

being

paranoid.

He’d

been

exposed

a

hundred

times.

And

the

Red

Tsunami

roars

in

fast

once

you’re

exposed,

unless

you

have

immunity.

And

Sammy

had

to

have

it.

If

he

didn’t,

he’d

already

be

dead.

“You

better

put

on

a

diaper,”

he

teased

me.

“Maybe

I

will.”

“‘Though

I

walk

through

the

valley

of

the

shadow

of

death…’”

She

wasn’t

going

to

stop.I

could

hear

her

beads

clicking

in

the

dark.

Dawkins

was

humming

loudly

to

drown

her

out.

“Three

Blind

Mice.”

I

couldn’t

decide

who

was

more

annoying,

the

fanatic

or

the

cynic.

“Mommy

said

they

might

be

angels,”

Sammy

said

suddenly.

“Who?”

I

asked.

“The

aliens.

When

they

first

came,

I

asked

if

they

came

to

kill

us,

and

she

said

maybethey

weren’t

aliens

at

all.

Maybe

they

were

angels

from

heaven,

like

in

the

Bible

when

the

angels

talk

to

Abraham

and

to

Mary

and

to

Jesus

and

everybody.”

“They

sure

talked

a

lot

more

to

us

back

then,”

I

said.

“But

then

they

did

kill

us.

They

killed

Mommy.”

He

started

to

cry.

“‘Thou

prepared

a

table

for

me

in

the

presence

of

my

enemies.’”

I

kissed

the

top

of

his

head

and

rubbed

his

arms.

“‘Thou

anointed

my

head

with

oil.’”

“Cassie,

does

God

hate

us?”

“No.

I

don’t

know.”

“Does

he

hate

Mommy?”

“Of

course

not.

Mommy

was

a

good

person.”

“Then

why

did

he

let

her

die?”

I

shook

my

head.

I

felt

heavy

all

over,

like

I

weighed

twenty

thousand

tons.

“‘My

cup

runneth

over.’”

“Why

did

he

let

the

aliens

come

and

kill

us?

Why

doesn’t

God

stop

them?”

“Maybe,”

I

whispered

slowly.

Even

my

tongue

felt

heavy.

“Maybe

he

will.”

“‘Surely

goodness

and

mercy

will

follow

me

all

the

days

of

my

life.’”

“Don’t

let

them

get

me,

Cassie.

Don’t

let

me

die.”

“You’re

not

going

to

die,

Sams.”

“Promise?”

I

promised.

15

THE

NEXT

DAY,

the

drone

came

back.

Or

a

different

drone,

identical

to

the

first.

The

Others

probably

hadn’t

traveledall

the

way

from

another

planet

with

just

one

in

the

hold.

It

moved

slowly

across

the

sky.

Silent.

No

growl

of

an

engine.

No

hum.

Just

gliding

soundlessly,

like

a

fishing

lure

drawn

through

still

water.

We

hustled

into

the

barracks.

No

one

had

to

tell

us.

I

found

myself

sitting

on

a

cot

next

to

Crisco.

“I

know

what

they’re

going

to

do,”

he

whispered.

“Don’t

talk,”

I

whispered

back.

He

nodded,

and

said,

“Sonic

bombs.

You

know

what

happens

when

you’re

blasted

with

two

hundred

decibels?

Your

eardrums

shatter.

Your

lungs

bust

open

and

air

gets

into

your

bloodstream,

and

then

your

heart

collapses.”

“Where

do

you

come

up

with

this

crap,

Crisco?”

Dad

and

Hutchfield

were

crouched

by

the

open

door

again.

They

watched

the

same

spotfor

several

minutes.

Apparently,

the

drone

had

frozen

in

the

sky.

“Here,

I

got

you

something,”

Crisco

said.

It

was

a

diamond

pendant

necklace.

Bodybooty

from

the

ash

pit.

“That’s

disgusting,”

I

told

him.

“Why?

It’s

not

like

I

stole

it

or

anything.”

He

pouted.

“I

know

what

it

is.

I’m

notstupid.

It’s

not

the

necklace.

It’s

me.

You’d

take

it

in

a

heartbeat

if

you

thought

I

was

hot.”

I

wondered

if

he

was

right.

If

Ben

Parish

had

dug

the

necklace

out

of

the

pit,

would

I

have

taken

the

gift?

“Not

that

I

think

you

are,”

Crisco

added.

Bummer.

Crisco

the

grave

robber

didn’t

think

I

was

hot.

“Then

why

do

you

want

to

give

it

to

me?”

“I

was

a

douche

that

night

in

the

woods.

I

don’t

want

you

to

hate

me.

Think

I’m

a

creeper.”

A

little

late

for

that.

“I

don’t

want

dead

people’s

jewelry,”

I

said.

“Neither

do

they,”

he

said,

meaning

dead

people.

He

wasn’t

going

to

leave

me

alone.

I

scooted

up

to

sit

behind

Dad.

Over

his

shoulder,

I

saw

a

tiny

gray

dot,

a

silvery

freckle

on

the

unblemished

skin

of

the

sky.

“What’s

happening?”

I

whispered.

Right

when

I

said

that,

the

dot

disappeared.

Moved

so

fast,

it

seemed

to

wink

out.

“Reconnaissance

flights,”

Hutchfield

breathed.

“Has

to

be.”

“We

had

satellites

that

could

read

someone’s

watch

from

orbit,”

Dad

said

quietly.

“If

we

could

do

that

with

our

primitive

technology,

why

would

they

need

to

leave

their

ship

to

spy

on

us?”

“You

got

a

better

theory?”

Hutchfield

didn’t

like

his

decisions

being

questioned.

“They

may

have

nothing

to

do

with

us,”

Dad

pointed

out.

“These

things

might

be

atmospheric

probes

or

devices

used

to

measure

something

they

can’t

calibrate

from

space.

Or

they’re

looking

for

something

that

can’t

be

detected

until

we’re

mostly

neutralized.”

Then

Dad

sighed.

I

knew

that

sigh.

It

meant

he

believed

something

was

true

that

hedidn’t

want

to

be

true.

“It

comes

down

to

a

simple

question,

Hutchfield:

Why

are

they

here?

Not

to

rape

theplanet

for

our

resources—there’s

plenty

of

those

spread

evenly

throughout

the

universe,

so

you

don’t

have

to

travel

hundreds

of

light-years

to

get

them.

Not

to

kill

us,

though

killing

us—or

most

of

us—is

necessary.

They’re

like

a

landlord

who

kicks

out

a

deadbeat

renter

so

he

can

get

the

house

cleaned

up

for

the

new

tenant;

I

think

this

has

always

been

about

getting

the

place

ready.”

“Ready?

Ready

for

what?”

Dad

smiled

humorlessly.

“Moving

day.”

16

AN

HOUR

BEFORE

DAWN.

Our

last

day

at

Camp

Ashpit.

A

Sunday.

Sammy

beside

me.

Little

kid

snuggly

warm,

hand

on

his

bear,

other

hand

on

my

chest,

curled-up

pudgy

baby-fist.

The

best

part

of

the

day.

Those

few

seconds

when

you’re

awake

but

empty.

You

forget

where

you

are.

What

you

are

now,

what

you

were

before.

It’s

all

breath

and

heartbeat

and

blood

moving.

Like

being

in

your

mother’s

womb

again.

The

peace

of

the

void.

That’s

what

I

thought

the

sound

was

at

first.

My

own

heartbeat.

Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa.

Faint,

then

louder,

then

really

loud,

loud

enough

to

feel

the

beat

on

your

skin.

A

glow

sprang

up

in

the

room,

grew

brighter.

People

were

stumbling

around,

yanking

on

clothes,

fumbling

for

guns.

The

bright

glow

faded,

came

back.

Shadows

jumped

acrossthe

floor,

raced

up

the

ceiling.

Hutchfield

was

yelling

at

everyone

to

stay

calm.

It

wasn’t

working.

Everyone

recognized

the

sound.

And

everyone

knew

what

that

sound

meant.

Rescue!

Hutchfield

tried

to

block

off

the

doorway

with

his

body.

“Stay

inside!”

he

hollered.

“We

don’t

want

to—”

He

was

shoved

out

of

the

way.

Oh

yes,

we

do.

We

poured

out

the

doorway

and

stood

in

the

yard

and

waved

at

the

helicopter,

a

Black

Hawk,

as

it

made

another

sweep

of

the

compound,

black

against

the

lightening

dark

of

the

predawn

sky.

The

spotlight

stabbed

down,

blinding

us,

but

most

of

us

were

already

blinded

by

tears.

We

jumped,

we

shouted,

we

hugged

one

another.

A

couple

of

people

were

waving

little

American

flags,

and

I

remember

wondering

where

the

hell

they

got

those.

Hutchfield

was

furiously

screaming

at

us

to

get

back

inside.

Nobody

listened.

He

wasn’tthe

boss

of

us

anymore.

The

People

in

Charge

had

arrived.

And

then,

just

as

unexpectedly

as

it

had

come,

the

helicopter

made

one

last

turn

and

thundered

out

of

sight.

The

sound

of

its

rotors

faded.

A

heavy

silence

flooded

in

after

it.

We

were

confused,

stunned,

frightened.

They

must

have

seen

us.

Why

didn’t

they

land?

We

waited

for

the

helicopter

to

come

back.

All

morning

we

waited.

People

packed

up

their

things.

Speculated

about

where

they

would

take

us,

what

it

would

be

like,

how

many

others

would

be

there.

A

Black

Hawk

helicopter!

What

else

had

survived

the

1stWave?

We

dreamed

of

electric

lights

and

hot

showers.

No

one

doubted

we’d

be

rescued

now

that

the

People

in

Charge

knew

about

us.

Help

wason

its

way.

Dad,

being

Dad,

of

course,

wasn’t

so

sure.

“They

may

not

come

back,”

he

said.

“They

wouldn’t

just

leave

us

here,

Dad,”

I

said.

Sometimes

you

had

to

talk

to

himlike

he

was

Sammy’s

age.

“How

does

that

make

sense?”

“It

may

not

have

been

a

search

and

rescue.

They

might

have

been

looking

for

something

else.”

“The

drone?”

The

one

that

had

crashed

a

week

earlier.

He

nodded.

“Still,

they

know

we’re

here

now,”

I

said.

“They’ll

do

something.”

He

nodded

again.

Absently,

like

he

was

thinking

about

something

else.

“They

will,”

he

said.

He

looked

hard

at

me.

Do

you

still

have

the

gun?”

I

patted

my

back

pocket.

He

threw

his

arm

around

me

and

led

me

to

the

storehouse.

He

pulled

aside

an

old

tarp

lying

in

a

corner.

Underneath

it

was

an

M16

semiautomatic

assault

rifle.

The

same

rifle

that

would

become

my

bestie

after

everyone

else

was

gone.

He

picked

it

up

and

turned

it

in

his

hands,

inspecting

the

rifle

with

that

same

absentminded

professor

look

in

his

eyes.

“What

do

you

think?”

he

whispered.

“About

that?

It’s

totally

badass.”

He

didn’t

jump

on

me

for

the

language.

Instead,

he

gave

a

little

laugh.

He

showed

me

how

it

worked.

How

to

hold

it.

How

to

aim.

How

to

switch

out

a

clip.

“Here,

you

try.”

He

held

it

toward

me.

I

think

he

was

pleasantly

surprised

by

what

a

quick

study

I

was.

And

my

coordinationwas

pretty

good,

thanks

to

the

karate

lessons.

Dance

classes

have

nothing

on

karate

when

it

comes

to

developing

grace.

“Keep

it,”

he

said

when

I

tried

to

hand

it

back.

“I

hid

it

in

here

for

you.”

“Why?”

I

asked.

Not

that

I

minded

having

it,

but

he

was

freaking

me

out

a

little.While

everyone

else

was

celebrating,

my

father

was

giving

me

training

in

firearms.

“Do

you

know

how

to

tell

who

the

enemy

is

in

wartime,

Cassie?”

His

eyes

darted

aroundthe

shack.

Why

couldn’t

he

look

at

me?

“The

guy

who’s

shooting

at

you—that’s

how

you

tell.

Don’t

forget

that.”

He

nodded

toward

the

gun.

“Don’t

walk

around

with

it.

Keep

it

close,

but

keep

it

hidden.

Not

in

here

and

not

in

the

barracks.

Okay?”

Shoulder

pat.

Shoulder

pat

not

quite

enough.

Big

hug.

“From

now

on,

never

let

Sam

out

of

your

sight.

Understand,

Cassie?

Never.

Now

go

findhim.

I’ve

got

to

see

Hutchfield.

And

Cassie?

If

someone

tries

to

take

that

rifle

fromyou,

you

tell

them

to

bring

it

up

with

me.

And

if

they

still

try

to

take

it,

shoot

them.”

He

smiled.

Not

with

his

eyes,

though.

His

eyes

were

as

hard

and

blank

and

cold

as

a

shark’s.

He

was

lucky,

my

dad.

All

of

us

were.

Luck

had

carried

us

through

the

first

three

waves.

But

even

the

best

gambler

will

tell

you

that

luck

only

lasts

so

long.

I

thinkmy

dad

had

a

feeling

that

day.

Not

that

our

luck

had

run

out.

No

one

could

know

that.

But

I

think

he

knew

in

the

end

it

wouldn’t

be

the

lucky

ones

left

standing.

It

would

be

the

hardcore.

The

ones

who

tell

Lady

Luck

to

go

screw

herself.

The

ones

with

hearts

of

stone.

The

ones

who

could

let

a

hundred

die

so

one

might

live.

The

ones

who

see

the

wisdom

in

torching

a

village

in

order

to

save

it.

The

world

was

FUBAR

now.

And

if

you’re

not

okay

with

that,

you’re

just

a

corpse

waiting

to

happen.

I

took

the

M16

and

hid

it

behind

a

tree

bordering

the

path

to

the

ash

pit.

17

THE

LAST

REMNANT

of

the

world

I

knew

ripped

apart

on

a

sunny,

warm

Sunday

afternoon.

Heralded

by

the

growl

of

diesel

engines,

the

rumble

and

squeak

of

axles,

the

whine

of

air

brakes.

Our

sentries

spotted

the

convoy

long

before

it

reached

the

compound.

Saw

the

bright

sunlight

glinting

off

windows

and

the

plumes

of

dust

trailing

the

huge

tires

like

contrails.

We

didn’t

rush

out

to

greet

them

with

flowers

and

kisses.

We

stayed

back

while

Hutchfield,

Dad,

and

our

four

best

shooters

went

out

to

meet

them.

Everyone

was

feeling

a

little

spooked.

And

a

lot

less

enthusiastic

than

we’d

been

just

a

few

hours

before.

Everything

we’d

expected

to

happen

since

the

Arrival

didn’t.

Everything

we

hadn’t

did.

It

took

two

whole

weeks

into

the

3rd

Wave

for

us

to

realize

that

the

deadly

flu

was

part

of

their

plan.

Still,

you

tend

to

believe

what

you

always

believed,

think

what

you

always

thought,

expect

what

you

always

expected,

so

it

was

never

“Will

we

be

rescued?”

It

was

“When

will

we

be

rescued?”

And

when

we

saw

exactly

what

we

wanted

to

see,

what

we

expected

to

see—the

big

flatbed

loaded

with

soldiers,

the

Humvees

bristling

with

machine

gun

turrets

and

surface-to-air

launchers—

we

still

held

back.

Then

the

school

buses

pulled

into

view.

Three

of

them,

bumper

to

bumper.

Packed

with

kids.

Nobody

expected

that.

Like

I

said,

it

was

so

weirdly

normal,

so

shockingly

surreal.Some

of

us

actually

laughed.

A

yellow

freaking

school

bus!

Where

the

hell

is

the

school?

After

a

few

tense

minutes,

where

all

we

could

hear

was

the

throaty

snarl

of

engines

and

the

faint

laughter

and

calls

of

the

children

on

the

buses,

Dad

left

Hutchfield

talking

to

the

commander

and

came

over

to

me

and

Sammy.

A

knot

of

people

gathered

around

us

to

listen

in.

“They’re

from

Wright-Patterson,”

Dad

said.

He

sounded

out

of

breath.

“And

apparentlya

lot

more

of

our

military

has

survived

than

we

thought.”

“Why

are

they

wearing

gas

masks?”

I

asked.

“It’s

precautionary,”

he

answered.

“They’ve

been

in

lockdown

since

the

plague

hit.

We’ve

all

been

exposed;

we

could

be

carriers.”

He

looked

down

at

Sammy,

who

was

pressed

up

against

me,

his

arms

wrapped

around

my

leg.

“They’ve

come

for

the

children,”

Dad

said.

“Why?”

I

asked.

“What

about

us?”

Mother

Teresa

demanded.

“Aren’t

they

going

to

take

us,

too?”

“He

says

they’re

coming

back

for

us.

Right

now

there’s

only

room

for

the

children.”

Looking

at

Sammy.

“They’re

not

splitting

us

up,”

I

said

to

Dad.

“Of

course

not.”

He

turned

away

and

abruptly

marched

into

the

barracks.

Came

out

again,carrying

my

backpack

and

Sammy’s

bear.

“You’re

going

with

him.”

He

didn’t

get

it.

“I’m

not

going

without

you,”

I

said.

What

was

it

about

guys

like

my

father?

Somebodyin

charge

shows

up

and

they

check

their

brains

at

the

door.

“You

heard

what

he

said!”

Mother

Teresa

cried

shrilly,

shaking

her

beads.

“Just

the

children!

If

anyone

else

goes,

it

should

be

me…women.

That’s

how

it’s

done.

Women

and

children

first!

Women

and

children.”

Dad

ignored

her.

There

went

the

hand

on

my

shoulder.

I

shrugged

his

hand

away.

“Cassie,

they

have

to

get

the

most

vulnerable

to

safety

first.

I’ll

be

just

a

few

hours

behind

you—”

“No!”

I

shouted.

“We

all

stay

or

we

all

go,

Dad.

Tell

them

we’ll

be

fine

here

until

they

get

back.

I

can

take

care

of

him.

I’ve

been

taking

care

of

him.”

“And

you

will

take

care

of

him,

Cassie,

because

you’re

going,

too.”

“Not

without

you.

I

won’t

leave

you

here,

Dad.”

He

smiled

like

I

had

said

something

kiddy-cute.

“I

can

take

care

of

myself.”

I

couldn’t

put

it

into

words,

this

feeling

like

a

hot

coal

in

my

gut,

that

splitting

up

what

was

left

of

our

family

would

be

the

end

of

our

family.

That

if

I

left

himbehind

I

would

never

see

him

again.

Maybe

it

wasn’t

rational,

but

the

world

I

lived

in

wasn’t

rational

anymore.

Dad

pried

Sammy

from

my

leg,

slung

him

onto

his

hip,

grabbed

my

elbow

with

his

free

hand,

and

marched

us

toward

the

buses.

You

couldn’t

see

the

soldiers’

faces

through

the

buggy-looking

gas

masks.

But

you

could

read

the

names

stitched

onto

their

green

camouflage.

GREENE.

WALTERS.

PARKER.

Good,

solid,

all-American

names.

And

the

American

flags

on

their

sleeves.

And

the

way

they

held

themselves,

erect

but

loose,

alert

but

relaxed.

Coiled

springs.

The

way

you

expect

soldiers

to

look.

We

reached

the

last

bus

in

the

line.

The

children

inside

shouted

and

waved

at

us.

It

was

all

one

big

adventure.

The

burly

soldier

at

the

door

raised

his

hand.

His

name

patch

said

BRANCH.

“Children

only,”

he

said,

his

voice

muffled

by

the

mask.

“I

understand,

Corporal,”

Dad

said.

“Cassie,

why

are

you

crying?”

Sammy

said.

His

little

hand

reached

for

my

face.

Daddy

lowered

him

to

the

ground.

Knelt

to

bring

his

face

close

to

Sammy’s.

“You’re

going

on

a

trip,

Sam,”

Dad

said.

“These

nice

army

men

are

taking

you

to

a

place

where

you’ll

be

safe.”

“Aren’t

you

coming,

Daddy?”

Tugging

on

Dad’s

shirt

with

his

tiny

hands.

“Yes.

Yes,

Daddy’s

coming,

just

not

yet.

Soon,

though.

Very

soon.”

He

pulled

Sammy

into

his

arms.

Last

hug.

“You

be

good

now.

You

do

what

the

nice

army

men

tell

you.

Okay?”

Sammy

nodded.

Slipped

his

hand

into

mine.

“Come’n,

Cassie.

We’re

going

to

ride

a

bus!”

The

black

mask

whipped

around.

A

gloved

hand

went

up.

“Just

the

boy.”

I

started

to

tell

him

to

stuff

it.

I

wasn’t

happy

about

leaving

Dad

behind,

but

Sammywasn’t

going

anywhere

without

me.

The

corporal

cut

me

off.

“Only

the

boy.”

“She’s

his

sister,”

Dad

tried.

He

was

being

reasonable.

“And

she’s

a

child,

too.

She’s

only

sixteen.”

“She’ll

have

to

stay

here,”

the

corporal

said.

“Then

he’s

not

getting

on,”

I

said,

wrapping

both

arms

around

Sammy’s

chest.

He’d

have

to

pull

my

damn

arms

off

to

take

my

little

brother.

There

was

this

awful

moment

when

the

corporal

didn’t

say

anything.

I

had

the

urge

to

rip

the

mask

off

his

head

and

spit

in

his

face.

The

sun

glinted

off

the

visor,

a

hateful

ball

of

light.

“You

want

him

to

stay?”

“I

want

him

to

stay

with

me,”

I

corrected

him.

“On

the

bus.

Off

the

bus.

Whatever.

With

me.”

“No,

Cassie,”

Dad

said.

Sammy

started

to

cry.

He

got

it:

It

was

Daddy

and

the

soldier

against

me

and

him,and

there

was

no

winning

that

battle.

He

got

it

before

I

did.

“He

can

stay,”

the

soldier

said.

“But

we

can’t

guarantee

his

safety.”

“Oh,

really?”

I

shouted

into

his

bug-face.

“You

think?

Whose

safety

can

you

guarantee?”

“Cassie…,”

Dad

started.

“You

can’t

guarantee

shit,”

I

yelled.

The

corporal

ignored

me.

“It’s

your

call,

sir,”

he

said

to

Dad.

“Dad,”

I

said.

“You

heard

him.

He

can

stay

with

us.”

Dad

chewed

on

his

bottom

lip.

He

lifted

his

head

and

scratched

under

his

chin,

and

his

eyes

regarded

the

empty

sky.

He

was

thinking

about

the

drones,

about

what

he

knew

and

what

he

didn’t

know.

He

was

remembering

what

he’d

learned.

He

was

weighing

odds

and

calculating

probabilities

and

ignoring

the

little

voice

piping

up

from

the

deepest

part

of

him:

Don’t

let

him

go.

So

of

course

he

did

the

most

reasonable

thing.

He

was

a

responsible

adult,

and

that’s

what

responsible

adults

do.

The

reasonable

thing.

“You’re

right,

Cassie,”

he

said

finally.

“They

can’t

guarantee

our

safety—no

one

can.

But

some

places

are

safer

than

others.”

He

grabbed

Sammy’s

hand.

“Come

on,

sport.”

“No!”

Sammy

screamed,

tears

streaming

down

bright

red

cheeks.

“Not

without

Cassie!”

“Cassie’s

going,”

Dad

said.

“We’re

both

going.

We’ll

be

right

behind

you.”

“I’ll

protect

him,

I’ll

watch

him,

I

won’t

let

anything

happen

to

him,”

I

pleaded.“They’re

coming

back

for

the

rest

of

us,

right?

We’ll

just

wait

for

them

to

come

back.”

I

pulled

on

his

shirt

and

put

on

my

best

pleading

face.

The

one

that

usually

got

me

what

I

wanted.

“Please,

Daddy,

don’t

do

this.

It

isn’t

right.

We

have

to

stay

together,

we

have

to.”

It

wasn’t

going

to

work.

He

had

that

hard

look

in

his

eyes

again:

cold,

clamped

down,remorseless.

“Cassie,”

he

said.

“Tell

your

brother

it’s

okay.”

And

I

did.

After

I

told

myself

it

was

okay.

I

told

myself

to

trust

Dad,

trust

thePeople

in

Charge,

trust

the

Others

not

to

incinerate

the

school

buses

full

of

children,

trust

that

trust

itself

hadn’t

gone

the

way

of

computers

and

microwavable

popcorn

and

the

Hollywood

movie

where

the

slimeballs

from

Planet

Xercon

are

defeated

in

the

final

ten

minutes.

I

knelt

on

the

dusty

ground

in

front

of

my

little

brother.

“You

need

to

go,

Sams,”

I

said.

His

fat

lower

lip

bobbed

up

and

down.

Clutching

thebear

to

his

chest.

“But,

Cassie,

who’s

going

to

hold

you

when

you’re

scared?”

He

was

being

totally

serious.

He

looked

so

much

like

Dad

with

that

concerned

little

frown

that

I

almost

laughed.

“I’m

not

scared

anymore.

And

you

shouldn’t

be

scared,

either.

The

soldiers

are

here

now,

and

they’re

going

to

make

us

safe.”

I

looked

up

at

Corporal

Branch.

“Isn’t

that

right?”

“That’s

right.”

“He

looks

like

Darth

Vader,”

Sammy

whispered.

“Sounds

like

him,

too.”

“Right,

and

remember

what

happens?

He

turns

into

a

good

guy

at

the

end.”

“Only

after

he

blows

up

a

whole

planet

and

kills

a

lot

of

people.”

I

couldn’t

help

it—I

laughed.

God,

he

was

smart.

Sometimes

I

thought

he

was

smarterthan

me

and

Dad

combined.

“You’re

going

to

come

later,

Cassie?”

“You

bet

I

am.”

“Promise?”

I

promised.

Whatever

happened.

No.

Matter.

What.

That

was

all

he

needed

to

hear.

He

pushed

the

teddy

bear

into

my

chest.

“Sam?”

“For

when

you’re

scared.

But

don’t

leave

him.”

He

held

up

a

tiny

finger

to

emphasizehis

point.

“Don’t

forget.”

He

stuck

out

his

hand

to

the

corporal.

“Lead

on,

Vader!”

Gloved

hand

engulfed

pudgyhand.

The

first

step

was

almost

too

high

for

his

little

legs.

The

kids

inside

squealed

and

clapped

when

he

turned

the

corner

and

hit

the

center

aisle.

Sammy

was

the

last

to

board.

The

door

closed.

Dad

tried

to

put

his

arm

around

me.I

stepped

away.

The

engine

revved.

The

air

brakes

hissed.

And

there

was

his

face

against

the

smudged

glass

and

his

smile

as

he

rocketed

across

a

galaxy

far,

far

away

in

his

yellow

X-wing

starfighter,

jumping

to

warp

speed,

until

the

dusty

yellow

spaceship

was

swallowed

by

dust.

18

“THIS

WAY,

SIR,”

the

corporal

said

politely,

and

we

followed

him

back

to

the

compound.Two

Humvees

had

left

to

escort

the

buses

back

to

Wright-Patterson.

The

remaining

Humveessat

facing

the

barracks

and

the

storage

shed,

the

barrels

of

their

mounted

machine

guns

pointing

at

the

ground,

like

the

dipped

heads

of

some

metallic

creatures

dozing.

The

compound

was

empty.

Everybody—including

the

soldiers—had

gone

inside

the

barracks.

Everybody

except

one.

As

we

walked

up,

Hutchfield

came

out

of

the

storage

shed.

I

don’t

know

what

was

beaming

brighter,

his

shaved

head

or

his

smile.

“Outstanding,

Sullivan!”

he

boomed

at

Dad.

“And

you

wanted

to

bug

out

after

that

first

drone.”

“Looks

like

I

was

wrong,”

Dad

said

with

a

tight

smile.

“Briefing

by

Colonel

Vosch

in

five

minutes.

But

first

I

need

your

ordnance.”

“My

what?”

“Your

weapon.

Colonel’s

orders.”

Dad

glanced

at

the

soldier

standing

beside

us.

The

blank,

black

eyes

of

the

mask

stared

back

at

him.

“Why?”

Dad

asked.

“You

need

an

explanation?”

Hutchfield’s

smile

stayed

put,

but

his

eyes

narrowed.

“I

would

like

one,

yes.”

“It’s

SOP,

Sullivan,

standard

operating

procedure.

You

can’t

have

a

bunch

of

untrained,

inexperienced

civilians

packing

heat

in

wartime.”

Talking

down

to

him,

like

he

was

a

moron.

He

held

out

his

hand.

Dad

pulled

the

rifle

slowly

from

his

shoulder.

Hutchfield

snatched

the

rifle

from

Dad

and

disappeared

into

the

storehouse.

Dad

turned

to

the

corporal.

“Has

anyone

made

contact

with

the…”

He

searched

for

theright

word.

“The

Others?”

One

word,

spoken

in

a

raspy

monotone:

“No.”

Hutchfield

came

out

and

smartly

saluted

the

corporal.

He

was

neck-deep

in

his

elementnow,

back

with

his

brothers

in

arms.

He

was

bursting

all

over

with

excitement,

like

any

second

he

would

pee

himself.

“All

weapons

accounted

for

and

secured,

Corporal.”

All

except

two,

I

thought.

I

looked

at

Dad.

He

didn’t

move

a

muscle,

except

the

ones

around

his

eyes.

Flick

to

the

right,

flick

to

the

left.

No.

There

was

only

one

reason

I

could

think

of

that

he’d

do

that.

And

when

I

think

about

it,

if

I

think

too

much

about

it,

I

start

to

hate

my

father.

Hate

him

for

distrusting

his

own

instincts.

Hate

him

for

ignoring

the

little

voice

that

must

have

been

whispering,

This

is

wrong.

Something

about

this

is

wrong.

I

hate

him

right

now.

If

he

were

here

right

now,

I’d

punch

him

in

the

face

for

being

such

an

ignorant

dweeb.

The

corporal

motioned

toward

the

barracks.

It

was

time

for

Colonel

Vosch’s

briefing.

Time

for

the

world

to

end.

19

I

PICKED

OUT

Vosch

right

away.

Standing

just

inside

the

door,

very

tall,

the

only

guy

in

fatigues

not

cradling

a

rifle

against

his

chest.

He

nodded

to

Hutchfield

when

we

stepped

inside

the

old

hospital/charnel

house.

ThenCorporal

Branch

gave

a

salute

and

squeezed

into

the

line

of

soldiers

that

ringed

the

walls.

That’s

how

it

was:

soldiers

standing

along

three

of

the

four

walls,

refugees

in

the

middle.

Dad’s

hand

sought

out

mine.

Sammy’s

teddy

in

one

hand,

the

other

hanging

on

to

his.

How

about

it,

Dad?

Did

that

little

voice

get

louder

when

you

saw

the

men

with

gunsagainst

the

walls?

Is

that

why

you

grabbed

my

hand?

“All

right,

now

can

we

get

some

answers?”

someone

shouted

when

we

stepped

inside.

Everybody

started

to

talk

at

once—everyone

except

the

soldiers—shouting

out

questions.

“Have

they

landed?”

“What

do

they

look

like?”

“What

are

they?”

“What

are

those

gray

ships

we

keep

seeing

in

the

sky?”

“When

do

the

rest

of

us

get

to

leave?”

“How

many

survivors

have

you

found?”

Vosch

held

up

his

hand

for

quiet.

It

only

half

worked.

Hutchfield

gave

him

a

smart

salute.

“All

present

and

accounted

for,

sir!”

I

did

a

quick

head

count.

“No,”

I

said.

I

raised

my

voice

to

be

heard

over

the

din.

“No!”

I

looked

at

Dad.

“Crisco’s

not

here.”

Hutchfield

frowned.

“Who’s

Crisco?”

“He’s

this

cree—this

kid—”

“Kid?

Then

he

left

on

the

buses

with

the

others.”

The

others.

It’s

kind

of

funny

when

I

think

about

it

now.

Funny

in

a

sickening

way.

“We

need

everyone

in

this

building,”

Vosch

said

from

behind

his

mask.

His

voice

was

very

deep,

a

subterranean

rumble.

“He

probably

had

a

freakout,”

I

said.

“He’s

kind

of

a

wuss.”

“Where

would

he

go?”

Vosch

asked.

I

shook

my

head.

I

had

no

clue.

Then

I

did,

more

than

a

clue.

I

knew

where

Crisco

had

gone.

“The

ash

pit.”

“Where

is

the

ash

pit?”

“Cassie,”

Dad

spoke

up.

He

was

squeezing

my

hand

hard.

“Why

don’t

you

go

get

Criscofor

us

so

the

colonel

can

start

our

briefing?”

“Me?”

I

didn’t

get

it.

I

think

Dad’s

little

voice

was

screaming

by

this

point,

but

I

couldn’thear

it,

and

he

couldn’t

say

it.

All

he

could

do

was

try

to

telegraph

it

with

his

eyes.

Maybe

it

was

this:

Do

you

know

how

to

tell

who

the

enemy

is,

Cassie?

I

don’t

know

why

he

didn’t

volunteer

to

go

with

me.

Maybe

he

thought

they

wouldn’tsuspect

a

kid

of

anything,

and

one

of

us

would

make

it—or

at

least

have

a

chance

to

make

it.

Maybe.

“All

right,”

Vosch

said.

He

flicked

his

finger

at

Corporal

Branch:

Go

with

her.

“She’ll

be

okay

alone,”

Dad

said.

“She

knows

those

woods

likethe

back

of

her

hand.

Five

minutes,

right,

Cassie?”

He

looked

at

Vosch

and

smiled.

“Five

minutes.”

“Don’t

be

a

dumbass,

Sullivan,”

Hutchfield

said.

“She

can’t

go

out

there

without

an

escort.”

“Sure,”

Dad

said.

“Right.

You’re

right,

of

course.”

He

leaned

over

and

gave

me

a

hug.

Not

too

tight,

not

too

long.

A

quick

hug.

Squeeze.Release.

Anything

more

would

seem

like

a

good-bye.

Good-bye,

Cassie.

Branch

turned

to

his

commander

and

said,

“First

priority,

sir?”

And

Vosch

nodded.

“First

priority.”

We

stepped

into

the

bright

sunshine,

the

man

in

the

gas

mask

and

the

girl

with

the

teddy

bear.

Straight

ahead

a

couple

of

soldiers

were

leaning

against

a

Humvee.

I

hadn’tseen

them

when

we

passed

the

Humvees

before.

They

straightened

at

the

sight

of

us.

Corporal

Branch

gave

them

a

thumbs-up

and

then

held

up

his

index

finger.

First

priority.

“How

far

is

it?”

he

asked

me.

“Not

far,”

I

answered.

My

voice

sounded

very

small

to

me.

Maybe

it

was

Sammy’s

teddy,

tugging

me

back

to

childhood.

He

followed

me

down

the

trail

that

snaked

into

the

dense

woods

behind

the

compound,

rifle

held

in

front

of

him,

barrel

down.

The

dry

ground

crunched

in

protest

under

his

brown

boots.

The

day

was

warm,

but

it

was

cooler

under

the

trees,

their

leaves

a

rich,

late-summer

green.

We

passed

the

tree

where

I’d

stashed

the

M16.

I

didn’t

look

back

at

it.

I

kept

walking

toward

the

clearing.

And

there

he

was,

the

little

shit,

up

to

his

ankles

in

bones

and

dust,

clawing

through

the

broken

remains

for

that

last,

useless,

priceless

trinket,

one

more

for

the

road

so

whenever

he

got

to

where

the

road

ended

he’d

be

the

Man.

His

head

came

around

when

we

stepped

inside

the

ring

of

trees.

Glistening

with

sweat

and

the

crap

he

slopped

in

his

hair.

Streaks

of

black

soot

stained

his

cheeks.

He

looked

like

some

sorry-ass

excuse

of

a

football

player.

When

he

saw

us,

his

hand

whipped

behind

his

back.

Something

silver

flashed

in

the

sun.

“Hey!

Cassie?

Hey,

there

you

are.

I

came

back

here

looking

for

you

because

you

weren’tin

the

barracks,

and

then

I

saw…there

was

this—”

“Is

he

the

one?”

the

soldier

asked

me.

He

slung

the

rifle

over

his

shoulder

and

tooka

step

toward

the

pit.

It

was

me,

the

soldier

in

the

middle,

and

Crisco

in

the

pit

of

ash

and

bone.

“Yeah,”

I

said.

“That’s

Crisco.”

“That’s

not

my

name,”

he

squeaked.

“My

real

name

is—”

I’ll

never

know

Crisco’s

real

name.

I

didn’t

see

the

gun

or

hear

the

report

of

the

soldier’s

sidearm.

I

didn’t

see

the

soldier

draw

it

from

his

holster,

but

I

wasn’t

looking

at

the

soldier,

I

was

looking

at

Crisco.

His

head

snapped

back,

like

someone

had

yanked

on

his

greasy

locks,

and

he

sort

of

folded

up

as

he

went

down,

clutching

the

treasures

of

the

dead

in

his

hand.

20

MY

TURN.

The

girl

wearing

the

backpack

and

carrying

the

ridiculous

teddy

bear,

standing

just

a

couple

of

yards

behind

him.

The

soldier

pivoted,

arm

extended.

My

memory’s

a

little

fuzzy

about

this

next

part.

I

don’t

remember

dropping

the

bear

or

yanking

the

gun

from

my

back

pocket.

I

don’t

even

remember

pulling

the

trigger.

The

next

clear

memory

I

have

is

of

the

black

visor

shattering.

And

the

soldier

falling

to

his

knees

in

front

of

me.

And

seeing

his

eyes.

His

three

eyes.

Well,

of

course

I

realized

later

he

didn’t

really

have

three

eyes.

The

one

in

the

middle

was

the

blackened

entry

wound

of

the

bullet.

It

must

have

shocked

him

to

turn

around

and

see

a

gun

pointed

at

his

face.

It

made

him

hesitate.

How

long?

A

second?

Less

than

a

second?

But

in

that

millisecond,

eternitycoiled

on

itself

like

a

giant

anaconda.

If

you’ve

ever

been

through

a

traumatic

accident,

you

know

what

I’m

talking

about.

How

long

does

a

car

crash

last?

Ten

seconds?

Five?

It

doesn’t

feel

that

short

if

you’re

in

it.

It

feels

like

a

lifetime.

He

pitched

over

face-first

into

the

dirt.

There

was

no

question

I’d

wasted

him.

Mybullet

had

blasted

a

pie

plate–sized

hole

in

the

back

of

his

head.

But

I

didn’t

lower

the

gun.

I

kept

it

pointed

at

his

half

head

as

I

backed

toward

the

trail.

Then

I

turned

and

ran

like

hell.

In

the

wrong

direction.

Toward

the

compound.

Not

smart.

But

I

wasn’t

thinking

at

that

point.

I’m

only

sixteen,

and

this

was

thefirst

person

I’d

shot

point-blank

in

the

face.

I

was

having

trouble

dealing.

I

just

wanted

to

get

back

to

Dad.

Dad

would

fix

this.

Because

that’s

what

dads

do.

They

fix

things.

My

mind

didn’t

register

the

sounds

at

first.

The

woods

echoed

with

the

staccato

bursts

of

automatic

weapons

and

people

screaming,

but

it

wasn’t

computing,

like

Crisco’s

head

snapping

back

and

the

way

he

flopped

into

the

gray

dust

like

every

bone

in

his

body

had

suddenly

turned

into

Jell-O,

the

way

his

killer

had

swung

around

in

a

perfectly

executed

pirouette

with

the

barrel

of

the

gun

flashing

in

the

sunlight.

The

world

was

ripping

apart.

And

pieces

of

the

wreckage

were

raining

all

around

me.

It

was

the

beginning

of

the

4th

Wave.

I

skittered

to

a

stop

before

reaching

the

compound.

The

hot

smell

of

gunpowder.

Wisps

of

smoke

curling

out

of

the

barrack

windows.

There

was

a

person

crawling

toward

the

storage

shed.

It

was

my

father.

His

back

was

arched.

His

face

was

covered

in

dirt

and

blood.

The

ground

behind

myfather

was

pockmarked

with

my

father’s

blood.

He

looked

over

as

I

came

out

of

the

trees.

No,

Cassie,

he

mouthed.

Then

his

arms

gave

out.

He

toppled

over,

lay

still.

A

soldier

emerged

from

the

barracks.

He

strolled

over

to

my

father.

Easy,

catlike

grace,

shoulders

relaxed,

arms

loose

at

his

sides.

I

backed

into

the

trees.

I

raised

the

gun.

But

I

was

over

a

hundred

feet

away.

If

I

missed…

It

was

Vosch.

He

seemed

even

taller

standing

over

the

crumpled

form

of

my

father.

Dad

wasn’t

moving.

I

think

he

was

playing

dead.

It

didn’t

matter.

Vosch

shot

him

anyway.

I

don’t

remember

making

any

noise

when

he

pulled

the

trigger.

But

I

must

have

done

something

to

set

off

Vosch’s

Spidey

sense.

The

black

mask

whipped

around,

sunlight

flashing

off

the

visor.

He

held

up

his

index

finger

toward

two

soldiers

coming

out

of

the

barracks,

then

jabbed

his

thumb

in

my

direction.

First

priority.

21

THEY

TOOK

OFF

toward

me

like

a

couple

of

cheetahs.

That’s

how

fast

they

seemed

tomove.

I’d

never

seen

anyone

run

that

fast

in

my

life.

The

only

thing

that

comes

close

is

a

scared-shitless

girl

who’s

just

seen

her

father

murdered

in

the

dirt.

Leaf,

branch,

vine,

bramble.

The

rush

of

air

in

my

ears.

The

rapid-firescuf

scuf

scuf

of

my

shoes

on

the

trail.

Shards

of

blue

sky

through

the

canopy,

blades

of

sunlight

impaling

the

shattered

earth.

The

rippedapart

world

careened.

I

slowed

as

I

neared

the

spot

where

I’d

hidden

my

father’s

last

present

to

me.

Mistake.The

highcaliber

rounds

smacked

into

the

tree

trunk

two

inches

from

my

ear.

The

impact

sent

fragments

of

pulverized

wood

into

my

face.

Tiny,

hair-thin

slivers

embedded

themselves

in

my

cheek.

Do

you

know

how

to

tell

who

the

enemy

is,

Cassie?

I

couldn’t

outrun

them.

I

couldn’t

outgun

them.

Maybe

I

could

outsmart

them.

22

THEY

ENTERED

THE

CLEARING,

and

the

first

thing

they

saw

was

the

body

of

Corporal

Branch,

or

whatever

it

was

that

called

itself

Corporal

Branch.

“There’s

one

over

there,”

I

heard

one

say.

The

crunch

of

heavy

boots

in

a

bowlful

of

brittle

bones.

“Dead.”

The

cackle

of

a

static

frequency,

then:

“Colonel,

we’ve

got

Branch

and

one

unidentified

civilian.

That’s

a

negative,

sir.

Branch

is

KIA,

repeat

Branch

is

KIA.”

Now

he

spoketo

his

buddy,

the

one

standing

by

Crisco.

“Vosch

wants

us

back

ASAP.”

Crunch-crunch

said

the

bones

as

he

heaved

himself

out

of

the

pit.

“She

ditched

this.”

My

backpack.

I

tried

to

throw

it

into

the

woods,

as

far

away

from

the

pit

as

I

could.But

it

hit

a

tree

and

landed

just

inside

the

far

edge

of

the

clearing.

“Strange,”

the

voice

said.

“It’s

okay,”

his

buddy

said.

“The

Eye

will

take

care

of

her.”

The

Eye?

Their

voices

faded.

The

sound

of

the

woods

at

peace

returned.

A

whisper

of

wind.

The

warble

of

birds.

Somewhere

in

the

brush

a

squirrel

fussed.

Still,

I

didn’t

move.

Each

time

the

urge

to

run

started

to

rise

up

in

me,

I

squashed

it

down.

No

hurry

now,

Cassie.

They’ve

done

what

they’ve

come

to

do.

You

have

to

stay

here

till

dark.

Don’t

move!

So

I

didn’t.

I

lay

still

inside

the

bed

of

dust

and

bones,

covered

by

the

ashes

oftheir

victims,

the

Others’

bitter

harvest.

And

I

tried

not

to

think

about

it.

What

I

was

covered

in.

Then

I

thought,

These

bones

were

people,

and

these

people

saved

my

life,

and

then

I

didn’t

feel

so

creeped.

They

were

just

people.

They

didn’t

ask

to

be

there

any

more

than

I

did.

But

they

werethere

and

I

was

there,

so

I

lay

still.

It’s

weird,

but

it

was

almost

like

I

felt

their

arms,

warm

and

soft,

enfolding

me.

I

don’t

know

how

long

I

lay

there,

with

the

arms

of

dead

people

holding

me.

It

feltlike

hours.

When

I

finally

stood

up,

the

sunlight

had

aged

to

a

golden

sheen

and

the

air

had

turned

a

little

cooler.

I

was

covered

head

to

toe

in

gray

ash.

I

must

have

looked

like

a

Mayan

warrior.

The

Eye

will

take

care

of

her.

Was

he

talking

about

the

drones,

an

eye-in-the-sky

thing?

And

if

he

was

talking

about

the

drones,

then

this

wasn’t

some

rogue

unit

scouring

the

countryside

to

waste

possible

carriers

of

the

3rd

Wave

so

the

unexposed

wouldn’t

be

infected.

That

would

definitely

be

bad.

But

the

alternative

would

be

much,

much

worse.

I

trotted

over

to

my

backpack.

The

deep

woods

called

to

me.

The

more

distance

I

putbetween

myself

and

them,

the

better

it

was

gonna

be.

Then

I

remembered

my

father’s

gift,

far

up

the

path,

practically

within

spitting

distance

of

the

compound.

Crap,

why

hadn’t

I

stashed

it

in

the

ash

pit?

It

sure

might

prove

more

useful

than

a

handgun.

I

didn’t

hear

anything.

Even

the

birds

had

gone

mum.

Just

wind.

Its

fingers

trailedthrough

the

mounds

of

ash,

flicking

it

into

the

air,

where

it

danced

fitfully

in

the

golden

light.

They

were

gone.

It

was

safe.

But

I

hadn’t

heard

them

leave.

Wouldn’t

I

have

heard

the

roar

of

the

flatbed

motor,

the

growl

of

the

Humvees

as

they

left?

Then

I

remembered

Branch

stepping

toward

Crisco.

Is

he

the

one?

Swinging

the

rifle

behind

his

shoulder.

The

rifle.

I

crept

over

to

the

body.

My

footfalls

sounded

like

thunder.

My

own

breathlike

mini

explosions.

He

had

fallen

facedown

at

my

feet.

Now

he

was

faceup,

though

that

face

was

still

mostlyhidden

by

the

gas

mask.

His

sidearm

and

rifle

were

gone.

They

must

have

taken

them.

For

a

second

I

didn’tmove.

And

moving

was

a

very

good

idea

at

that

juncture

of

the

battle.

This

wasn’t

part

of

the

3rd

Wave.

This

was

something

completely

different.

It

wasthe

beginning

of

the

4th,

definitely.

And

maybe

the

4th

Wave

was

a

sick

version

of

Close

Encounters

of

the

Third

Kind.

Maybe

Branch

wasn’t

human

and

that’s

why

he

was

wearing

a

mask.

I

knelt

beside

the

dead

soldier.

Grasped

the

top

of

the

mask

firmly,

and

pulled

until

I

could

see

his

eyes,

very

human-looking

brown

eyes,

staring

sightlessly

into

my

face.

I

kept

pulling.

Stopped.

I

wanted

to

see

and

I

didn’t

want

to

see.

I

wanted

to

know

but

I

didn’t

want

to

know.

Just

go.

It

doesn’t

matter,

Cassie.

Does

it

matter?

No.

It

doesn’t

matter.

Sometimes

you

say

things

to

your

fear—things

like

It

doesn’t

matter,

the

words

acting

like

pats

on

the

head

of

a

hyper

dog.

I

stood

up.

No,

it

really

didn’t

matter

if

the

soldier

had

a

mouth

like

a

lobster

or

looked

like

Justin

Bieber’s

twin

brother.

I

grabbed

Sammy’s

teddy

from

the

dirt

and

headed

for

the

far

side

of

the

clearing.

Something

stopped

me,

though.

I

didn’t

head

off

into

the

woods.

I

didn’t

rush

offto

embrace

the

one

thing

with

the

best

chance

to

save

me:

distance.

It

might

have

been

the

teddy

bear

that

did

it.

When

I

picked

it

up,

I

saw

my

brother’sface

pressed

against

the

back

window

of

the

bus,

heard

his

little

voice

inside

my

head.

For

when

you’re

scared.

But

don’t

leave

him.

Don’t

forget.

I

almost

did

forget.

If

I

hadn’t

walked

over

to

check

Branch

for

weapons,

I

wouldhave.

Branch

had

fallen

practically

on

top

of

poor

teddy.

Don’t

leave

him.

I

didn’t

actually

see

any

bodies

back

there.

Just

Dad’s.

What

if

someone

had

survivedthose

three

minutes

of

eternity

in

the

barracks?

They

could

have

been

wounded,

still

alive,

left

for

dead.

Unless

I

didn’t

leave.

If

there

was

someone

still

alive

back

there

and

the

faux

soldiershad

gone,

then

I

would

be

the

one

leaving

them

for

dead.

Ah,

crap.

You

know

how

sometimes

you

tell

yourself

that

you

have

a

choice,

but

really

you

don’t

have

a

choice?

Just

because

there

are

alternatives

doesn’t

mean

they

apply

to

you.

I

turned

around

and

headed

back,

stepping

around

the

body

of

Branch

as

I

went,

anddove

into

the

dusky

tunnel

of

the

trail.

23

I

DIDN’T

FORGET

the

assault

rifle

the

third

time

around.

I

shoved

the

Luger

into

mybelt,

but

I

couldn’t

very

well

expect

to

fire

an

assault

rifle

with

a

teddy

bear

in

one

hand,

so

I

had

to

leave

him

on

the

trail.

“It’s

okay.

I

won’t

forget

you,”

I

whispered

to

Sammy’s

bear.

I

stepped

off

the

path

and

wove

quietly

through

the

trees.

When

I

got

close

to

thecompound,

I

dropped

and

crawled

the

rest

of

the

way

to

the

edge.

Well,

that’s

why

you

didn’t

hear

them

leave.

Vosch

was

talking

to

a

couple

of

soldiers

at

the

doorway

to

the

storehouse.

Another

group

was

messing

around

by

one

of

the

Humvees.

I

counted

seven

in

all,

which

leftfive

more

I

couldn’t

see.

Were

they

off

in

the

woods

somewhere,

looking

for

me?

Dad’s

body

was

gone—maybe

the

others

had

pulled

disposal

duty.

There

were

forty-two

of

us,

not

counting

the

kids

who

had

left

on

the

buses.

That’s

a

lot

of

disposing.

Turns

out

I

was

right:

It

was

a

disposal

operation.

It’s

just

that

Silencers

don’t

dispose

of

bodies

the

way

we

do.

Vosch

had

taken

off

his

mask.

So

had

the

two

guys

who

were

with

him.

They

didn’t

have

lobster

mouths

or

tentacles

growing

out

of

their

chins.

They

looked

like

perfectly

ordinary

human

beings,

at

least

from

a

distance.

They

didn’t

need

the

masks

anymore.

Why

not?

The

masks

must

have

been

part

of

theact.

We

would

expect

them

to

protect

themselves

from

infection.

Two

of

the

soldiers

came

over

from

the

Humvee

carrying

what

looked

like

a

bowl

or

globe

the

same

dull

gray

metallic

color

as

the

drones.

Vosch

pointed

at

a

spot

midway

between

the

storehouse

and

the

barracks,

the

same

spot,

it

looked

like,

where

my

father

had

fallen.

Then

everybody

left,

except

one

female

soldier,

who

was

kneeling

now

beside

the

gray

globe.

The

Humvees

roared

to

life.

Another

engine

joined

the

duet:

the

flatbed

troop

carrier,

parked

at

the

head

of

the

compound

out

of

sight.

I’d

forgotten

about

that.

The

restof

the

soldiers

must

have

already

loaded

up

and

were

waiting.

Waiting

for

what?

The

remaining

soldier

stood

up

and

trotted

back

to

the

Humvee.

I

watched

him

climbaboard.

Watched

the

Humvee

spin

out

in

a

boiling

cloud

of

dust.

Watched

the

dust

swirl

and

settle.

The

stillness

of

summer

at

dusk

settled

with

it.

The

silence

pounded

in

my

ears.

And

then

the

gray

globe

began

to

glow.

That

was

a

good

thing,

a

bad

thing,

or

a

thing

that

was

neither

good

nor

bad,

but

whatever

it

was,

good,

bad,

or

neither,

depended

on

your

point

of

view.

They

had

put

the

globe

there,

so

to

them

it

was

a

good

thing.

The

glow

was

getting

brighter.

A

sickly

yellowish

green.

Pulsing

slightly.

Like

a…A

what?

A

beacon?

I

peered

into

the

darkening

sky.

The

first

stars

had

begun

to

come

out.

I

didn’t

see

any

drones.

If

it

was

a

good

thing

from

their

point

of

view,

that

meant

it

was

probably

a

bad

thing

from

mine.

Well,

not

probably.

Leaning

more

toward

definitely.

The

interval

between

pulses

shortened

every

few

seconds.

The

pulse

became

a

flash.

The

flash

became

a

blink.

Pulse…Pulse…Pulse…

Flash,

flash,

flash.

Blinkblinkblink.

In

the

gloom,

the

globe

reminded

me

of

an

eye,

a

pale

greenish-yellow

eyeball

winking

at

me.

The

Eye

will

take

care

of

her.

My

memory

has

preserved

what

happened

next

as

a

series

of

snapshots,

like

freeze-frame

stills

from

an

art

house

movie,

with

those

jerky,

handheld

camera

angles.

SHOT

1:

On

my

butt,

doing

a

crab-crawl

away

from

the

compound.

SHOT

2:

On

my

feet.

Running.

The

foliage

a

blur

of

green

and

brown

and

mossy

gray.

SHOT

3:

Sammy’s

bear.

The

chewed-up

little

arm

gummed

and

gnawed

since

he

was

a

baby

slipping

from

my

fingers.

SHOT

4:

Me

on

my

second

attempt

to

pick

up

that

damned

bear.

SHOT

5:

The

ash

pit

in

the

foreground.

I’m

halfway

between

Crisco’s

body

and

Branch’s.

Clutching

Sammy’s

bear

to

my

chest.

SHOTS

6–10:

More

woods,

more

me

running.

If

you

look

closely,

you

can

see

the

ravinein

the

left-hand

corner

of

the

tenth

frame.

SHOT

11:

The

final

frame.

I’m

suspended

in

midair

above

the

shadow-filled

ravine,taken

right

after

I

launched

myself

off

the

edge.

The

green

wave

roared

over

my

curled-up

body

at

the

bottom,

carrying

along

tons

of

debris,

a

rocketing

mass

of

trees,

dirt,

the

bodies

of

birds

and

squirrels

and

woodchucks

and

insects,

the

contents

of

the

ash

pit,

shards

of

the

pulverized

barracks

and

storehouse—plywood,

concrete,

nails,

tin—and

the

first

couple

of

inches

of

soil

in

a

hundred-yard

radius

of

the

blast.

I

felt

the

shock

wave

before

I

hit

the

muddy

bottom

of

the

ravine.

An

intense,

bone-rattling

pressure

over

every

inch

of

my

body.

My

eardrums

popped,

and

I

remembered

Crisco

saying,

You

know

what

happens

when

you’re

blasted

with

two

hundred

decibels?

No,

Crisco,

I

don’t.

But

I’ve

got

an

idea.

24

I

CAN’T

STOP

thinking

about

the

soldier

behind

the

coolers

and

the

crucifix

in

hishand.

The

soldier

and

the

crucifix.

I’m

thinking

maybe

that’s

why

I

pulled

the

trigger.

Not

because

I

thought

the

crucifix

was

another

gun.

I

pulled

the

trigger

because

he

was

a

soldier,

or

at

least

he

was

dressed

like

a

soldier.

He

wasn’t

Branch

or

Vosch

or

any

of

the

soldiers

I

saw

that

day

my

father

died.

He

wasn’t

and

he

was.

Not

any

of

them,

and

all

of

them.

Not

my

fault.

That’s

what

I

tell

myself.

It’s

their

fault.

They’re

the

ones,

not

me,

I

tell

the

dead

soldier.

You

want

to

blame

somebody,

blame

the

Others,

and

get

of

my

back.

Run

=

die.

Stay

=

die.

Sort

of

the

theme

of

this

party.

Beneath

the

Buick,

I

slipped

into

a

warm

and

dreamy

twilight.

My

makeshift

tourniquethad

stopped

most

of

the

bleeding,

but

the

wound

throbbed

with

each

slowing

beat

of

my

heart.

It’s

not

so

bad,

I

remember

thinking.

This

whole

dying

thing

isn’t

so

bad

at

all.

And

then

I

saw

Sammy’s

face

pressed

against

the

back

window

of

the

yellow

school

bus.

He

was

smiling.

He

was

happy.

He

felt

safe

surrounded

by

those

other

kids,

and

besides,

the

soldiers

were

there

now,

the

soldiers

would

protect

him

and

take

care

of

him

and

make

sure

everything

was

okay.

It

had

been

bugging

me

for

weeks.

Keeping

me

up

at

night.

Hitting

me

when

I

leastexpected

it,

when

I

was

reading

or

foraging

or

just

lying

in

my

little

tent

in

the

woods

thinking

about

my

life

before

the

Others

came.

What

was

the

point?

Why

did

they

play

that

giant

charade

of

soldiers

arriving

in

the

nick

of

time

to

save

us?

The

gas

masks,

the

uniforms,

the

“briefing”

in

the

barracks.

What

was

the

point

to

all

that

when

they

could

have

just

dropped

one

of

their

blinky

eyeballs

from

a

drone

and

blown

us

all

to

hell?

On

that

cold

autumn

day

while

I

lay

bleeding

to

death

beneath

the

Buick,

the

answerhit

me.

Hit

me

harder

than

the

bullet

that

had

just

torn

through

my

leg.

Sammy.

They

wanted

Sammy.

No,

not

just

Sammy.

They

wanted

all

the

kids.

And

to

get

the

kids,

they

had

to

make

us

trust

them.

Make

the

humans

trust

us,

get

the

kids,

and

then

we

blow

them

all

to

hell.

But

why

bother

saving

the

children?

Billions

had

died

in

the

first

three

waves;

itwasn’t

like

the

Others

had

a

soft

spot

for

kids.

Why

did

the

Others

take

Sammy?

I

raised

my

head

without

thinking

and

whacked

it

into

the

Buick’s

undercarriage.

I

barely

noticed.

I

didn’t

know

if

Sammy

was

alive.

For

all

I

knew,

I

was

the

last

person

on

Earth.But

I

had

made

a

promise.

The

cool

asphalt

scraping

against

my

back.

The

warm

sun

on

my

cold

cheek.

My

numb

fingers

clawing

at

the

door

handle,

using

it

to

pull

my

sorry,

self-pitying

butt

off

the

ground.

I

can’t

put

any

weight

on

my

wounded

leg.

I

lean

against

the

car

for

a

second,

thenpush

myself

upright.

On

one

leg,

but

upright.

I

might

be

wrong

about

them

wanting

to

keep

Sammy

alive.

I’d

been

wrong

about

practically

everything

since

the

Arrival.

I

still

could

be

the

last

human

being

on

Earth.

I

might

be—no,

I

probably

am—doomed.

But

if

I’m

it,

the

last

of

my

kind,

the

last

page

of

human

history,

like

hell

I’mgoing

to

let

the

story

end

this

way.

I

may

be

the

last

one,

but

I

am

the

one

still

standing.

I

am

the

one

turning

to

facethe

faceless

hunter

in

the

woods

on

an

abandoned

highway.

I

am

the

one

not

running,

not

staying,

but

facing.

Because

if

I

am

the

last

one,

then

I

am

humanity.

And

if

this

is

humanity’s

last

war,

then

I

am

the

battlefield.

25

CALL

ME

ZOMBIE.

Head,

hands,

feet,

back,

stomach,

legs,

arms,

chest—everything

hurts.

Even

blinkinghurts.

So

I

try

not

to

move

and

I

try

not

to

think

too

much

about

the

pain.

I

trynot

to

think

too

much

period.

I’ve

seen

enough

of

the

plague

over

the

past

three

months

to

know

what’s

coming:

total

system

meltdown,

starting

with

your

brain.

The

Red

Deathturns

your

brain

to

mashed

potatoes

before

your

other

organs

liquefy.

You

don’t

know

where

you

are,

who

you

are,

what

you

are.

You

become

a

zombie,

the

walking

dead—if

you

had

the

strength

to

walk,

which

you

don’t.

I’m

dying.

I

know

that.

Seventeen

years

old

and

the

party’s

over.

Short

party.

Six

months

ago

my

biggest

worries

were

passing

AP

Chemistry

and

finding

a

summer

job

that

paid

enough

for

me

to

finish

rebuilding

the

engine

on

my

’69

Corvette.

And

when

the

mothership

first

appeared,

sure,

that

took

up

some

of

my

thoughts,

but

after

a

while

it

faded

to

a

distant

fourth.

I

watched

the

news

like

everybody

else

and

spent

way

too

much

time

sharing

funny

YouTube

videos

about

it,

but

I

never

thought

it

would

affect

me

personally.

Seeing

all

the

demonstrations

and

marches

and

riots

on

TV

leading

up

to

the

first

attack

was

like

watching

a

movie

or

news

footage

from

a

foreign

country.

It

didn’t

seem

like

any

of

it

was

happening

to

me.

Dying

isn’t

so

different

from

that.

You

don’t

feel

like

it’s

going

to

happen

to

you…until

it

happens

to

you.

I

know

I’m

dying.

Nobody

has

to

tell

me.

Chris,

the

guy

who

shared

this

tent

with

me

before

I

got

sick,

tells

me

anyway:

“Dude,I

think

you’re

dying,”

he

says,

squatting

outside

the

tent’s

opening,

his

eyes

wide

and

unblinking

above

the

filthy

rag

that

he

presses

against

his

nose.

Chris

has

come

by

to

check

up

on

me.

He’s

about

ten

years

older,

and

I

think

he

looks

at

me

like

a

little

brother.

Or

maybe

he’s

come

to

see

if

I’m

still

alive;

he’s

in

charge

of

disposal

for

this

part

of

the

camp.

The

fires

burn

day

and

night.

By

daythe

refugee

camp

ringing

Wright-Patterson

swims

in

a

dense,

choking

fog.

At

night

the

firelight

turns

the

smoke

a

deep

crimson,

like

the

air

itself

is

bleeding.

I

ignore

his

remark

and

ask

him

what

he’s

heard

from

Wright-Patterson.

The

base

has

been

on

full

lockdown

since

the

tent

city

sprang

up

after

the

attack

on

the

coasts.

No

one

allowed

in

or

out.

They’re

trying

to

contain

the

Red

Death,

that’s

what

theytell

us.

Occasionally

some

well-armed

soldiers

well-wrapped

in

hazmat

suits

roll

out

the

main

gates

with

water

and

rations,

tell

us

everything

will

be

okay,

and

then

hightail

it

back

inside,

leaving

us

to

fend

for

ourselves.

We

need

medicine.

They

tell

us

there’s

no

cure

for

the

plague.

We

need

sanitation.

They

give

us

shovels

to

dig

a

trench.

We

need

information.

What

the

hell

is

going

on?

They

tell

us

they

don’t

know.

“They

don’t

know

anything,”

Chris

says

to

me.

He’s

on

the

thin

side,

balding,

an

accountantbefore

the

attacks

made

accounting

obsolete.

“Nobody

knows

anything.

Just

a

bunchof

rumors

that

everybody

treats

like

news.”

He

cuts

his

eyes

at

me,

then

looks

away.

Like

looking

at

me

hurts.

“You

want

to

hear

the

latest?”

Not

really.

“Sure.”

To

keep

him

there.

I’ve

only

known

the

guy

for

a

month,

but

he’s

the

only

guy

left

who

I

know.

I

lie

here

on

this

old

camping

bed

with

a

sliver

of

sky

for

a

view.

Vague,

peopleshaped

forms

drift

by

in

the

smoke,

like

figures

out

of

a

horror

movie,

and

sometimes

I

can

hear

screaming

or

crying,

but

I

haven’t

spoken

to

another

person

in

days.

“The

plague

isn’t

theirs,

it’s

ours,”

Chris

says.

“Escaped

from

some

top-secret

governmentfacility

after

the

power

failed.”

I

cough.

He

flinches,

but

he

doesn’t

leave.

He

waits

for

the

fit

to

subside.

Somewherealong

the

way

he

lost

one

of

the

lenses

to

his

glasses.

His

left

eye

is

stuck

in

a

perpetual

squint.

He

rocks

from

foot

to

foot

in

the

muddy

ground.

He

wants

to

leave;

he

doesn’t

want

to

leave.

I

know

the

feeling.

“Wouldn’t

that

be

ironic?”

I

gasp.

I

can

taste

blood.

He

shrugs.

Irony?

There

is

no

irony

anymore.

Or

maybe

there’s

just

so

much

of

it

that

you

can’t

call

it

irony.

“It’s

not

ours.

Think

about

it.

The

first

two

attacks

drive

the

survivors

inland

to

take

shelter

in

camps

just

like

this

one.

That

concentrates

the

population,

creating

the

perfect

breeding

ground

for

the

virus.

Millions

of

pounds

of

fresh

meat

all

conveniently

located

in

one

spot.

It’s

genius.”

“Gotta

hand

it

to

’em,”

I

say,

trying

to

be

ironic.

I

don’t

want

him

to

leave,

butI

also

don’t

want

him

to

talk.

He

has

a

habit

of

going

off

on

rants,

one

of

those

guys

who

has

an

opinion

about

everything.

But

something

happens

when

every

person

you

meet

dies

within

days

of

your

meeting

them:

You

start

being

a

lot

less

picky

about

who

you

hang

out

with.

You

can

overlook

a

lot

of

flaws.

And

you

let

go

of

a

lot

of

personal

hang-ups,

like

the

big

lie

that

having

your

insides

turn

to

soup

doesn’t

scare

the

living

shit

out

of

you.

“They

know

how

we

think,”

he

says.

“How

the

hell

do

you

know

what

they

know?”

I’m

gettingpissed.

I’m

not

sure

why.

Maybe

I’m

jealous.

We

shared

the

tent,

same

water,

same

food,

and

I’m

the

one

who’s

dying.

What

makes

him

so

special?

“I

don’t,”

he

answers

quickly.

“The

only

thing

I

know

is

I

don’t

know

anything

anymore.”

In

the

distance,

a

gun

fires.

Chris

barely

reacts.

Gunfire

is

pretty

common

in

thecamp.

Potshots

at

birds.

Warning

shots

at

the

gangs

coming

for

your

stash.

Some

shots

signal

a

suicide,

a

person

in

the

final

stages

who

decides

to

show

the

plague

who’s

boss.

When

I

first

came

to

the

camp,

I

heard

a

story

about

a

mom

who

took

out

her

three

kids

and

then

did

herself

rather

than

face

the

Fourth

Horseman.

I

couldn’t

decide

whether

she

was

brave

or

stupid.

And

then

I

stopped

worrying

about

it.

Who

cares

what

she

was

when

what

she

is

now

is

dead?

He

doesn’t

have

much

more

to

say,

so

he

says

it

quickly

to

get

the

hell

away.

Like

a

lot

of

the

uninfected,

Chris

has

a

bad

case

of

the

twitchies,

always

waiting

for

the

other

shoe

to

drop.

Scratchy

throat—from

the

smoke

or…?

Headache—from

lack

ofsleep

or

hunger

or…?

It’s

the

moment

you’re

passed

the

ball

and

out

of

the

corner

of

your

eye

you

see

the

two-hundred-and-fifty-pound

linebacker

bearing

down

at

full

speed—only

the

moment

never

ends.

“I’ll

come

back

tomorrow,”

he

says.

“You

need

anything?”

“Water.”

Though

I

can’t

keep

it

down.

“You

got

it,

dude.”

He

stands

up.

All

I

can

see

now

is

his

mud-stained

pants

and

mud-caked

boots.

I

don’tknow

how

I

know,

but

I

know

it’s

the

last

I’ll

see

of

Chris.

He

won’t

come

back,

or

if

he

does,

I

won’t

realize

it.

We

don’t

say

good-bye.

Nobody

says

good-bye

anymore.

The

word

has

taken

on

a

whole

new

meaning

since

the

Big

Green

Eye

in

the

Sky

showed

up.

I

watch

the

smoke

swirl

in

his

passing.

Then

I

pull

out

the

silver

chain

from

beneaththe

blanket.

I

run

my

thumb

over

the

smooth

surface

of

the

heart-shaped

locket,

holding

it

close

to

my

eyes

in

the

fading

light.

The

clasp

broke

on

the

night

I

yanked

itfree

from

her

neck,

but

I

managed

to

fix

it

using

a

pair

of

fingernail

clippers.

I

look

toward

the

tent

opening

and

see

her

standing

there,

and

I

know

it

isn’t

reallyher,

it’s

the

virus

showing

her

to

me,

because

she’s

wearing

the

same

locket

I’m

holding

in

my

hand.

The

bug

has

been

showing

me

all

kinds

of

things.

Things

I

want

to

see

and

things

I

don’t.

The

little

girl

in

the

opening

is

both.

Bubby,

why

did

you

leave

me?

I

open

my

mouth.

I

taste

blood.

“Go

away.”

Her

image

begins

to

shimmer.

I

rub

my

eyes,

and

my

knuckles

come

away

wet

with

blood.

You

ran

away.

Bubby,

why

did

you

run?

And

then

the

smoke

pulls

her

apart,

splinters

her,

smashes

her

body

into

nothing.

I

call

out

to

her.

Crueler

than

seeing

her

is

the

not

seeing

her.

I’m

clutching

the

silver

chain

so

tight

that

the

links

cut

into

my

palm.

Reaching

for

her.

Running

from

her.

Reaching.

Running.

Outside

the

tent,

the

red

smoke

of

funeral

pyres.

Inside,

the

red

fog

of

plague.

You’re

the

lucky

one,

I

tell

Sissy.

You

left

before

things

got

really

messy.

Gunfire

erupts

in

the

distance.

Only

this

time

it’s

not

the

sporadic

pop-pop

of

some

desperate

refugee

firing

at

shadows,

but

big

guns

that

go

off

with

an

eardrum-thumping

puh-DOOM.

The

highpitched

screeching

of

tracer

fire.

The

rapid

reports

of

automatic

weapons.

Wright-Patterson

is

under

attack.

Part

of

me

is

relieved.

It’s

like

a

release,

the

final

cracking

open

of

the

stormafter

the

long

wait.

The

other

part

of

me,

the

one

that

still

thinks

I

might

survive

the

plague,

is

ready

to

wet

his

pants.

Too

weak

to

move

off

the

cot

and

too

scared

to

do

it

even

if

I

wasn’t.

I

close

my

eyes

and

whisper

a

prayer

for

the

men

and

women

of

Wright-Patterson

to

waste

an

invader

or

two

for

me

and

Sissy.

But

mostly

for

Sissy.

Explosions

now.

Big

explosions.

Explosions

that

make

the

ground

tremble,

that

vibrate

against

your

skin,

that

press

hard

against

your

temples

and

push

on

your

chest

and

squeeze.

It

sounds

as

if

the

world

is

being

ripped

apart,

which

in

a

way

it

is.

The

little

tent

is

choking

with

smoke,

and

the

opening

glows

like

a

triangular

eye,

a

burning

ember

of

bright

hellish

red.

This

is

it,

I’m

thinking.

I’m

not

going

to

die

of

the

plague

after

all.

I’m

going

to

live

long

enough

to

be

wasted

by

an

actual

alien

invader.

A

better

way

to

go,

quicker

anyway.

Trying

to

put

a

positive

spin

on

my

impending

demise.

A

gunshot

rings

out.

Very

close,

judging

by

the

sound

of

it,

maybe

two

or

three

tents

down.

I

hear

a

woman

screaming

incoherently,

another

shot,

and

then

the

woman

isn’t

screaming

anymore.

Then

silence.

Then

two

more

shots.

The

smoke

swirls,

the

red

eye

glows.

I

can

hear

him

now,

coming

toward

me,

hear

his

boots

squishing

in

the

wet

earth.

I

fumble

under

the

wad

of

clothing

and

jumble

of

empty

water

bottles

beside

the

cot

for

my

gun,

a

revolver

Chris

had

given

me

on

the

day

he

invited

me

to

be

his

tentmate.

Where’s

your

gun?

he

asked.

He

was

shocked

to

learn

I

wasn’t

packing.

You

have

to

have

a

gun,

pal,

he

said.

Even

the

kids

have

guns.

Never

mind

that

I

can’t

hit

the

broad

side

of

a

barn

or

that

the

odds

are

very

good

I’ll

shoot

off

my

own

foot;

in

the

post-human

age,

Chris

is

a

firm

believer

in

the

Second

Amendment.

I

wait

for

him

to

appear

in

the

opening,

Sissy’s

silver

locket

in

one

hand,

Chris’s

revolver

in

the

other.

In

one

hand,

the

past.

In

the

other,

the

future.

That’s

one

way

to

look

at

it.

Maybe

if

I

play

possum

he—or

it—will

move

on.

I

watch

the

opening

through

slits

for

eyes.

And

then

he’s

here,

a

thick,

black

pupil

in

the

crimson

eye,

swaying

unsteadily

as

he

leans

inside

the

tent,

three,

maybe

four

feet

away,

and

I

can’t

see

his

face,

but

I

can

hear

him

gasping

for

breath.

I’m

trying

to

control

my

own

breathing,

but

no

matter

how

shallowly

I

do

it,

the

rattle

of

the

infection

in

my

chest

sounds

louder

than

the

explosions

of

the

battle.

I

can’t

make

out

exactly

what

he’s

wearing,

except

his

pants

seem

to

be

tucked

into

his

tall

boots.

A

soldier?

Must

be.

He’s

holding

a

rifle.

I’m

saved.

I

raise

the

hand

holding

the

locket

and

call

out

weakly.

He

stumbles

forward.

Now

I

can

see

his

face.

He’s

young,

just

a

little

older

than

I

am,

and

his

neck

is

shiny

with

blood,

and

so

are

the

hands

that

hold

the

rifle.

He

goes

to

one

knee

beside

the

cot,

then

recoils

when

he

sees

my

face,

the

sallow

skin,

the

swollen

lips,

and

the

sunken

bloodshot

eyes

that

are

the

telltale

signs

of

the

plague.

Unlike

mine,

the

soldier’s

eyes

are

clear—and

wide

with

terror.

“We

had

it

wrong,

all

wrong!”

he

whispers.

“They’re

already

here—been

here—right

here—

inside

us—the

whole

time—inside

us.”

Two

large

shapes

leap

through

the

opening.

One

grabs

the

soldier

by

the

collar

and

drags

him

outside.

I

raise

the

old

revolver—or

try

to,

because

it

slips

from

my

hand

before

I

can

lift

it

two

inches

above

the

blanket.

Then

the

second

one

is

on

me,

knocking

the

revolver

away,

yanking

me

upright.

The

aftershock

of

pain

blinds

me

for

a

second.

He

yells

over

his

shoulder

at

his

buddy,

who

has

just

ducked

back

inside.

“Scan

him!”

A

large

metal

disk

is

pressed

against

my

forehead.

“He’s

clean.”

“And

sick.”

Both

men

are

dressed

in

fatigues—the

same

fatigues

worn

by

the

soldier

they

took

away.

“What’s

your

name,

buddy?”

one

of

them

asks.

I

shake

my

head.

I’m

not

getting

this.

My

mouth

opens,

but

no

intelligible

sound

comes

out.

“He’s

gone

zombie,”

his

partner

says.

“Leave

him.”

The

other

one

nods,

rubbing

his

chin,

looking

down

at

me.

Then

he

says,

“The

commanderordered

retrieval

of

all

uninfected

civilians.”

He

tucks

the

blanket

around

me,

and

with

one

fluid

motion

heaves

me

out

of

the

bunk

and

over

his

shoulder.

As

a

definitively

infected

civilian,

I’m

pretty

shocked.

“Chill,

zombie,”

he

tells

me.

“You’re

going

to

a

better

place

now.”

I

believe

him.

And

for

a

second

I

let

myself

believe

I’m

not

going

to

die

after

all.

26

THEY

TAKE

ME

to

a

quarantined

floor

at

the

base

hospital

reserved

for

plague

victims,nicknamed

the

Zombie

Ward,

where

I

get

an

armful

of

morphine

and

a

powerful

cocktail

of

antiviral

drugs.

I’m

treated

by

a

woman

who

introduces

herself

as

Dr.

Pam.

She

has

soft

eyes,

a

calm

voice,

and

very

cold

hands.

She

wears

her

hair

in

a

tight

bun.

And

she

smells

like

hospital

disinfectant

mingled

with

a

hint

of

perfume.

The

two

smells

don’t

go

well

together.

I

have

a

one-in-ten

chance

of

survival,

she

tells

me.

I

start

to

laugh.

I

must

bea

little

delirious

from

the

drugs.

One

in

ten?

And

here

I

was

thinking

the

plague

was

a

death

sentence.

I

couldn’t

be

happier.

Over

the

next

two

days,

my

fever

soars

to

a

hundred

and

four.

I

break

into

a

cold

sweat,

and

even

my

sweat

is

flecked

with

blood.

I

float

in

and

out

of

a

delirious

twilight

sleep

while

they

throw

everything

at

the

infection.

There

is

no

cure

for

the

Red

Death.

All

they

can

do

is

keep

me

doped

up

and

comfortable

until

the

bug

decides

whether

it

likes

the

way

I

taste.

The

past

shoves

its

way

in.

Sometimes

Dad

is

sitting

next

to

me,

sometimes

Mom,

butmost

of

the

time

it’s

Sissy.

The

room

turns

red.

I

see

the

world

through

a

diaphanous

curtain

of

blood.

The

ward

recedes

behind

the

red

curtain.

It’s

just

me

and

the

invader

inside

me

and

the

dead—not

just

my

family,

but

all

the

dead,

all

however-many-billion

of

them,

reaching

for

me

as

I

run.

Reaching.

Running.

And

it

occurs

to

me

that

there’s

no

real

difference

between

us,

the

living

and

the

dead;

it’s

just

a

matter

of

tense:

past-dead

and

future-dead.

On

the

third

day,

the

fever

breaks.

By

the

fifth,

I’m

holding

down

liquids

and

myeyes

and

lungs

have

begun

to

clear.

The

red

curtain

pulls

back,

and

I

can

see

the

ward,

the

gowned

and

masked

doctors

and

nurses

and

orderlies,

the

patients

in

various

stages

of

death,

past

and

future,

floating

on

the

gentle

sea

of

morphine

or

being

wheeled

out

of

the

room

with

their

faces

covered,

the

presentdead.

On

the

sixth

day,

Dr.

Pam

declares

the

worst

over.

She

orders

me

off

all

meds,

which

kind

of

bums

me

out;

I’m

going

to

miss

my

morphine.

“Not

my

call,”

she

tells

me.

“You’re

being

moved

into

the

convalescent

ward

till

you

can

get

back

on

your

feet.

We’re

going

to

need

you.”

“Need

me?”

“For

the

war.”

The

war.

I

remember

the

firefight,

the

explosions,

the

soldier

bursting

into

the

tent

and

they’re

inside

us!

“What’s

going

on?”

I

ask.

“What

happened

here?”

She’s

already

turned

away,

handing

my

chart

to

an

orderly

and

telling

him

in

a

quiet

voice,

but

not

so

quiet

I

can’t

hear,

“Bring

him

to

the

exam

room

at

fifteen

hundred

hours,

after

he’s

clear

of

the

meds.

Let’s

tag

and

bag

him.”

27

I’M

TAKEN

TO

a

large

hangar

near

the

entrance

to

the

base.

Everywhere

I

look,

there’resigns

of

the

recent

battle.

Burned-out

vehicles,

the

rubble

of

demolished

buildings,

stubborn

little

fires

smoldering,

pockmarked

asphalt,

and

three-foot-wide

craters

from

mortar

fire.

But

the

security

fence

has

been

repaired,

and

beyond

it

I

can

see

a

no-man’s-land

of

blackened

earth

where

Tent

City

used

to

be.

Inside

the

hangar,

soldiers

are

painting

huge

red

circles

on

the

shiny

concrete

floor.

There

are

no

planes.

I’m

wheeled

through

a

door

in

the

back,

into

an

examination

room,

where

I’m

heaved

onto

the

table

and

left

alone

for

a

few

minutes,

shivering

in

my

thin

hospital

gown

under

the

bright

fluorescent

lights.

What’s

with

the

big

red

circles?

And

how

did

they

get

the

power

back

on?

And

what

did

she

mean

by

“Let’s

tag

and

bag

him”?

I

can’t

keep

my

thoughts

from

flying

in

every

direction.

What

happened

here?

If

the

aliens

attacked

the

base,

where

are

the

dead

aliens?

Where’s

their

downed

spacecraft?

How

did

we

manage

to

defend

ourselves

against

an

intelligence

thousands

of

years

more

advanced

than

ours—and

defeat

it?

The

inner

door

opens,

and

Dr.

Pam

comes

in.

She

shines

a

bright

light

in

my

eyes.Listens

to

my

heart,

my

lungs,

thumps

on

a

couple

places.

She

shows

me

a

silver-gray

pellet

about

the

size

of

a

grain

of

rice.

“What’s

that?”

I

ask.

I

half

expect

her

to

say

it’s

an

alien

spaceship:

We’ve

discovered

they’re

the

size

of

an

amoeba.

Instead,

she

says

the

pellet

is

a

tracking

device,

hooked

into

the

base’s

mainframe.

Highly

classified,

been

used

by

the

military

for

years.

The

idea

is

to

implant

all

surviving

personnel.

Each

pellet

transmits

its

own

unique

signal,

a

signature

that

can

be

picked

up

by

detectors

as

far

as

a

mile

away.

To

keep

track

of

us,

she

tells

me.

To

keep

us

safe.

She

gives

me

a

shot

in

the

back

of

my

neck

to

numb

me,

then

inserts

the

pellet

under

my

skin,

near

the

base

of

my

skull.

She

bandages

the

insertion

point,

then

helps

me

back

into

the

wheelchair

and

takes

me

into

the

adjoining

room.

It’s

much

smaller

than

the

first

room.

A

white

reclining

chair

that

reminds

me

of

a

dentist’s.

A

computer

and

monitor.

She

helps

me

into

the

chair

and

proceeds

to

tie

me

down:

straps

across

my

wrists,

straps

across

my

ankles.

Her

face

is

very

close

to

mine.

The

perfume

has

a

slight

edge

today

over

the

disinfectant

in

the

Odor

Wars.

She

doesn’t

miss

my

expression.

“Don’t

be

scared,”

she

says.

“It

isn’t

painful.”

Scared,

I

whisper,

“What

isn’t?”

She

steps

over

to

the

monitor

and

starts

punching

in

commands.

“It’s

a

program

we

found

on

a

laptop

that

belonged

to

one

of

the

infested,”

Dr.

Pamexplains.

Before

I

can

ask

what

the

hell

an

infested

is,

she

rolls

on:

“We’re

not

sure

what

the

infesteds

had

been

using

it

for,

but

we

know

it’s

perfectly

safe.

Its

code

name

is

Wonderland.”

“What’s

it

do?”

I

ask.

I’m

not

sure

what

she’s

telling

me,

but

it

sounds

like

she’s

telling

me

that

the

aliens

had

somehow

infiltrated

Wright-Patterson

and

hacked

into

its

computer

systems.

I

can’t

get

the

word

infested

out

of

my

head.

Or

the

bloody

face

of

the

soldier

bursting

into

my

tent.

They’re

inside

us.

“It’s

a

mapping

program,”

she

answers.

Which

really

isn’t

an

answer.

“What

does

it

map?”

She

looks

at

me

for

one

long,

uncomfortable

moment,

as

if

she’s

deciding

whether

to

tell

the

truth.

“It

maps

you.

Close

your

eyes,

big,

deep

breath.

Counting

down

from

three…two…one…”

And

the

universe

implodes.

Suddenly

I’m

there,

three

years

old,

holding

on

to

the

sides

of

my

crib,

jumping

up

and

down

and

screaming

like

someone’s

murdering

me.

I’m

not

remembering

that

day;

I’m

experiencing

it.

Now

I’m

six,

swinging

my

plastic

baseball

bat.

The

one

I

loved;

the

one

I

forgot

I

had.

Ten

now,

riding

home

from

the

pet

store

with

a

bag

of

goldfish

in

my

lap

and

debating

names

with

my

mom.

She’s

wearing

a

bright

yellow

dress.

Thirteen,

it’s

a

Friday

night,

I’m

playing

pee-wee

football,

and

the

crowd

is

cheering.

Going

deep.

The

reel

begins

to

slow.

I

feel

like

I’m

drowning—drowning

in

the

dream

of

my

life.

My

legs

kick

helplessly

against

the

restraints,

strapped

in

tight,

running.

Running.

First

kiss.

Her

name

is

Lacey.

My

ninth-grade

algebra

teacher

and

her

horrible

handwriting.

Getting

my

driver’s

license.

Everything

there,

no

blank

spaces,

all

of

it

pouringout

of

me

while

I’m

pouring

into

Wonderland.

All

of

it.

Green

blob

in

the

night

sky.

Holding

the

boards

while

Dad

nails

them

over

the

living

room

windows.

The

sound

ofgunfire

down

the

street,

glass

shattering,

people

screaming.

And

the

hammer

falling:

bam,

bam,

BAM.

“Blow

out

the

candles”:

Mom’s

hysterical

whisper.

“Can’t

you

hear

them?

They’re

coming!”

And

my

father,

calmly,

in

the

pitch

black:

“If

anything

happens

to

me,

take

care

of

your

mother

and

baby

sister.”

I’m

in

free

fall.

Terminal

velocity.

There’s

no

escaping

it.

I

won’t

just

remember

that

night.

I’ll

live

it

all

over

again.

It

has

chased

me

all

the

way

to

Tent

City.

The

thing

I

ran

from,

that

I’m

still

runningfrom,

the

thing

that’s

never

let

me

go.

What

I

reach

for.

What

I

run

from.

Take

care

of

your

mother.

Take

care

of

your

baby

sister.

The

front

door

crashes

open.

Dad

fires

point-blank

into

the

chest

of

the

first

intruder.

The

guy

must

be

high

on

something,

because

he

just

keeps

coming.

I

see

a

sawed-offshotgun

in

my

father’s

face,

and

that’s

the

last

I

see

of

my

father’s

face.

The

room

fills

with

shadows,

and

one

of

the

shadows

is

my

mother,

and

then

more

shadows

and

hoarse

shouts

and

I’m

tearing

up

the

stairs

cradling

Sissy

in

my

arms,

realizingtoo

late

I’m

running

toward

a

dead

end.

A

hand

catches

my

shirt

and

flings

me

backward,

and

I

tumble

back

down

the

stairs,

shielding

Sissy

with

my

body,

smacking

down

headfirst

at

the

bottom.

Then

shadows,

huge

shadows,

and

a

swarm

of

fingers,

pulling

her

out

of

my

arms.

And

Sissy,

screaming,

Bubby,

Bubby,

Bubby,

Bubby!

I

reach

for

her

in

the

dark.

My

fingers

hook

on

the

locket

around

her

neck

and

tear

the

silver

chain

free.

Then,

like

the

day

the

lights

blinked

out

forever,

my

sister’s

voice

abruptly

dies.

Then

the

punks

are

on

me.

Three

of

them,

jacked

up

on

dope

or

desperate

to

find

some,

kicking,

punching,

a

furious

rain

of

blows

into

my

back,

my

stomach,

and

as

I

bring

up

my

hands

to

shield

my

face,

I

see

the

silhouette

of

Dad’s

hammer

rising

over

my

head.

It

whistles

down.

I

roll

away.

The

head

of

the

hammer

grazes

my

temple,

its

momentumcarrying

it

right

into

the

guy’s

shin.

He

falls

to

his

knees

with

an

agonized

howl.

On

my

feet

now,

running

down

the

hall

to

the

kitchen,

and

the

thunder

of

footsteps

as

they

come

after

me.

Take

care

of

your

baby

sister.

Tripping

on

something

in

the

backyard,

probably

the

garden

hose

or

one

of

Sissy’s

stupid

toys.

Falling

face-first

in

the

wet

grass

under

a

star-stuffed

sky,

and

the

glowing

green

orb,

the

circling

Eye,

coldly

staring

down

at

me,

the

one

with

the

silver

locket

clutched

in

his

bleeding

hand,

the

one

who

lived,

the

one

who

did

not

go

back,

the

one

who

ran.

28

I’VE

FALLEN

SO

DEEP,

nothing

can

reach

me.

For

the

first

time

in

weeks,

I

feel

numbI.

don’t

even

feel

like

me.

There’s

no

place

where

I

end

and

the

nothingness

begins.

Her

voice

comes

into

the

darkness,

and

I

grab

on

to

it,

a

lifeline

to

pull

me

outof

the

bottomless

well.

“It’s

over.

It’s

all

right.

It’s

over…”

I

break

the

surface

into

the

real

world,

gasping

for

air,

crying

uncontrollably

like

a

complete

pansy,

and

I’m

thinking,

You’re

wrong,

Doc.

It’s

never

over.

It

just

goes

on

and

on

and

on.

Her

face

swims

into

view,

and

my

arm

jerks

against

the

restraint

as

I

try

to

grab

her.

She

needs

to

make

this

stop.

“What

the

hell

was

that?”

I

ask

in

a

croaky

whisper.

My

throat

is

burning,

my

mouthdry.

I

feel

like

I

weigh

about

five

pounds,

like

all

the

flesh

has

been

torn

frommy

bones.

And

I

thought

the

plague

was

bad!

“It’s

a

way

for

us

to

see

inside

you,

to

look

at

what’s

really

going

on,”

she

says

gently.

She

runs

her

hand

over

my

forehead.

The

gesture

reminds

me

of

my

mother,

which

reminds

me

of

losing

my

mother

in

the

dark,

of

running

from

her

in

the

night,

which

reminds

me

I

shouldn’t

be

strapped

down

in

this

white

chair.

I

should

be

with

them.

I

should

have

stayed

and

faced

what

they

faced.

Take

care

of

your

little

sister.

“That’s

my

next

question,”

I

say,

fighting

to

stay

focused.

“What’s

going

on?”

“They’re

inside

us,”

she

answers.

“We

were

attacked

from

the

inside,

by

infected

personnel

who’d

been

embedded

in

the

military.”

She

gives

me

a

few

minutes

to

process

this

while

she

wipes

the

tears

from

my

face

with

a

cool,

moist

cloth.

It’s

maddening,

how

motherly

she

is,

and

the

soothing

coolness

of

the

cloth,

a

pleasant

torture.

She

sets

aside

the

cloth

and

looks

deeply

into

my

eyes.

“Using

the

ratio

of

infected

to

clean

here

at

the

base,

we

estimate

that

one

out

of

every

three

surviving

human

beings

on

Earth

is

one

of

them.”

She

loosens

the

straps.

I’m

insubstantial

as

a

cloud,

light

as

a

balloon.

When

thefinal

strap

comes

free,

I

expect

to

fly

out

of

the

chair

and

smack

the

ceiling.

“Would

you

like

to

see

one?”

she

asks.

Holding

out

her

hand.

29

SHE

WHEELS

ME

down

a

hallway

to

an

elevator.

It’s

a

one-way

express

that

carries

us

everal

hundred

feet

below

the

surface.

The

doors

open

into

a

long

corridor

with

white

cinder-block

walls.

Dr.

Pam

tells

me

we’re

in

the

bomb

shelter

complex

that’s

nearly

as

large

as

the

base

above

us,

built

to

withstand

a

fifty-megaton

nuclear

blast.

I

tell

her

I’m

feeling

safer

already.

She

laughs

like

she

thinks

that’s

very

funny.

I’m

rolling

past

side

tunnels

and

unmarked

doors

and,

though

the

floor

is

level,

I

feel

as

if

I’m

being

taken

to

the

very

bottom

of

the

world,

to

the

hole

where

the

devil

sits.

There

are

soldiers

hurrying

up

and

down

the

corridor;

they

avert

their

eyes

and

stop

talking

as

I’m

wheeled

past

them.

Would

you

like

to

see

one?

Yes.

Hell

no.

She

stops

at

one

of

the

unmarked

doors

and

swipes

a

key

card

through

the

locking

mechanism.

The

red

light

turns

green.

She

rolls

me

into

the

room,

stopping

the

chair

in

front

of

a

long

mirror,

and

my

mouth

falls

open

and

I

drop

my

chin

and

close

my

eyes,

because

whatever

is

sitting

in

that

wheelchair

isn’t

me,

it

can’t

be

me.

When

the

mothership

first

appeared,

I

was

one

hundred

and

ninety

pounds,

most

of

itmuscle.

Forty

pounds

of

that

muscle

is

gone.

The

stranger

in

that

mirror

looked

back

at

me

with

the

eyes

of

the

starving:

huge,

sunken,

ringed

in

puffy,

black

bags.

The

virus

has

taken

a

knife

to

my

face,

carving

away

my

cheeks,

sharpening

my

chin,

thinning

my

nose.

My

hair

is

stringy,

dry,

falling

out

in

places.

He’s

gone

zombie.

Dr.

Pam

nods

at

the

mirror.

“Don’t

worry.

He

won’t

be

able

to

see

us.”

He?

Who’s

she

talking

about?

She

hits

a

button,

and

the

lights

in

the

room

on

the

other

side

of

the

mirror

flood

on.

My

image

turns

ghostlike.

I

can

see

through

myself

to

the

person

on

the

other

side.

It’s

Chris.

He’s

strapped

to

a

chair

identical

to

the

one

in

the

Wonderland

room.

Wires

run

from

his

head

to

a

large

console

with

blinking

red

lights

behind

him.

He’s

having

trouble

keeping

his

head

up,

like

a

kid

nodding

off

in

class.

She

notices

my

stiffening

at

the

sight

of

him

and

asks,

“What?

Do

you

know

him?”

“His

name

is

Chris.

He’s

my…I

met

him

in

the

refugee

camp.

He

offered

to

share

histent

and

he

helped

me

when

I

got

sick.”

“He’s

your

friend?”

She

seems

surprised.

“Yes.

No.

Yes,

he’s

my

friend.”

“He’s

not

what

you

think

he

is.”

She

touches

a

button,

and

the

monitor

pops

to

life.

I

tear

my

eyes

away

from

Chris,

from

the

outside

of

him

to

the

inside,

from

apparent

to

hidden,

because

on

the

screen

I

can

see

his

brain

encased

in

translucent

bone,

glowing

a

sickly

yellowish

green.

“What

is

that?”

I

whisper.

“The

infestation,”

Dr.

Pam

says.

She

presses

a

button

and

zooms

in

on

the

front

partof

Chris’s

brain.

The

pukish

color

intensifies,

glowing

neon

bright.

“This

is

the

prefrontal

cortex,

the

thinking

part

of

the

brain—the

part

that

makes

us

human.”

She

zooms

in

tight

on

an

area

no

larger

than

the

head

of

a

pin,

and

then

I

see

it.

My

stomach

does

a

slow

roll.

Embedded

in

the

soft

tissue

is

a

pulsing

egg-shaped

growth,

anchored

by

thousands

of

rootlike

tendrils

fanning

out

in

all

directions,

digging

into

every

crease

and

crevice

of

his

brain.

“We

don’t

know

how

they

did

it,”

Dr.

Pam

says.

“We

don’t

even

know

if

the

infected

are

aware

of

their

presence,

or

if

they’ve

been

puppets

their

entire

lives.”

The

thing

entangling

itself

in

Chris’s

brain,

pulsing.

“Take

it

out

of

him.”

I

can

barely

form

words.

“We’ve

tried,”

Dr.

Pam

says.

“Drugs,

radiation,

electroshock,

surgery.

Nothing

works.

The

only

way

to

kill

them

is

to

kill

the

host.”

She

slides

the

keyboard

in

front

of

me.

“He

won’t

feel

anything.”

Confused,

I

shake

my

head.

I

don’t

get

it.

“It

lasts

less

than

a

second,”

Dr.

Pam

assures

me.

“And

it’s

completely

painless.

This

button

right

here.”

I

look

down

at

the

button.

It

has

a

label:

EXECUTE.

“You’re

not

killing

Chris.

You’re

destroying

the

thing

inside

him

that

would

kill

you.”

“He

had

his

chance

to

kill

me,”

I

argue.

Shaking

my

head.

It’s

too

much.

I

can’t

deal.“And

he

didn’t.

He

kept

me

alive.”

“Because

it

wasn’t

time

yet.

He

left

you

before

the

attack,

didn’t

he?”

I

nod.

I’m

looking

at

him

again

through

the

two-way

mirror,

through

the

indistinct

frame

of

my

seethrough

self.

“You’re

killing

the

things

that

are

responsible

for

this.”

She

presses

something

into

my

hand.

Sissy’s

locket.

Her

locket,

the

button,

and

Chris.

And

the

thing

inside

Chris.

And

me.

Or

what’s

left

of

me.

What’s

left

of

me?

What

do

I

have

left?

The

metal

linksof

Sissy’s

necklace

cut

into

my

palm.

“It’s

how

we

stop

them,”

Dr.

Pam

urges

me.

“Before

there’s

no

one

left

to

stop

them.”

Chris

in

the

chair.

The

locket

in

my

hand.

How

long

have

I

been

running?

Running,running,

running.

Christ,

I’m

sick

of

running.

I

should

have

stayed.

I

should

havefaced

it.

If

I

had

faced

it

then,

I

wouldn’t

be

facing

it

now,

but

sooner

or

later

you

have

to

choose

between

running

and

facing

the

thing

you

thought

you

could

not

face.

I

bring

my

finger

down

as

hard

as

I

can.

30

I

LIKE

THE

CONVALESCENT

WING

a

lot

more

than

the

Zombie

Ward.

It

smells

better,

forne

thing,

and

you

get

your

own

room.

You’re

not

stuck

out

on

the

floor

with

a

hundred

other

people.

The

room

is

quiet

and

private,

and

it’s

easy

to

pretend

the

world

is

what

it

was

before

the

attacks.

For

the

first

time

in

weeks,

I’m

able

to

eat

solid

food

and

make

it

to

the

bathroom

by

myself—though

I

avoid

looking

in

the

mirror.

The

days

seem

brighter,

but

the

nights

are

bad:

Every

time

I

close

my

eyes,

I

see

my

skeletal

self

in

the

execution

room,

Chris

strapped

down

in

the

room

on

the

other

side,

and

my

bony

finger

coming

down.

Chris

is

gone.

Well,

according

to

Dr.

Pam,

Chris

never

was.

There

was

the

thing

insideChris

controlling

him

that

had

embedded

itself

into

his

brain

(they

don’t

know

how)

sometime

in

the

past

(they

don’t

know

when).

No

aliens

descended

from

the

mothership

to

attack

Wright-Patterson.

The

attack

came

from

within,

with

infested

soldiers

turning

their

guns

on

their

comrades.

Which

meant

they

had

been

hiding

inside

us

for

a

long

time,

waiting

for

the

first

three

waves

to

whittle

our

population

down

to

a

manageable

number

before

revealing

themselves.

What

did

Chris

say?

They

know

how

we

think.

They

knew

we’d

seek

safety

in

numbers.

Knew

we’d

take

shelter

with

the

guys

who

had

guns.

So,

Mr.

Alien,

how

do

you

overcome

that?

It’s

simple,

because

you

know

how

we

think,

don’t

you?

You

embed

sleeper

units

where

the

guns

are.

Even

if

your

troops

fail

in

the

initial

assault,

like

they

did

at

Wright-Patterson,

you

succeed

in

your

ultimate

goal

of

blowing

society

apart.

If

the

enemy

looks

just

like

you,

how

do

you

fight

him?

At

that

point,

it’s

game

over.

Starvation,

disease,

wild

animals:

It’s

only

a

matter

of

time

before

the

last,

isolated

survivors

are

dead.

From

my

window

six

stories

up

I

can

see

the

front

gates.

Around

dusk,

a

convoy

ofold

yellow

school

buses

rolls

out,

escorted

by

Humvees.

The

buses

return

several

hourslater

loaded

down

with

people,

mostly

kids—though

it’s

hard

to

tell

in

the

dark—who

are

taken

into

the

hangar

to

be

tagged

and

bagged,

the

“infested”

winnowed

out

and

destroyed.

That’s

what

my

nurses

tell

me,

anyway.

To

me,

the

whole

thing

seems

crazy,

given

what

we

know

about

the

attacks.

How

did

they

kill

so

many

of

us

so

quickly?

Oh

yeah,

because

humans

herd

like

sheep!

And

now

here

we

are,

clustering

again.

Right

in

plain

sight.

We

might

as

well

paint

a

big

red

bull’s-eye

on

the

base.

Here

we

are!

Fire

when

ready!

And

I

can’t

take

it

anymore.

Even

as

my

body

grows

stronger,

my

spirit

begins

to

crumple.

I

really

don’t

get

it.

What’s

the

point?

Not

their

point;

that’s

been

pretty

damn

clear

from

the

beginning.

I

mean

what’s

the

point

of

us

anymore?

I’m

sure

if

we

didn’t

cluster

again,

they’d

have

another

plan,

even

if

that

plan

were

using

infested

assassins

to

take

us

out

one

stupid,

isolated

human

at

a

time.

There’s

no

winning.

If

I

had

somehow

saved

my

sister,

it

wouldn’t

have

mattered.

I

would

have

bought

her

another

month

or

two

tops.

We’re

the

dead.

There’s

no

one

else

now.

There’s

the

past-dead

and

the

future-dead.

Corpses

and

corpses-to-be.

Somewhere

between

the

basement

room

and

this

room,

I

lost

Sissy’s

locket.

I

wake

up

in

the

middle

of

the

night,

my

hand

clutching

empty

air,

and

I

hear

her

screaming

my

name

like

she’s

standing

two

feet

away,

and

I’m

furious,

I’m

pissed

as

hell,

and

I

tell

her

to

shut

up,

I

lost

it,

it’s

gone.

I’m

dead

like

her,

doesn’t

she

get

it?

A

zombie,

that’s

me.

I

stop

eating.

I

refuse

my

meds.

I

lie

in

bed

for

hours,

staring

at

the

ceiling,

waitingfor

it

to

be

over,

waiting

to

join

my

sister

and

the

seven

billion

other

lucky

ones.

The

virus

that

was

eating

me

has

been

replaced

by

a

different

disease

that’s

even

more

hungry.

A

disease

with

a

kill

rate

of

100

percent.

And

I

tell

myself,

Don’t

let

them

do

it,

man!

This

is

part

of

their

plan,

too,

but

it

doesn’t

do

any

good.

I

can

give

myself

pep

talks

all

day

long;

it

doesn’t

change

the

fact

that

the

moment

the

mothership

appeared

in

the

sky,

it

was

game

over.

Not

a

matter

of

if,

but

when.

And

right

when

I

reach

the

point

of

no

return,

when

the

last

part

of

me

able

to

fightis

about

to

die,

as

if

he’s

been

waiting

all

this

time

for

me

to

reach

that

point,

my

savior

appears.

The

door

opens

and

his

shadow

fills

the

space—tall,

lean,

hard-edged,

as

if

his

shadow

were

cut

from

a

slab

of

black

marble.

That

shadow

falls

over

me

as

he

walks

toward

the

bed.

I

want

to

look

away,

but

I

can’t.

His

eyes—cold

and

blue

as

a

mountain

lake—pinme

down.

He

comes

into

the

light,

and

I

can

see

his

short-cropped

sandy

hair

and

his

sharp

nose

and

his

thin

lips

drawn

tight

in

a

humorless

smile.

Crisp

uniform.

Shiny

black

boots.

The

officer

insignia

on

his

collar.

He

looks

down

at

me

in

silence

for

a

long,

uncomfortable

moment.

Why

can’t

I

lookaway

from

those

ice-blue

eyes?

His

face

is

so

chiseled

it

looks

unreal,

like

a

wood

carving

of

a

human

face.

“Do

you

know

who

I

am?”

he

asks.

His

voice

is

deep,

very

deep,a

voice-over-on-a-moviepreview

deep.

I

shake

my

head.

How

the

hell

could

I

know

that?

I’d

never

seen

him

before

in

my

life.

“I’m

Lieutenant

Colonel

Alexander

Vosch,

the

commander

of

this

base.”

He

doesn’t

offer

me

his

hand.

He

just

stares

at

me.

Steps

around

to

the

end

of

thebed,

looks

at

my

chart.

My

heart

is

pounding

hard.

It

feels

like

I’ve

been

called

to

the

principal’s

office.

“Lungs

good.

Heart

rate,

blood

pressure.

Everything’s

good.”

He

hangs

the

chart

backon

the

hook.

“Only

everything

isn’t

good,

is

it?

In

fact,

everything

is

pretty

damn

bad.”

He

pulls

a

chair

close

to

the

bed

and

sits

down.

The

motion

is

seamless,

smooth,

uncomplicated,

like

he’s

practiced

it

for

hours

and

gotten

sitting

down

to

an

exact

science.

He

adjusts

the

crease

in

his

pants

into

a

perfectly

straight

line

before

he

goes

on.

“I’ve

seen

your

Wonderland

profile.

Very

interesting.

And

very

instructive.”

He

reaches

into

his

pocket,

again

with

so

much

grace

that

it’s

more

like

a

dance

move

than

a

gesture,

and

pulls

out

Sissy’s

silver

locket.

“I

believe

this

is

yours.”

He

drops

it

on

the

bed

next

to

my

hand.

Waits

for

me

to

grab

it.

I

force

myself

to

lie

still,

I’m

not

sure

why.

His

hand

returns

to

his

breast

pocket.

He

tosses

a

wallet-size

photo

into

my

lap.

I

pick

it

up.

There’s

a

little

blond

kid

around

six,

maybe

seven.

With

Vosch’s

eyes.

Being

held

in

the

arms

of

a

pretty

lady

around

Vosch’s

age.

“You

know

who

they

are?”

Not

a

hard

question.

I

nod.

For

some

reason,

the

picture

bothers

me.

I

hold

it

outfor

him

to

take

back.

He

doesn’t.

“They’re

my

silver

chain,”

he

says.

“I’m

sorry,”

I

say,

because

I

don’t

know

what

else

to

say.

“They

didn’t

have

to

do

it

this

way,

you

know.

Have

you

thought

about

that?

They

could

have

taken

their

own

sweet

time

killing

us—so

why

did

they

decide

to

kill

us

so

quickly?

Why

send

down

a

plague

that

kills

nine

out

of

every

ten

people?

Why

not

seven

out

of

ten?

Why

not

five?

In

other

words,

what’s

their

damn

hurry?

I

have

a

theory

about

that.

Would

you

like

to

hear

it?”

No,

I

think.

I

wouldn’t.

Who

is

this

guy,

and

why

is

he

here

talking

to

me?

“There’s

a

quote

from

Stalin,”

he

says.

“‘A

single

death

is

a

tragedy;

a

million

is

a

statistic.’

Can

you

imagine

seven

billion

of

anything?

I

have

trouble

doing

it.

It

pushes

the

limits

of

our

ability

to

comprehend.

And

that’s

exactly

why

they

did

it.

Like

running

up

the

score

in

football.

You

played

football,

right?

It

isn’t

about

destroying

our

capability

to

fight

so

much

as

crushing

our

will

to

fight.”

He

takes

the

photograph

and

slips

it

back

into

his

pocket.

“So

I

don’t

think

aboutthe

6.98

billion

people.

I

think

about

just

two.”

He

nods

toward

Sissy’s

locket.

“You

left

her.

When

she

needed

you,

you

ran.

And

you’re

still

running.

Don’t

you

think

it’s

time

you

stop

running

and

fight

for

her?”

I

open

my

mouth,

and

whatever

I

meant

to

say

comes

out

as,

“She’s

dead.”

He

waves

his

hand

in

the

air.

I’m

being

stupid.

“We’re

all

dead,

son.

Some

of

us

are

just

a

little

further

along

than

others.

You’re

wondering

who

the

hell

I

am

and

why

I’m

here.

Well,

I

told

you

who

I

am,

and

now

I’m

going

to

tell

you

why

I’m

here.”

“Good,”

I

whisper.

Maybe

after

he

tells

me,

he’ll

leave

me

alone.

He’s

weirding

me

out.

Something

about

the

way

he

looks

at

me

with

that

icy

stare,

the—there’s

no

other

word

for

it—

hardness

of

him,

like

he’s

a

statue

come

to

life.

“I’m

here

because

they’ve

killed

almost

all

of

us,

but

not

all

of

us.

And

that’s

their

mistake,

son.

That’s

the

flaw

in

their

plan.

Because

if

you

don’t

kill

all

of

us

all

at

once,

whoever’s

left

are

not

going

to

be

the

weak

ones.

The

strong

ones—and

only

the

strong

ones—will

survive.

The

bent

but

unbroken,

if

you

know

what

I

mean.

People

like

me.

And

people

like

you.”

I’m

shaking

my

head.

“I’m

not

strong.”

“Well,

that’s

where

you

and

I

will

have

to

disagree.

You

see,

Wonderland

doesn’t

just

map

out

your

experiences;

it

maps

out

you.

It

tells

us

not

just

who

you

are,

but

what

you

are.

Your

past

and

your

potential.

And

your

potential,

I

kid

you

not,

is

off

the

charts.

You

are

exactly

what

we

need

at

exactly

the

time

we

need

it.”

He

stands

up.

Towering

over

me.

“Get

up.”

Not

a

request.

His

voice

is

as

rock

hard

as

his

features.

I

heave

myself

onto

the

floor.

He

brings

his

face

close

to

mine

and

says

in

a

low,

dangerous

voice,

“What

do

you

want?

Be

honest.”

“I

want

you

to

leave.”

“No.”

Shaking

his

head

sharply.

“What

do

you

want?”

I

feel

my

lower

lip

poking

out,

like

a

tiny

kid

about

to

collapse

completely.

My

eyes

are

burning.

I

bite

down

hard

on

the

edges

of

my

tongue

and

force

myself

not

to

look

away

from

the

cold

fire

in

his

eyes.

“Do

you

want

to

die?”

Do

I

nod?

I

can’t

remember.

Maybe

I

did,

because

he

says,

“I’m

not

going

to

let

you.So

now

what?”

“So

I

guess

I’m

going

to

live.”

“No,

you’re

not.

You’re

going

to

die.

You’re

going

to

die,

and

there’s

nothing

you

or

I

or

anyone

else

can

do

to

stop

it.

You,

me,

everyone

left

on

this

big,

beautiful

blue

planet

is

going

to

die

and

make

way

for

them.”

He’s

cut

right

to

the

heart

of

it.

It’s

the

perfect

thing

to

say

at

the

perfect

moment,

and

what

he’s

been

trying

to

get

out

of

me

suddenly

explodes.

“Then

what’s

the

point,

huh?”

I

shout

into

his

face.

“What’s

the

fucking

point?

You

have

all

the

answers,

so

you

tell

me,

because

I

have

no

idea

anymore

why

I

should

give

a

damn!”

He

grabs

me

by

the

arm

and

slings

me

toward

the

window.

He’s

beside

me

in

two

seconds

and

flings

open

the

curtain.

I

see

the

school

buses

idling

beside

the

hangar

and

a

line

of

children

waiting

to

go

inside.

“You’re

asking

the

wrong

person,”

he

snarls.

“Ask

them

why

you

should

give

a

damn.

Tell

them

there’s

no

point.

Tell

them

you

want

to

die.”

He

grabs

my

shoulders

and

whirls

me

around

to

face

him.

Slaps

me

hard

in

the

chest.

“They’ve

flipped

the

natural

order

on

us,

boy.

Better

to

die

than

live.

Better

to

give

up

than

fight.

Better

to

hide

than

face.

They

know

the

way

to

break

us

is

to

kill

us

first

here.”

Slapping

my

chest

again.

“The

final

battle

for

this

planet

will

not

be

fought

over

any

plain

or

mountain

or

jungle

or

desert

or

ocean.

It

will

happen

here.”

Popping

me

again.

Hard.

Pop,

pop,

pop.

And

I’m

totally

gone

by

this

point,

giving

in

to

everything

I’ve

bottled

up

insidesince

the

night

my

sister

died,

sobbing

like

I’ve

never

cried

before,

like

crying

is

something

new

to

me

and

I

like

the

way

it

feels.

“You

are

the

human

clay,”

Vosch

whispers

fiercely

in

my

ear.

“And

I

am

Michelangelo.

I

am

the

master

builder,

and

you

will

be

my

masterpiece.”

Pale

blue

fire

in

his

eyes,

burning

to

the

bottom

of

my

soul.

“God

doesn’t

call

the

equipped,

son.

God

equips

the

called.

And

you

have

been

called.”

He

leaves

me

with

a

promise.

The

words

burn

so

hot

in

my

mind,

the

promise

follows

me

into

the

deepest

hours

of

the

night

and

into

the

days

that

follow.

I

will

teach

you

to

love

death.

I

will

empty

you

of

grief

and

guilt

and

self-pity

and

fill

you

up

with

hate

and

cunning

and

the

spirit

of

vengeance.

I

will

make

my

final

stand

here,

Benjamin

Thomas

Parish.

Slapping

my

chest

over

and

over

until

my

skin

burns,

my

heart

on

fire.

And

you

will

be

my

battlefield.

31

IT

SHOULD

have

been

easy.

All

he

had

to

do

was

wait.

He

was

very

good

at

waiting.

He

could

crouch

for

hours,

motionless,

silent,

he

and

his

rifle

one

body,

one

mind,

the

line

fuzzy

between

where

he

ended

and

the

weapon

began.

Even

the

fired

bullet

seemed

connected

to

him,

bound

by

an

invisible

cord

to

his

heart,

until

the

bullet

wedded

bone.

The

first

shot

dropped

her,

and

he

quickly

fired

again,

missing

entirely.

A

third

shot

as

she

dived

to

the

ground

beside

the

car,

and

the

back

window

of

the

Buick

exploded

in

a

cloud

of

pulverized

shatterproof

glass.

She’d

gone

under

the

car.

Her

only

option,

really,

which

left

him

two:

wait

for

her

to

come

out

or

leave

his

position

in

the

woods

bordering

the

highway

and

end

it.

The

option

with

the

least

risk

was

staying

put.

If

she

crawled

out,

he

would

kill

her.

If

she

didn’t,

time

would.

He

reloaded

slowly,

with

the

deliberateness

of

someone

who

knows

he

has

all

the

time

in

the

world.

After

days

of

stalking

her,

he

guessed

she

wasn’t

going

anywhere.

She

was

too

smart

for

that.

Three

shots

had

failed

to

take

her

down,

but

she

understood

the

odds

of

a

fourth

missing.

What

had

she

written

in

her

diary?

In

the

end

it

wouldn’t

be

the

lucky

ones

left

standing.

She

would

play

the

odds.

Crawling

out

had

zero

chance

of

success.

She

couldn’t

run,and

even

if

she

could,

she

didn’t

know

in

which

direction

safety

lay.

Her

only

hope

was

for

him

to

abandon

his

hiding

place

and

force

the

issue.

Then

anything

was

possible.

She

might

even

getlucky

and

shoot

him

first.

If

there

was

a

confrontation,

he

didn’t

doubt

she

would

refuse

to

go

down

quietly.

He

had

seen

what

she

did

to

the

soldier

in

the

convenience

store.

She

may

have

been

terrified

at

the

time,

and

killing

him

may

have

bothered

her

afterward,

but

her

fear

and

guilt

didn’t

stop

her

from

filling

his

body

with

lead.

Fear

didn’t

paralyze

Cassie

Sullivan,

like

it

did

some

humans.

Fear

crystallized

her

reason,

hardened

her

will,

clarified

her

options.

Fear

would

keep

her

under

the

car,

not

because

she

was

afraid

of

coming

out,

but

because

staying

there

was

her

only

hope

of

staying

alive.

So

he

would

wait.

He

had

hours

before

nightfall.

By

then,

she

would

have

either

bledto

death

or

be

so

weak

from

blood

loss

and

dehydration

that

finishing

her

would

be

easy.

Finishing

her.

Finishing

Cassie.

Not

Cassie

for

Cassandra.

Or

Cassie

for

Cassidy.Cassie

for

Cassiopeia,

the

girl

in

the

woods

who

slept

with

a

teddy

bear

in

one

hand

and

a

rifle

in

the

other.

The

girl

with

the

strawberry

blond

curls

who

stood

a

little

over

five

feet

four

in

her

bare

feet,

so

younglooking

he

was

surprised

to

learn

she

was

sixteen.

The

girl

who

sobbed

in

the

pitch

black

of

the

deep

woods,

terrified

one

moment,

defiant

the

next,

wondering

if

she

was

the

last

person

on

Earth,

while

he,

the

hunter,

hunkered

a

dozen

feet

away,

listening

to

her

cry

until

exhaustion

carried

her

down

into

a

restless

sleep.

The

perfect

time

to

slip

silently

into

her

camp,

put

the

gun

to

her

head,

and

finish

her.

Because

that’s

what

he

did.

That’s

what

he

was:

a

finisher.

He

had

been

finishing

humans

since

the

advent

of

the

plague.

For

four

years

now,

since

he

was

fourteen,

when

he

awakened

inside

the

human

body

chosen

for

him,

he

had

known

what

he

was.

Finisher.

Hunter.

Assassin.

The

name

didn’t

matter.

Cassie’s

name

for

him,

Silencer,

was

as

good

as

any.

It

described

his

purpose:

to

snuff

out

the

human

noise.

But

he

didn’t

that

night.

Or

the

nights

that

followed.

And

each

night,

creeping

a

little

closer

to

the

tent,

inching

his

way

over

the

woodland

blanket

of

decaying

leaves

and

moist

loamy

soil

until

his

shadow

rose

in

the

narrow

opening

of

the

tent

and

fell

over

her,

and

the

tent

was

filled

with

her

smell,

and

there

would

be

the

sleeping

girl

clutching

the

teddy

bear

and

the

hunter

holding

his

gun,

one

dreaming

of

the

life

that

was

taken

from

her,

the

other

thinking

of

the

life

he’d

take.

The

girl

sleeping

and

the

finisher,

willing

himself

to

finish

her.

Why

didn’t

he

finish

her?

Why

couldn’t

he

finish

her?

He

told

himself

it

was

unwise.

She

couldn’t

stay

in

these

woods

indefinitely.

He

could

use

her

to

lead

him

to

others

of

her

kind.

Humans

are

social

animals.

They

cluster

like

bees.

The

attacks

relied

on

this

critical

adaptation.

The

evolutionary

imperative

that

drove

them

to

live

in

groups

was

the

opportunity

to

kill

them

by

the

billions.

What

was

the

saying?

Strength

in

numbers.

And

then

he

found

the

notebooks

and

discovered

there

was

no

plan,

no

real

goal

except

to

survive

to

the

next

day.

She

had

nowhere

to

go

and

no

one

left

to

go

to.

She

was

alone.

Or

thought

she

was.

He

didn’t

return

to

her

camp

that

night.

He

waited

until

the

afternoon

of

the

followingday,

not

telling

himself

he

was

giving

her

time

to

pack

up

and

leave.

Not

letting

himself

think

about

her

silent,

desperate

cry:

Sometimes

I

think

I

might

be

the

last

human

on

Earth.

Now,

as

the

last

human’s

last

minutes

spun

out

beneath

the

car

on

the

highway,

the

tension

in

his

shoulders

began

to

fade.

She

wasn’t

going

anywhere.

He

lowered

the

rifle

and

squatted

at

the

base

of

the

tree,

rolling

his

head

from

side

to

side

to

ease

the

stiffness

in

his

neck.

He

was

tired.

Hadn’t

been

sleeping

well

lately.

Or

eating.

He’d

dropped

some

pounds

since

the

4th

Wave

rolled

out.

He

wasn’t

too

concerned.

They’d

anticipated

some

psychological

and

physical

blowback

at

the

beginning

of

the

4th

Wave.

The

first

kill

would

be

the

hardest,

but

the

next

would

be

easier,

and

the

one

after

that

easier

still,

because

it’s

true:

Even

the

most

sensitive

person

can

get

used

to

even

the

most

insensitive

thing.

Cruelty

isn’t

a

personality

trait.

Cruelty

is

a

habit.

He

pushed

that

thought

away.

To

call

what

he

was

doing

cruel

implied

he

had

a

choice.

Choosing

between

your

kind

and

another

species

wasn’t

cruel.

It

was

necessary.

Not

easy,

especially

when

you’ve

lived

the

last

four

years

of

your

life

pretending

to

be

no

different

from

them,

but

necessary.

Which

raised

the

troubling

question:

Why

didn’t

he

finish

her

that

first

day?

Whenhe

heard

the

shots

inside

the

convenience

store

and

followed

her

back

to

the

campsite,

why

didn’t

he

finish

her

then,

while

she

lay

crying

in

the

dark?

He

could

explain

away

the

three

missed

shots

on

the

highway.

Fatigue,

lack

of

sleep,

the

shock

of

seeing

her

again.

He

had

assumed

she

would

head

north,

if

she

ever

left

her

camp

at

all,

not

head

back

south.

He

had

felt

a

sudden

rush

of

adrenaline,

as

if

he’d

turned

a

street

corner

and

run

into

a

long-lost

friend.

That

must

have

been

what

threw

off

that

first

shot.

The

second

and

third

he

could

chalk

up

to

luck—her

luck,

not

his.

But

what

about

all

those

days

that

he

followed

her,

sneaking

into

her

camp

while

she

was

away

foraging,

doing

a

bit

of

foraging

himself

through

her

belongings,

including

the

diary

in

which

she

had

written,

Sometimes

in

my

tent,

late

at

night,

I

think

I

canhear

the

stars

scraping

against

the

sky?

What

about

those

predawn

mornings

when

he

slid

silently

through

the

woods

to

where

she

slept,

determined

to

finish

it

this

time,

to

do

what

he

had

prepared

all

his

life

to

do?

She

wasn’t

his

first

kill.

She

wouldn’t

be

his

last.

It

should

have

been

easy.

He

rubbed

his

slick

palms

against

his

thighs.

It

was

cool

in

the

trees,

but

he

was

dripping

with

sweat.

He

scrubbed

his

sleeve

across

his

eyes.

The

wind

on

the

highway:

a

lonely

sound.

A

squirrel

scampered

down

the

tree

next

to

him,

unconcerned

by

his

presence.

Below

him,

the

highway

disappeared

over

the

horizon

in

both

directions,

and

nothing

moved

except

the

trash

and

the

grass

bowing

in

the

lonely

wind.

The

buzzards

had

found

the

three

bodies

lying

in

the

median;

three

fat

birds

waddled

in

for

a

closer

look

while

the

rest

of

the

flock

circled

in

the

updrafts

high

overhead.

The

buzzards

and

other

scavengers

were

enjoying

a

population

explosion.

Buzzards,

crows,

feral

cats,

packs

of

hungry

dogs.

He’d

stumbled

upon

more

than

one

desiccated

corpse

that

had

clearly

been

someone’s

dinner.

Buzzards.

Crows.

Aunt

Millie’s

tabby.

Uncle

Herman’s

Chihuahua.

Blowflies

and

otherinsects.

Worms.

Time

and

the

elements

clean

up

the

rest.

If

she

didn’t

come

out,

Cassie

would

die

beneath

the

car.

Within

minutes

of

her

last

breath,

the

first

fly

would

arrive

to

lay

eggs

in

her.

He

pushed

the

distasteful

image

away.

It

was

a

human

thought.

It

had

been

only

four

years

since

his

Awakening,

and

he

still

fought

against

seeing

the

world

through

human

eyes.

On

the

day

of

his

Awakening,

when

he

saw

the

face

of

his

human

mother

for

the

first

time,

he

burst

into

tears:

He

had

never

seen

anything

so

beautiful—or

so

ugly.

It

had

been

a

painful

integration

for

him.

Not

seamless

or

quick,

like

some

Awakenings

he’d

heard

of.

He

supposed

his

had

been

more

difficult

than

others

because

the

childhood

of

his

host

body

had

been

a

happy

one.

A

well-adjusted,

healthy

human

psyche

was

the

hardest

to

absorb.

It

had

been—

still

was—a

daily

struggle.

His

host

body

wasn’t

something

apart

from

him

that

he

manipulated

like

a

puppet

on

a

string.

It

was

him.

The

eyes

he

used

to

see

the

world,

they

were

his

eyes.

This

brain

he

used

to

interpret,

analyze,

sense,

and

remember

the

world,

it

was

his

brain,

wired

by

thousands

of

years

of

evolution.

Human

evolution.

He

wasn’t

trapped

inside

it

and

didn’t

ride

about

in

it,

guiding

it

like

a

jockey

on

a

horse.

He

was

this

human

body,

and

it

was

him.

And

if

something

should

happen

to

it—if,

for

example,

it

died—he

would

perish

with

it.

It

was

the

price

of

survival.

The

cost

of

his

people’s

last,

desperate

gamble:

To

rid

his

new

home

of

humanity,

he

had

to

become

human.

And

being

human,

he

had

to

overcome

his

humanity.

He

stood

up.

He

didn’t

know

what

he

was

waiting

for.

Cassie

for

Cassiopeia

was

doomed,a

breathing

corpse.

She

was

badly

injured.

Run

or

stay,

there

was

no

hope.

She

had

no

way

to

treat

her

wound

and

no

one

for

miles

who

could

help

her.

She

had

a

small

tube

of

antibiotic

cream

in

her

backpack,

but

no

suture

kit

and

no

bandages.

In

a

few

days,

the

wound

would

become

infected,

gangrene

would

set

in,

and

she

would

die,

assuming

another

finisher

didn’t

come

along

in

the

interim.

He

was

wasting

time.

So

the

hunter

in

the

woods

stood

up,

startling

the

squirrel.

It

rocketed

up

the

tree

with

an

angry

hiss.

He

swung

his

rifle

to

his

shoulder

and

brought

the

Buick

into

the

sight,

swinging

the

red

crosshairs

back

and

forth

and

up

and

down

its

body.

What

if

he

blew

out

the

tires?

The

car

would

collapse

onto

its

rims,

perhaps

pinning

her

beneath

its

two-thousand-pound

frame.

There’d

be

no

running

then.

The

Silencer

lowered

his

rifle

and

turned

his

back

on

the

highway.

The

buzzards

feeding

in

the

median

heaved

their

cumbersome

bodies

into

the

air.

The

lonely

wind

died.

And

then

his

hunter’s

instinct

whispered,

Turn

around.

A

bloody

hand

emerged

from

the

undercarriage.

An

arm

followed.

Then

a

leg.

He

swung

his

rifle

into

position.

Sighted

her

in

the

crosshairs.

Holding

his

breath,sweat

coursing

down

his

face,

stinging

his

eyes.

She

was

going

to

do

it.

She

was

goingto

run.

He

was

relieved

and

anxious

at

the

same

time.

He

couldn’t

miss

with

this

fourth

shot.

He

spread

his

legs

wide

and

squared

his

shoulders

and

waited

for

her

to

make

her

move.

The

direction

wouldn’t

matter.

Once

she

was

out

in

the

open,

there

was

nowhere

to

hide.

Still,

part

of

him

hoped

she

would

run

in

the

opposite

direction,

so

he

wouldn’t

have

to

place

the

bullet

in

her

face.

Cassie

hauled

herself

upright,

collapsed

for

a

moment

against

the

car,

then

righted

herself,

balancing

precariously

on

her

wounded

leg,

clutching

the

handgun.

He

placed

the

red

cross

in

the

middle

of

her

forehead.

His

finger

tightened

on

the

trigger.

Now,

Cassie.

Run.

She

pushed

away

from

the

car.

Brought

up

the

handgun.

Pointed

it

at

a

spot

fifty

yardsto

his

right.

Swung

it

ninety

degrees,

swung

it

back.

Her

voice

came

to

him

shrill

and

small

in

the

deadened

air.

“Here

I

am!

Come

and

get

me,

you

son

of

a

bitch!”

I’m

coming,

he

thought,

for

the

rifle

and

the

bullet

were

a

part

of

him,

and

when

the

round

wed

bone,

he

would

be

there,

too,

inside

her,

the

instant

she

died.

Not

yet.

Not

yet,

he

told

himself.

Wait

till

she

runs.

But

Cassie

Sullivan

didn’t

run.

Her

face,

speckled

with

dirt

and

grease

and

bloodfrom

the

cut

on

her

cheek,

seemed

just

inches

away

through

the

scope,

so

close

he

could

count

the

freckles

on

her

nose.

He

could

see

the

familiar

look

of

fear

in

her

eyes,

a

look

he

had

seen

a

hundred

times,

the

look

we

give

back

to

death

when

death

looks

at

us.

But

there

was

something

else

in

her

eyes,

too.

Something

that

warred

with

her

fear,

strove

against

it,

shouted

it

down,

kept

her

still

and

the

gun

moving.

Not

hiding,

not

running,

but

facing.

Her

face

blurred

in

the

crosshairs:

Sweat

was

dripping

into

his

eyes.

Run,

Cassie.

Please

run.

A

moment

comes

in

war

when

the

last

line

must

be

crossed.

The

line

that

separates

what

you

hold

dear

from

what

total

war

demands.

If

he

couldn’t

cross

that

line,

the

battle

was

over,

and

he

was

lost.

His

heart,

the

war.

Her

face,

the

battlefield.

With

a

cry

only

he

could

hear,

the

hunter

turned.

And

ran.

32

AS

WAYS

TO

DIE

GO,

freezing

to

death

isn’t

such

a

bad

one.

That’s

what

I’m

thinking

as

I

freeze

to

death.

You

feel

warm

all

over.

There’s

no

pain,

none

at

all.

You’re

all

floaty,

like

you

just

chugged

a

whole

bottle

of

cough

syrup.

The

white

world

wraps

its

white

arms

around

you

and

carries

you

downward

into

a

frosty

white

sea.

And

the

silence

so—shit—silent,

that

the

beating

of

your

heart

is

the

only

sound

in

the

universe.

So

quiet,

your

thoughts

make

a

whispery

noise

in

the

dull,

freezing

air.

Waist-deep

in

a

drift,

under

a

cloudless

sky,

the

snowpack

holding

you

upright

because

your

legs

can’t

anymore.

And

you’re

going,

I’m

alive,

I’m

dead,

I’m

alive,

I’m

dead.

And

there’s

that

damn

bear

with

its

big,

brown,

blank,

creepy

eyes

staring

at

you

from

its

perch

in

the

backpack,

going,

You

lousy

shit,

you

promised.

So

cold

your

tears

freeze

against

your

cheeks.

“It’s

not

my

fault,”

I

told

Bear.

“I

don’t

make

the

weather.

You

got

a

beef,

take

it

up

with

God.”

That’s

what

I’ve

been

doing

a

lot

lately:

taking

it

up

with

God.

Like:

God,

WTF?

Spared

from

the

Eye

so

I

could

kill

the

Crucifix

Soldier.

Saved

from

the

Silencerso

my

leg

could

get

infected,

making

every

step

a

journey

over

hell’s

highway.

Kept

me

going

until

the

blizzard

came

in

for

two

solid

days,

trapping

me

in

this

waist-high

drift

so

I

could

die

of

hypothermia

under

a

gloriously

blue

sky.

Thanks,

God.

Spared,

saved,

kept,

the

bear

says.

Thanks,

God.

It

doesn’t

really

matter,

I’m

thinking.

I

was

all

over

Dad

for

getting

so

fangirly

about

the

Others,

and

for

spinning

the

facts

to

make

things

seem

less

bleak,

but

I

wasn’t

actually

much

better

than

he

was.

It

was

just

as

hard

for

me

to

swallow

the

idea

that

I

had

gone

to

bed

a

human

being

and

woken

up

a

cockroach.

Being

a

disgusting,

disease-carrying

bug

with

a

brain

the

size

of

a

pinhead

isn’t

something

you

deal

with

easily.

It

takes

time

to

adjust

to

the

idea.

And

the

bear

goes,

Did

you

know

a

cockroach

can

live

up

to

a

week

without

its

head?

Yeah.

Learned

that

in

bio.

So

your

point

is

I’m

a

little

worse

of

than

a

cockroach.

Thanks.

I’ll

work

on

exactly

what

kind

of

disease-carrying

pest

I

am.

It

hits

me

then.

Maybe

that’s

why

the

Silencer

on

the

highway

let

me

live:

spritzthe

bug,

walk

away.

Do

you

really

need

to

stick

around

while

it

flips

on

its

back

and

claws

the

air

with

its

six

spindly

legs?

Stay

under

the

Buick,

run,

stand

your

ground—what

did

it

matter?

Stay,

run,

stand,

whatever;

the

damage

was

done.

My

leg

wasn’t

going

to

heal

on

its

own.

The

first

shotwas

a

death

sentence,

so

why

waste

any

more

bullets?

I

rode

out

the

blizzard

in

the

rear

compartment

of

an

Explorer.

Folded

down

the

seat,made

myself

a

cozy

metal

hut

in

which

to

watch

the

world

turn

white,

unable

to

crack

the

power

windows

to

let

in

fresh

air,

so

the

SUV

quickly

filled

up

with

the

smell

of

blood

and

my

festering

wound.

I

used

up

all

the

pain

pills

from

my

stash

in

the

first

ten

hours.

Ate

up

the

rest

of

my

rations

by

the

end

of

day

one

in

the

SUV.

When

I

got

thirsty,

I

popped

the

hatch

a

crack

and

scooped

up

handfuls

of

snow.

Leftthe

hatch

popped

up

to

get

some

fresh

air—until

my

teeth

were

chattering

and

my

breath

turned

into

blocks

of

ice

in

front

of

my

eyes.

By

the

afternoon

of

day

two,

the

snow

was

three

feet

deep

and

my

little

metal

hut

began

to

feel

less

like

a

refuge

than

a

sarcophagus.

The

days

were

only

two

watts

brighter

than

the

nights,

and

the

nights

were

the

negation

of

light—not

dark,

but

lightlessness

absolute.

So,

I

thought,

this

is

how

dead

people

see

the

world.

I

stopped

worrying

about

why

the

Silencer

had

let

me

live.

Stopped

worrying

aboutthe

very

weird

feeling

of

having

two

hearts,

one

in

my

chest

and

a

smaller

one,

a

mini

heart,

in

my

knee.

Stopped

caring

whether

the

snow

stopped

before

my

two

hearts

did.

I

didn’t

exactly

sleep.

I

floated

in

that

space

in

between,

hugging

Bear

to

my

chest,Bear

who

kept

his

eyes

open

when

I

could

not.

Bear,

who

kept

Sammy’s

promise

to

me,

being

there

for

me

in

the

space

between.

Um,

speaking

of

promises,

Cassie…

I

must

have

apologized

to

him

a

thousand

times

during

those

two

snowbound

days.

I’m

sorry,

Sams.

I

said

no

matter

what,

but

what

you’re

too

young

to

understand

is

there’s

more

than

one

kind

of

bullshit.

There’s

the

bullshit

you

know

that

you

know;

the

bullshit

you

don’t

know

and

know

you

don’t

know;

and

the

bullshit

you

just

think

you

know

but

really

don’t.

Making

a

promise

in

the

middle

of

an

alien

black

op

falls

under

the

last

category.

So…sorry!

So

sorry.

One

day

later

now,

waist-deep

in

a

snowbank,

Cassie

the

ice

maiden,

with

a

jaunty

little

cap

made

out

of

snow

and

frozen

hair

and

ice-encrusted

eyelashes,

all

warm

and

floaty,

dying

by

inches,

but

at

least

dying

on

her

feet

trying

to

keep

a

promise

she

had

no

prayer

of

keeping.

So

sorry,

Sams,

so

sorry.

No

more

bullshit.

I’m

not

coming.

33

THIS

PLACE

CAN’T

BE

HEAVEN.

It

doesn’t

have

the

right

vibe.

I’m

walking

in

a

dense

fog

of

white

lifeless

nothingness.

Dead

space.

No

sound.

Noteven

the

sound

of

my

own

breath.

In

fact,

I

can’t

even

tell

if

I’m

breathing.

That’snumber

one

on

the

“How

do

I

know

if

I’m

alive?”

checklist.

I

know

someone

is

here

with

me.

I

don’t

see

him

or