Cover image for The infinite sea
The infinite sea
Yancey, Richard.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, NY : G.P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), [2014]

Physical Description:
300 pages ; 24 cm.
"Cassie Sullivan and her companions lived through the Others' four waves of destruction. Now, with the human race nearly exterminated and the 5th Wave rolling across the landscape, they face a choice: brace for winter and hope for Evan Walker's return, or set out in search of other survivors before the enemy closes in"--
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 4.7 11.0 168405.

Format :


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The riveting follow-up to the New York Times bestselling The 5th Wave , hailed by Justin Cronin as "wildly entertaining."
How do you rid the Earth of seven billion humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.

Surviving the first four waves was nearly impossible. Now Cassie Sullivan finds herself in a new world, a world in which the fundamental trust that binds us together is gone. As the 5th Wave rolls across the landscape, Cassie, Ben, and Ringer are forced to confront the Others' ultimate goal: the extermination of the human race.

Cassie and her friends haven't seen the depths to which the Others will sink, nor have the Others seen the heights to which humanity will rise, in the ultimate battle between life and death, hope and despair, love and hate.

Praise for The 5th Wave
"Just read it."-- Entertainment Weekly
"A modern sci-fi masterpiece."-- USA Today
"Wildly entertaining . . . I couldn't turn the pages fast enough."--Justin Cronin, The New York Times Book Review
 "Nothing short of amazing."-- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Gripping!"-- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Everyone I trust is telling me to read this book."-- The Atlantic Wire

Author Notes

Rick Yancey was born in Miami, Florida on November 4, 1962. He received a B.A. in English from Roosevelt University in Chicago. Before becoming a full time writer in 2004, he worked as a field officer for the Internal Revenue Service.

His first book, A Burning in Homeland, was published in 2003. He is the author of several series including The 5th Wave, The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp, The Highly Effective Detective, and The Monstrumologist. He wrote a memoir entitled Confessions of a Tax Collector. In 2010, he received a Michael L. Printz Honor for The Monstrumologist. The 5th Wave was adapted into a movie.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* While The 5th Wave (2013) was a sprawling apocalyptic vision of an Earth stomped to near submission by aliens, this sequel goes small, condensing its time frame to focus on a small band of despairing heroes. The result is an even better book a breathless, grueling survival story kicked off by a gut-wrenching concept: the Others using human children as IEDs to take out nests of survivors. Perspective shifts between Cassie, Zombie, Poundcake, Evan, and Ringer, with each character taking a turn in the spotlight, but the basic problem is communal: anyone who ventures outside their hideout disappears or worse. Evan's deadly relationship with fellow alien-human hybrid Grace takes early center stage, and Yancey's ability to generate sympathy for a species that wants to destroy us, with maximum cruelty, is a wonder. Later, it's Ringer who dominates the narrative when she faces off with Commander Vosch and becomes a guinea pig for the 12th System. Yancey's prose remains unimpeachable every paragraph is laden with setting, theme, and emotion and he uses it toward a series of horrifying set pieces, including a surgery scene that will have your pages sopping with sweat. The end, while confusing, seems to flip the script. Is there some Childhood's End-type purpose to this? Or is it all sound and fury? Waiting a year for answers, now that's torture. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Promotion of The 5th Wave was stratospheric, and with the film adaptation coming, expect blanket awareness of this sequel.--Kraus, Daniel Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

The second book in Yancey's the 5th Wave series offers an action-packed science fiction odyssey, in which Cassie Sullivan and her cohorts struggle to keep the Others from exterminating the human race. The belief that survival, taking risks, and keeping promises are the only things that matter comprises the philosophy Cassie employs as armor in her search for her brother, and her romances and interactions with the Others. The story involves a diverse group of characters with an array of nicknames and veiled identities, making it hard for listeners unfamiliar with the series to keep track of who's who. Adding to the confusion are alternating narrators, which hinders the book's ability to engage listeners and allow them to readily distinguish one character from the next. While Strole's narration is clearly enunciated, her voices for the adults are not distinct enough. She fares better with the children. Yannette's narration is straightforward and easy to listen to primarily because he portrays more fully developed and clearly written characters. Both Strole and Yannette's presentations of the battles are invigorating, and there is a genuine interest in how each conflict will resolve. Ages 14-up. A Putnam hardcover. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-The majority of the first-person narration in this second book in "The 5th Wave" series (Putnam) shifts between Ringer, a beautiful teen with deadly aim, and tough-but-tender Cassie, who thought she was the lone surviving human. A third-person viewpoint is used for Evan, an alien who has shifted his allegiance in the face of true love and Ben (Zombie), badly injured but still in command of the ragtag paramilitary group of creatively nicknamed children and teens. The action springs back and forth in place and time as readers learn why Poundcake no longer speaks, how Evan is related to super-strong Grace, and why chess is important to Ringer. The "infinite sea" can be made of snow, of tears, of the floaty feeling of semi-consciousness, and, more than once, it is a sea of blood. Yancey keeps the pressure on, as Cassie and Ben seek to protect the younger humans and outsmart the devious Silencers. Ringer struggles to maintain her humanity in the face of nanotechnology and Evan struggles with turning his back on what his species has been working toward for thousands of years. Yancey's writing can be melodramatic ("The world will be consumed by the crushing dark"; "The Others didn't invent death; they just perfected it"), but will keep action-craving readers enthralled. With a 5th Wave movie in the works, and alien questions left unanswered, expect readers to be interested in this series for the foreseeable future.-Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



I. The Problem of Rats 1 THE WORLD IS a clock winding down. I hear it in the wind's icy fingers scratching against the window. I smell it in the mildewed carpeting and the rotting wallpaper of the old hotel. And I feel it in Teacup's chest as she sleeps. The hammering of her heart, the rhythm of her breath, warm in the freezing air, the clock winding down. Across the room, Cassie Sullivan keeps watch by the window. Moonlight seeps through the tiny crack in the curtains behind her, lighting up the plumes of frozen breath exploding from her mouth. Her little brother sleeps in the bed closest to her, a tiny lump beneath the mounded covers. Window, bed, back again, her head turns like a pendulum swinging. The turning of her head, the rhythm of her breath, like Nugget's, like Teacup's, like mine, marking the time of the clock winding down. I ease out of bed. Teacup moans in her sleep and burrows deeper under the covers. The cold clamps down, squeezing my chest, though I'm fully dressed except for my boots and the parka, which I grab from the foot of the bed. Sullivan watches as I pull on the boots, then when I go to the closet for my rucksack and rifle. I join her by the window. I feel like I should say something before I leave. We might not see each other again. "So this is it," she says. Her fair skin glows in the milky light. The spray of freckles seems to float above her nose and cheeks. I adjust the rifle on my shoulder. "This is it." "You know, Dumbo I get. The big ears. And Nugget, because Sam is so small. Teacup, too. Zombie I don't get so much--Ben won't say--and I'm guessing Poundcake has something to do with his roly-poly-ness. But why Ringer?" I sense where this is going. Besides Zombie and her brother, she isn't sure of anyone anymore. The name Ringer gives her paranoia a nudge. "I'm human." "Yeah." She looks through the crack in the curtains to the parking lot two stories below, shimmering with ice. "Someone else told me that, too. And, like a dummy, I believed him." "Not so dumb, given the circumstances." "Don't pretend, Ringer," she snaps. "I know you don't believe me about Evan." "I believe you. It's his story that doesn't make sense." I head for the door before she tears into me. You don't push Cassie Sullivan on the Evan Walker question. I don't hold it against her. Evan is the little branch growing out of the cliff that she clings to, and the fact that he's gone makes her hang on even tighter. Teacup doesn't make a sound, but I feel her eyes on me; I know she's awake. I go back to the bed. "Take me with you," she whispers. I shake my head. We've been through this a hundred times. "I won't be gone long. A couple days." "Promise?" No way, Teacup. Promises are the only currency left. They must be spent wisely. Her bottom lip quivers; her eyes mist. "Hey," I say softly. "What did I tell you about that, soldier?" I resist the impulse to touch her. "What's the first priority?" "No bad thoughts," she answers dutifully. "Because bad thoughts do what?" "Make us soft." "And what happens if we go soft?" "We die." "And do we want to die?" She shakes her head. "Not yet." I touch her face. Cold cheek, warm tears. Not yet. With no time left on the human clock, this little girl has probably reached middle age. Sullivan and me, we're old. And Zombie? The ancient of days. He's waiting for me in the lobby, wearing a ski jacket over a bright yellow hoodie, both scavenged from the remains inside the hotel: Zombie escaped from Camp Haven wearing only a flimsy pair of scrubs. Beneath his scruffy beard, his face is the telltale scarlet of fever. The bullet wound I gave him, ripped open in his escape from Camp Haven and patched up by our twelve-year-old medic, must be infected. He leans against the counter, pressing his hand against his side and trying to look like everything's cool. "I was starting to think you changed your mind," Zombie says, dark eyes sparkling as if he's teasing, though that could be the fever. I shake my head. "Teacup." "She'll be okay." To reassure me, he releases his killer smile from its cage. Zombie doesn't fully appreciate the pricelessness of promises or he wouldn't toss them out so casually. "It's not Teacup I'm worried about. You look like shit, Zombie." "It's this weather. Wreaks havoc on my complexion." A second smile leaps out at the punch line. He leans forward, willing me to answer with my own. "One day, Private Ringer, you're going to smile at something I say and the world will break in half." "I'm not prepared to take on that responsibility." He laughs and maybe I hear a rattle deep in his chest. "Here." He offers me another brochure of the caverns. "I have one," I tell him. "Take this one, too, in case you lose it." "I won't lose it, Zombie." "I'm sending Poundcake with you," he says. "No, you're not." "I'm in charge. So I am." "You need Poundcake here more than I need him out there." He nods. He knew I would say no, but he couldn't resist one last try. "Maybe we should abort," he says. "I mean, it isn't that bad here. About a thousand bedbugs, a few hundred rats, and a couple dozen dead bodies, but the view is fantastic. . ." Still joking, still trying to make me smile. He's looking at the brochure in his hand. Seventy-four degrees year 'round! "Until we get snowed in or the temperature drops again. The situation is unsustainable, Zombie. We've stayed too long already." I don't get it. We've talked this to death and now he wants to keep beating the corpse. I wonder about Zombie sometimes. "We have to chance it, and you know we can't go in blind," I go on. "The odds are there're other survivors hiding in those caves and they may not be ready to throw out the welcome mat, especially if they've met any of Sullivan's Silencers." "Or recruits like us," he adds. "So I'll scope it out and be back in a couple of days." "I'm holding you to that promise." "It wasn't a promise." There's nothing left to say. There're a million things left to say. This might be the last time we see each other, and he's thinking it, too, because he says, "Thank you for saving my life." "I put a bullet in your side and now you might die." He shakes his head. His eyes sparkle with fever. His lips are gray. Why did they have to name him Zombie? It's like an omen. The first time I saw him, he was doing knuckle push-ups in the exercise yard, face contorted with anger and pain, blood pooling on the asphalt beneath his fists. Who is that guy? I asked. His name is Zombie. He fought the plague and won, they told me, and I didn't believe them. Nobody beats the plague. The plague is a death sentence. And Reznik the drill sergeant bending over him, screaming at the top of his lungs, and Zombie in the baggy blue jumpsuit, pushing himself past the point where one more push is impossible. I don't know why I was surprised when he ordered me to shoot him so he could keep his unkeepable promise to Nugget. When you look death in the eye and death blinks first, nothing seems impossible. Even mind reading. "I know what you're thinking," he says. "No. You don't." "You're wondering if you should kiss me good-bye." "Why do you do that?" I ask. "Flirt with me." He shrugs. His grin is crooked, like his body leaning against the counter. "It's normal. Don't you miss normal?" he asks. Eyes digging deep into mine, always looking for something, I'm never sure what. "You know, drive-thrus and movies on a Saturday night and ice cream sandwiches and checking your Twitter feed?" I shake my head. "I didn't Twitter." "Facebook?" I'm getting a little pissed. Sometimes it's hard for me to imagine how Zombie made it this far. Pining for things we lost is the same as hoping for things that can never be. Both roads dead-end in despair. "It's not important," I say. "None of that matters." Zombie's laugh comes from deep in his gut. It bubbles to the surface like the superheated air of a hot spring, and I'm not pissed anymore. I know he's putting on the charm, and somehow knowing what he's doing does nothing to blunt the effect. Another reason Zombie's a little unnerving. "It's funny," he says. "How much we thought all of it did. You know what really matters?" He waits for my answer. I feel as if I'm being set up for a joke, so I don't say anything. "The tardy bell." Now he's forced me into a corner. I know there's manipulation going on here, but I feel helpless to stop it. "Tardy bell?" "Most ordinary sound in the world. And when all of this is done, there'll be tardy bells again." He presses the point. Maybe he's worried I don't get it. "Think about it! When a tardy bell rings again, normal is back. Kids rushing to class, sitting around bored, waiting for the final bell, and thinking about what they'll do that night, that weekend, that next fifty years. They'll be learning like we did about natural disasters and disease and world wars. You know: 'When the aliens came, seven billion people died,' and then the bell will ring and everybody will go to lunch and complain about the soggy Tater Tots. Like, 'Whoa, seven billion people, that's a lot. That's sad. Are you going to eat all those Tots?' That's normal. That's what matters." So it wasn't a joke. "Soggy Tater Tots?" "Okay, fine. None of that makes sense. I'm a moron." He smiles. His teeth seem very white surrounded by the scruffy beard, and now, because he suggested it, I think about kissing him and if the stubble on his upper lip would tickle. I push the thought away. Promises are priceless, and a kiss is a kind of promise, too. 2 UNDIMMED, THE STARLIGHT sears through the black, coating the highway in pearly white. The dry grass shines; the bare trees shimmer. Except for the wind cutting across the dead land, the world is winter quiet. I hunker beside a stalled SUV for one last look back at the hotel. A nondescript two-story white rectangle among a cluster of other nondescript white rectangles. Only four miles from the huge hole that used to be Camp Haven, we nicknamed it the Walker Hotel, in honor of the architect of that huge hole. Sullivan told us the hotel was her and Evan's prearranged rendezvous point. I thought it was too close to the scene of the crime, too difficult to defend, and anyway, Evan Walker was dead: It takes two to rendezvous, I reminded Zombie. I was overruled. If Walker really was one of them, he may have found a way to survive. "How?" I asked. "There were escape pods," Sullivan said. "So?" Her eyebrows came together. She took a deep breath. "So. . . he could have escaped in one." I looked at her. She looked back. Neither of us said anything. Then Zombie said, "Well, we have to take shelter somewhere , Ringer." He hadn't found the brochure for the caverns yet. "And we should give him the benefit of the doubt." "The benefit of what doubt?" I asked. "That he is who he says he is." Zombie looked at Sullivan, who was still glaring at me. "That he'll keep his promise." "He promised he'd find me," she explained. "I saw the cargo plane," I said. "I didn't see an escape pod." Beneath the freckles, Sullivan was blushing. "Just because you didn't see one . . ." I turned to Zombie. "This doesn't make sense. A being thousands of years more advanced than us turns on its own kind--for what?" "I wasn't filled in on the why part," Zombie said, half smiling. "His whole story is strange," I said. "Pure consciousness occupying a human body--if they don't need bodies, they don't need a planet." "Maybe they need the planet for something else." Zombie was trying hard. "Like what? Raising livestock? A vacation getaway?" Something else was bothering me, a nagging little voice that said, Something doesn't add up. But I couldn't pin down what that something was. Every time I chased after it, it skittered away. "There wasn't time to go into all the details," Sullivan snapped. "I was sort of focused on rescuing my baby brother from a death camp." I let it go. Her head looked like it was about to explode. I can make out that same head now on my last look back, silhouetted in the second-story window of the hotel, and that's bad, really bad: She's an easy target for a sniper. The next Silencer Sullivan encounters might not be as love struck as the first one. I duck into the thin line of trees that borders the road. Stiff with ice, the autumn ruins crunch beneath my boots. Leaves curled up like fists, trash and human bones scattered by scavengers. The cold wind carries the faint odor of smoke. The world will burn for a hundred years. Fire will consume the things we made from wood and plastic and rubber and cloth, then water and wind and time will chew the stone and steel into dust. How baffling it is that we imagined cities incinerated by alien bombs and death rays when all they needed was Mother Nature and time. And human bodies, according to Sullivan, despite the fact that, also according to Sullivan, they don't need bodies. A virtual existence doesn't require a physical planet. When I'd first said that, Sullivan wouldn't listen and Zombie acted like it didn't matter. For whatever reason, he said, the bottom line is they want all of us dead. Everything else is just noise. Maybe. But I don't think so. Because of the rats. I forgot to tell Zombie about the rats. 3 BY SUNRISE, I reach the southern outskirts of Urbana. Halfway there, right on schedule. Clouds have rolled in from the north; the sun rises beneath the canopy and paints its underbelly a glistening maroon. I'll hole up in the trees until nightfall, then hit the open fields to the west of the city and pray the cloud cover hangs around for a while, at least until I pick up the highway again on the other side. Going around Urbana adds a few miles, but the only thing riskier than navigating a town during the day is trying it at night. And it's all about risk. Mist rises from the frozen ground. The cold is intense. It squeezes my cheeks, makes my chest ache with each breath. I feel the ancient yearning for fire embedded deep in my genes. The taming of fire was our first great leap: Fire protected us, kept us warm, transformed our brains by changing our diets from nuts and berries to protein-rich meat. Now fire is another weapon in our enemy's arsenal. As deep winter sets in, we're crushed between two unacceptable risks: freezing to death or alerting the enemy to our location. Sitting with my back against a tree, I pull out the brochure. Ohio's Most Colorful Caverns! Zombie's right. We won't survive till spring without shelter, and the caves are our best--maybe only--bet. Maybe they've been taken or destroyed by the enemy. Maybe they're occupied by survivors who will shoot strangers on sight. But every day we stay at that hotel, the risk grows tenfold. We don't have an alternative if the caves don't pan out. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and the idea of fighting is ludicrous. The clock winds down. When I pointed this out to him, Zombie told me I think too much. He was smiling. Then he stopped smiling and said, "Don't let 'em get inside your head." As if this were a football game and I needed a halftime pep talk. Ignore the fifty-six to nothing score. Play for pride! It's moments like those that make me want to slap him, not that slapping him would do any good, but it would make me feel better. The breeze dies. There's an expectant hush in the air, the stillness before a storm. If it snows, we'll be trapped. Me in these woods. Zombie in the hotel. I'm still twenty or so miles from the caverns--should I risk the open fields by day or risk the snow holding off at least till nightfall? Back to the R word. It's all about risk. Not just ours. Theirs, too: embedding themselves in human bodies, establishing death camps, training kids to finish the genocide, all of it crazy risky, stupid risky. Like Evan Walker, discordant, illogical, and just damn strange . The opening attacks were brutal in their efficiency, wip¬ing out 98 percent of us, and even the 4th Wave made some sense: It's hard to muster a meaningful resistance if you can't trust one another. But after that, their brilliant strategy starts to unravel. Ten thousand years to plan the eradication of humans from Earth and this is the best they can come up with? That's the question I can't stop turning over and over in my head, and haven't been able to, since Teacup and the night of the rats. Deeper in the woods, behind me and to my left, a soft moan slices through the silence. I recognize the sound immediately; I've heard it a thousand times since they came. In the early days, it was nearly omnipresent, a constant background noise, like the hum of traffic on a busy highway: the sound of a human being in pain. I pull the eyepiece from my rucksack and adjust the lens carefully over my left eye. Deliberately. Without panic. Panic shuts down neurons. I stand up, check the bolt catch on the rifle, and ease through the trees toward the sound, scanning the terrain for the telltale green glow of an "infested." Mist shrouds the trees; the world is draped in white. My footsteps thunder on the frozen ground. My breaths are sonic booms. The delicate white curtain parts, and twenty yards away I see a figure slumped against a tree, head back, hands pressed into its lap. The head doesn't glow in my eyepiece, which means he's no civilian; he's part of the 5th Wave. I aim the rifle at his head. "Hands! Let me see your hands!" His mouth hangs open. His vacant eyes regard the gray sky through bare branches glistening with ice. I step closer. A rifle identical to mine lies on the ground beside him. He doesn't reach for it. "Where's the rest of your squad?" I ask. He doesn't answer. I lower my weapon. I'm an idiot. In this weather, I would see his breath and there is none. The moan I heard must have been his last. I do a slow 360, holding my breath, but see nothing but trees and mist, hear nothing but my own blood roaring in my ears. Then I step over to the body, forcing myself not to rush, to notice everything. No panic. Panic kills. Same gun as mine. Same fatigues. And there's his eyepiece on the ground beside him. He's a 5th Waver all right. I study his face. He looks vaguely familiar. I'm guessing he's twelve or thirteen, around Dumbo's age. I kneel beside him and press my fingertips against his neck. No pulse. I open the jacket and pull up his blood-soaked shirt to look for the wound. He was hit in the gut by a single, high-caliber round. A round I didn't hear. Either he's been lying here for a while or the shooter is using a silencer. Silencer. According to Sullivan, Evan Walker took out an entire squad by himself, at night, injured and outnumbered, sort of a warm-up to his single-handed blowing up of an entire military installation. At the time, I found Cassie's story hard to believe. Now there's a dead soldier at my feet. His squad MIA. And me alone with the silence of the woods and the milky white screen of fog. Doesn't seem that far-fetched now. Think fast. Don't panic. Like chess. Weigh the odds. Measure the risk. I have two options. Stay put until something develops or night falls. Or get out of these woods, fast. Whoever killed him could be miles away or hunkered down behind a tree, waiting for a clear shot. The possibilities multiply. Where's his squad? Dead? Hunting down the person who shot him? What if the person who shot him was a fellow recruit who went Dorothy? Forget his squad. What happens when reinforcements arrive? I pull out my knife. It's been five minutes since I found him. I'd be dead by now if someone knew I was here. I'll wait till dark, but I have to prepare for the probability that another breaker of the 5th Wave is rolling toward me. I press against the back of his neck until I find the tiny bulge beneath the scar. S tay calm. It's like chess. Move and countermove. I slice slowly along the scar and dig out the pellet with the tip of the knife, where it sits suspended on a droplet of blood. So we'll always know where you are. So we can keep you safe. Risk. The risk of lighting up in an eyepiece. The opposing risk of the enemy frying my brain with the touch of a button. The pellet in its bed of blood. The awful stillness of the trees and the clinching cold and the fog that curls between branches like fingers interlacing. And Zombie's voice in my head: You think too much. I tuck the pellet between my cheek and gums. Stupid. I should have wiped it off first. I can taste the kid's blood. 4 I AM NOT ALONE. I can't see him or hear him, but I feel him. Every inch of my body tingles with the sensation of being watched. An uncomfortably familiar feeling now, present since the very beginning. Just the mothership silently hovering in orbit for the first ten days caused cracks in the human edifice. A different kind of viral plague: uncertainty, fear, panic. Clogged highways, deserted airports, overrun emergency rooms, governments in lockdown, food and gas shortages, martial law in some places, lawlessness in others. The lion crouches in the tall grass. The gazelle sniffs the air. The awful stillness before the strike. For the first time in ten millennia, we knew what it felt like to be prey again. The trees are crowded with crows. Shiny black heads, blank black eyes, their hunched-shouldered silhouettes reminding me of little old men on park benches. There are hundreds of them perched in the trees and hopping about the ground. I glance at the body beside me, its eyes blank and bottomless as the crows'. I know why the birds have come. They're hungry. I am, too, so I dig out my baggie of beef jerky and only-slightly-expired gummy bears. Eating is a risk, too, because I'll have to remove the tracker from my mouth, but I need to stay alert, and to stay alert, I need fuel. The crows watch me, cocking their heads as if straining to hear the sound of my chewing. You fat asses. How hungry could you be? The attacks yielded millions of tons of meat. At the height of the plague, huge flocks blotted out the sky, their shadows racing across the smoldering landscape. The crows and other carrion birds closed the loop of the 3rd Wave. They fed on infected bodies, then spread the virus to new feeding grounds. I could be wrong. Maybe we're alone, me and this dead kid. The more seconds that slip by, the safer I feel. If someone is watching, I can think of only one reason why he'd hold the shot: He's waiting to see if any more idiotic kids playing soldier show up. I finish my breakfast and slip the pellet back into my mouth. The minutes crawl. One of the most disorienting things about the invasion--after watching everyone you know and love die in horrible ways--was how time slowed down as events sped up. Ten thousand years to build civilization, ten months to tear it down, and each day lasted ten times longer than the one before, and the nights lasted ten times as long as the days. The only thing more excruciating than the boredom of those hours was the terror of knowing that any minute they could end. Midmorning: The mist lifts and the snow begins to fall in flakes smaller than crows' eyes. There's not a breath of wind. The woods are draped in a dreamlike, glossy white glow. As long as the snow stays this light, I'm good till dark. If I don't fall asleep. I haven't slept in over twenty hours, and I feel warm and comfortable and slightly spacy. In the gossamer stillness, my paranoia ratchets up. My head is perfectly centered in his crosshairs. He's high in the trees; he's lying motionless like a lion in the brush. I'm a puzzle to him. I should be panicking. So he holds his fire, allowing the situation to develop. There must be some reason I'm hanging out here with a corpse. But I don't panic. I don't bolt like a frightened gazelle. I am more than the sum of my fear. It isn't fear that will defeat them. Not fear or faith or hope or even love, but rage. Fuck you, Sullivan said to Vosch. It's the only part of her story that impressed me. She didn't cry. She didn't pray. She didn't beg. She thought it was over, and when it's over, when the clock has wound to the final second, the time for crying, praying, and begging is over. "Fuck you," I whisper. Saying the words makes me feel better. I say them again, louder. My voice carries far in the winter air. A flutter of black wings deep in the trees to my right, the petulant squawking of the crows, and through my eyepiece, a tiny green dot sparkling among the brown and white. Found you. The shot will be tough. Tough, not impossible. I'd never handled a firearm in my life until the enemy found me hiding in the rest stop outside Cincinnati, brought me to their camp, and placed a rifle in my hand, at which point the drill sergeant wondered aloud if command had slipped a ringer into the unit. Six months later, I put a bullet into that man's heart. I have a gift. The fiery green light is coming closer. Maybe he knows I've spotted him. It doesn't matter. I caress the smooth metal of the trigger and watch the blob of light expand through the eyepiece. Maybe he thinks he's out of range or is positioning himself for a better shot. Doesn't matter. It might not be one of Sullivan's silent assassins. It might be just some poor lost survivor hoping for rescue. Doesn't matter. Only one thing matters anymore. The risk. 5 AT THE HOTEL, Sullivan told me a story about shooting a soldier behind some beer coolers and how bad she felt afterward. "It wasn't a gun," she tried to explain. "It was a crucifix." "Why is that important?" I asked. "It could have been a Raggedy Ann doll or a bag of M&Ms. What choice did you have?" "I didn't. That's my point ." I shook my head. "Sometimes you're in the wrong place at the wrong time and what happens is nobody's fault. You just want to feel bad so you'll feel better." "Bad so I feel better?" With a deep blush of anger spreading beneath her freckles. "That makes absolutely no friggin' sense." "'I killed an innocent guy, but look how guilty I feel about it,'" I explained. "Guy's still dead." She stared at me for a long time. "Well. I see why Vosch wanted you for the team." The green blob of his head advances toward me, weaving through the trees, and now I can see the glint of a rifle through the languid snow. I'm pretty sure it isn't a crucifix. Cradling my rifle, leaning my head against the tree as if I'm dozing or looking at the flakes float between the glistening bare branches, lioness in the tall grass. Fifty yards away. The muzzle velocity of a M16 is 3,100 feet per second. Three feet in a yard, which means he has two-thirds of a second left on Earth. Hope he spends it wisely. I swing the rifle around, square my shoulders, and let loose the bullet that completes the circle. The murder of crows rockets from the trees, a riot of black wings and hoarse, scolding cries. The green ball of light drops and doesn't rise. I wait. Better to wait and see what happens next. Five minutes. Ten. No motion. No sound. Nothing but the thunderous silence of snow. The woods feel very empty without the company of the birds. With my back pressed against the tree, I slide up and hold still another couple of minutes. Now I can see the green glow again, on the ground, not moving. I step over the body of the dead recruit. Frozen leaves crackle beneath my boots. Each footstep measures out the time winding down. Halfway to the body, I realize what I've done. Teacup lies curled into a tight ball beside a fallen tree, her face covered in the crumbs of last year's leaves. Behind a row of empty beer coolers, a dying man hugged a bloody crucifix to his chest. His killer didn't have a choice. They gave her no choice. Because of the risk. To her. To them. I kneel beside her. Her eyes are wide with pain. She reaches for me with hands dark crimson in the gray light. "Teacup," I whisper. "Teacup, what are you doing here? Where's Zombie?" I scan the woods but don't hear or see him or anyone else. Her chest heaves and frothy blood boils over her lips. She's choking. I gently push her face toward the ground to clear her mouth. She must have heard me cursing. That's how she found me, by my own voice. Teacup screams. The sound knifes through the stillness, bounces and ricochets off the trees. Unacceptable . I press my hand down hard over her bloody lips and tell her to hush. I don't know who shot the kid I found, but whoever did it can't be far. If the sound of my rifle doesn't bring him back to investigate, her screaming will. Damn it, shut up. Shut up. What the hell are you doing out here, sneaking up on me like that, you little shit? Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Teeth scrape frantically against my palm. Tiny fingers seek my face. My cheeks painted with her blood. With my free hand, I tug open her jacket. I've got to compress the wound or she'll bleed out. I grab the collar of her shirt and rip downward, exposing her torso. I wad up the remnant and press it just below her rib cage, against the bullet hole weeping blood. She jerks at my touch with a strangled sob. "What did I tell you about that, soldier?" I whisper. "What's the first priority?" Slick lips slide over my palm. No words come out. "No bad thoughts," I tell her. "No bad thoughts. No bad thoughts. Because bad thoughts make us go soft. They make us soft. Soft. Soft. And we can't go soft. We can't. What happens when we go soft?" The woods brim with menacing shadows. Deep in the trees, there's a snapping sound. A boot crunching on the frozen ground? Or an ice-encrusted branch, splintering? We could be surrounded by a hundred enemies. Or zero. I race through our options. There aren't many. And they all suck. First option: We stay. The problem is stay for what. The dead recruit's unit is unaccounted for. Whoever killed the kid is also unaccounted for. And Teacup has no chance of surviving without medical attention. She has minutes, not hours. Second option: We run. The problem is where . The hotel? Teacup would bleed to death before we make it back, plus she may have taken off for a good reason. The caverns? Can't risk going through Urbana, which means adding miles of open fields and many hours to a journey that ends at a place that probably isn't safe, either. There's a third option. The unthinkable one. And the only one that makes sense. The snow falls heavier, the gray deepens. I cup her face with one hand and press the other into the wound, but I know it's hopeless. My bullet tore through her gut; the injury is catastrophic. Teacup is going to die. I should leave her. Now. But I don't. I can't. Like I told Zombie on the night Camp Haven blew, the minute we decide one person doesn't matter, they've won, and now my words are the chain that binds me to her. I hold her in my arms in the awful dead stillness of the woods in snow. 6 I EASE HER DOWN onto the forest floor. Drained of all color, her face is only slighter darker than the snow. Her mouth hangs open, her eyelids flutter. She's slipped into unconsciousness. I don't think she'll wake again. My hands are shaking. I'm struggling to keep it together. I'm pissed as hell at her, at myself, at the seven billion impossible dilemmas their arrival brought, at the lies and the maddening inconsistencies and all the ridiculous, hopeless, stupid unspoken promises that have been broken since they came. Don't go soft. Think about what matters, right here, right now; you're good at that. I decide to wait. It can't be much longer. Maybe after she's dead, the softness inside me will pass and I'll be able to think clearly. Every uneventful minute means I still have time. But the world is a clock winding down, and there are no such things as uneventful minutes anymore. A heartbeat after I decide to stay with her, the percussive thrum of rotors shatters the silence. The sound of the choppers snaps the spell. Knowing what matters: besides shooting, the thing I'm best at. I can't let them take Teacup alive. If they take her, they may be able to save her. And if they save her, they'll run her through Wonderland. There's the tiniest chance that Zombie's still safe at the hotel. A chance that Teacup wasn't running from anything, just snuck off to find me. One trip by either of us down the rabbit hole and everybody's doomed. I pull my sidearm from the holster. The minute we decide . . . I wish I had a minute. I wish I had thirty seconds. Thirty seconds would be a lifetime. A minute would be an eternity. I level the gun at her head and lift up my face to the gray. Snow settles on my skin, where it quivers for a moment before melting. Sullivan had her Crucifix Soldier and now I have mine. No. I am the soldier. Teacup is the cross. 7 I FEEL HIM THEN, the one standing deep in the trees, motionless, watching me. I look, and then I see him, a lighter human-shaped shadow between the dark trunks. For a moment, neither of us moves. I know, without understanding how, that he is the one who shot the kid and the other members of his squad. And I know the shooter can't be a recruit. His head does not glow in my eyepiece. The snow spins, the cold squeezes. I blink, and the shadow is gone. If the shadow was ever there. I'm losing my grip. Too many variables. Too much risk. Shaking uncontrollably, I wonder if they've finally broken me; after surviving the tsunami that took my home, the plague that took my family, the death camp that took my hope, the innocent little girl who took my bullet, I am terminal, done, finished, and was it ever in question, never if but always when ? The choppers bear down. I have to finish what I started with Teacup or I'll join her where she lies. I sight along the barrel of my pistol into the pale, angelic face at my feet, my victim, my cross. And the roar of the Black Hawks' approach makes my thoughts seem like the tiny squeaking whimpers of a dying rodent. It's like the rats, isn't it, Cup? Just like the rats. 8 THE OLD HOTEL swarmed with vermin. The cold had killed off the cockroaches, but other pests survived, especially bedbugs and carpet beetles. And they were hungry. Within a day, all of us were covered with bites. The basement belonged to the flies, where corpses had been brought during the plague. By the time we checked in, most of the flies had died off. So many dead flies that their black husks crunched beneath our feet when we went down there the first day. That was also the last day we went into the basement. The entire building reeked of rot, and I told Zombie that opening the windows would help dissipate the smell and kill off some of the bugs. He said he'd rather get bit and gag than freeze to death. As he smiled to drench you in his irresistible charm. Relax, Ringer. It's just another day in the alien wild. The bugs and the smell didn't bother Teacup. It was the rats that drove her crazy. They had chewed their way into the walls, and at night their gnawing and scratching kept her (and therefore me) awake. She tossed and turned, whined and bitched and generally obsessed, because practically any other thoughts about our situation ended up in a bad place. In a vain attempt to distract her, I began teaching her chess, using a towel for a board and coins for the pieces. "Chess is a stupid game for stupid people," she informed me. "No, it's very democratic," I said. "Smart people play, too." Teacup rolled her eyes. "You want to play just so you can beat me." "No, I want to because I miss playing it." Her mouth dropped open. " That's what you miss?" I spread the towel on the bed and positioned the coins. "Don't decide how you feel about something before you try it." I was around her age when I began. The beautiful wooden board on a stand in my father's study. The gleaming ivory pieces. The stern king. The haughty queen. The noble knight. The pious bishop. And the game itself, the way each piece contributed its individual power to the whole. It was simple. It was complex. It was savage; it was elegant. It was a dance; it was a war. It was finite and eternal. It was life. "Pennies are pawns," I told her. "Nickels are rooks, dimes are knights and bishops, quarters are kings and queens." She shook her head. Ringer is an idiot. "How can dimes and quarters be both?" "Heads: knights and kings. Tails: bishops and queens." The coolness of the ivory. The way the felt-covered bases slid over the polished wood, like whispered thunder crashing. My father's face bent over the board, lean and unshaven, red-eyed and purse-lipped, encrusted with shadows. The sickly sweet smell of alcohol and fingers that thrummed like hummingbirds' wings. It's called the game of kings, Marika. Would you like to learn how to play? "It's the game of kings," I said to Teacup. "Well, I'm not a king." She crossed her arms. So over me. "I like checkers." "Then you'll love chess. Chess is checkers on steroids." My father tapping his chipped nails on the tabletop. The rats scratching inside the walls. "Here's how the bishop moves, Teacup." This is how the knight moves, Marika. She jammed a stale piece of gum into her mouth and chewed angrily as the dry shards crumbled. Minty breath. Whiskey breath. Scratch, scratch, tap, tap. "Give it a chance," I begged her. "You'll love it. I promise." She grabbed the corner of the towel. "Here's what I feel." I saw it coming, but still flinched when she flung the towel and the coins exploded into the air. A nickel popped her in the forehead and she didn't even blink. "Ha!" Teacup shouted. "I guess that's checkmate, bitch!" Reacting without thinking, I slapped her. "Don't ever call me that. Ever ." The cold made the slap more painful. Her bottom lip poked out, her eyes welled up, but she didn't cry. "I hate you," she said. "I don't care." "No, I hate you, Ringer. I hate your fucking guts." "Cussing doesn't make you grown-up, you know." "Then I guess I'm a baby. Shit, shit, shit! Fuck, fuck, fuck!" She started to touch her cheek. She stopped herself. "I don't have to listen to you. You aren't my mother or my sister or anybody ." "Then why have you been latched on to me like a pilot fish since we left camp?" Now a tear did fall, a single drop that trailed down her scarlet cheek. She was so pale and thin, her skin as luminescent as one of my father's chess pieces. I was surprised the slap hadn't shattered her into a thousand bits. I didn't know what to say or how to unsay what had been said, so I said nothing. Instead, I laid a hand on her knee. She pushed my hand away. "I want my gun back," she said. "Why do you want your gun back?" "So I can shoot you." "Then you're definitely not getting your gun back." "Can I have it back to shoot all the rats?" I sighed. "We don't have enough bullets." "Then we poison them." "With what?" She threw up her hands. "Okay, so we set the hotel on fire and burn them all up!" "That's a great idea, only we happen to be living here, too." "Then they're gonna win. Against us. A bunch of rats ." I shook my head. I didn't follow her. "Win--how?" Her eyes widened in disbelief. Ringer the moron. "Listen to them! They're eating it. And pretty soon we won't be living here because there won't be any here to live in!" "That's not winning," I pointed out. "They wouldn't have a home, either." "They're rats , Ringer. They can't think that far ahead." Not just the rats, I thought that night after she finally fell asleep next to me. I listened to them inside the walls, chewing, scratching, screeching. Eventually, with the help of weather, insects, and time, the old hotel would collapse. In another hundred years, only the foundation would remain. In a thousand, nothing at all. Here or anywhere. It would be as if we had never existed. Who needs the kind of bombs used at Camp Haven when they can turn the elements themselves against us? Teacup was pressed tight against me. Even under mounds of covers, the cold squeezed hard. Winter: a wave they didn't have to engineer. The cold would kill off thousands more. Nothing that happens is insignificant, Marika, my father told me during one of my chess lessons. Every move matters. Mastery is in understanding how much each time, every time. It nagged at me. The problem of rats. Not Teacup's problem. Not the problem with rats. The problem of rats. 9 I SEE THE CHOPPERS closing in through the leafless branches clothed in white, three black dots against the gray. I have seconds. Options: Finish Teacup and take my chances against three Black Hawks equipped with Hellfire missiles. Leave Teacup to be finished by them--or worse, saved. One last option: Finish both of us. A bullet for her. A bullet for me. I don't know if Zombie is okay. I don't know what--if anything--drove Teacup from the hotel. What I do know is our deaths may be his only chance to live. I will myself to squeeze the trigger. If I can fire the first round, the second will be much easier. I tell myself it's too late--too late for her and too late for me. There's no avoiding death, anyway. Isn't that the lesson they've been hammering into our heads for months? No hiding from it, no running from it. Put it off for a day, and death will surely find you tomorrow. She looks so beautiful, not even real, nestled in a bower of snow, her dark hair shimmering like onyx, her expression in sleep the indescribable serenity of an ancient statue. I know that killing both of us is the only option with the least risk to the most people. And I think of rats again and how sometimes, to pass the interminable hours, Teacup and I would plot our campaign against the vermin, stratagems and tactics, waves of attack, each more ridiculous than the last, until she dissolved into hysterical laughter, and I gave her the same speech I gave Zombie on the firing range, the same lesson that now comes home to me, the fear that binds killer to prey and the bullet connecting both as if by a silver cord. Now I am the killer and the prey, a circle of a completely different kind, and my mouth has gone dry as the sterile air, my heart as cold: The temperature of true rage is absolute zero, and mine is deeper than the ocean, wider than the universe. So it isn't hope that makes me slip the sidearm back into its holster. It isn't faith and it sure isn't love. It's rage. Rage, and the fact that I have a dead recruit's implant still lodged between my cheek and gums. 10 I LIFT HER UP. Her head falls against my shoulder. We take off through the trees. A Black Hawk thunders overhead. The other two choppers have split off, one to the east, one to the west, cutting off any escape. The high, thin branches bend. Snow whips sideways into my face. Teacup weighs nothing; I could be carrying a wad of discarded clothes. We come out of the trees as a Black Hawk roars in from the north. The blast of air whips my hair with cyclonic fury. The chopper hovers above us and now we are motionless, standing in the middle of the road. No more running. No more. I lower Teacup to the blacktop. The helicopter is so close, I can see the black visor of the pilot and the open door to the hold and the cluster of bodies inside, and I know I'm in the middle of a half dozen sights, me and the little girl at my feet. And every second that passes means I've survived that second and, with each second, the increased probability I'll survive the next. It might not be too late, not for me, not for her, not yet. I do not glow in their eyepieces. I am one of them. I must be, right? I sling the rifle from my shoulder and slip my finger through the trigger guard. II. The Ripping 11 FROM THE TIME I could barely walk, my father would ask me, Cassie, do you want to fly? And my arms would shoot over my head. Are you kidding me, old man? Damn straight I want to fly! And he would grab my waist and toss me into the air. My head would snap back and I would hurtle like a rocket toward the sky. For an instant that lasted a thousand years, it felt as if I'd keep flying until I reached the stars. I would scream with joy, that fierce roller-coaster-ride fear, my fingers clutching at clouds. Fly, Cassie, fly! My brother knew that feeling, too. Better than me, because the memory was fresher. Even after the Arrival, Dad was launching him into orbit. I saw him do it at Camp Ashpit a few days before Vosch showed up and murdered him in the dirt. Sam, m'boy, do you want to fly? Lowering his voice from baritone to bass like an old-time carny hustler, though the ride he was selling was free--and priceless. Dad the launching pad. Dad the landing zone. Dad the tether that kept Sams--and me--from hurtling into the nullity of deep space, a nullity himself now. I waited for Sam to ask. That's the easiest way to break horrible news. Also the lowest. He didn't ask, though. He told me. "Daddy's dead." A tiny lump beneath a mound of covers, brown eyes big and round and blank like the teddy bear's pressed against his cheek. Teddy bears are for babies, he told me the first night at Hotel Hell. I'm a soldier now. Burrowed in the bed next to his, another solemn, pint-sized soldier staring at me, the seven-year-old they call Teacup. The one with the adorable baby-doll face and haunted eyes who doesn't share a bed with a stuffed animal; she sleeps with a rifle. Welcome to the post-human age. "Oh, Sam." I left my post by the window and sat beside the cocoon of covers swaddling him. "Sammy, I didn't know how--" He slugged me in the cheek with a balled-up, apple-sized fist. I never saw it coming, in both meanings of the phrase. Bright stars exploded in my vision. For a second I was afraid he'd detached my retina. Okay . Rubbing my cheek. I deserved that. "Why did you let him die?" he demanded. He didn't cry or scream. His voice was low and fierce, simmering with rage. "You were supposed to take care of him." "I didn't let him die, Sams." My father bleeding, crawling in the dirt-- Where are you going, Dad? --and Vosch standing over him, watching my father crawl the way a sadistic kid might a fly that he's dewinged, grimly satisfied. Teacup from her bed: "Hit her again." Sam snarled at her, "You shut up." "It wasn't my fault," I whispered, my arm wrapped around the bear. "He was soft," Teacup said. "That's what happens when you go--" Sam was on her in two seconds. Then it was all fists and knees and feet and dust flying from the blankets and Dear God, there's a rifle in that bed! and I shoved Teacup away, scooped Sam into my arms, and held him tightly against my chest while he swung his arms and kicked his legs, spitting and gnashing his teeth, and Teacup was shouting obscenities at him and promising she'd put him down like a dog if he ever touched her again. The door flew open and Ben burst into the room wearing that ridiculous yellow hoodie. "It's cool!" I shouted over the screaming. "I've got this!" "Cup! Nugget! Stand down!" Like a switch being flipped, the minute Ben barked the order, both kids fell silent. Sam went limp. Teacup flopped against the headboard and folded her arms over her chest. "She started it." Sam pouted. "I was just thinking of painting a big red X on the roof," Ben said. He holstered his pistol. "Thanks, guys, for saving me the trouble." He grinned at me. "Maybe Teacup should bunk in my room until Ringer gets back." "Good!" Teacup said. She jumped out of bed, marched to the door, turned on her heel, went back to the bed, grabbed the rifle, and yanked on Ben's wrist. "Let's go, Zombie." "In a minute," he said gently. "Dumbo's on the watch. Take his bed." "My bed now." She couldn't resist a parting shot: "A-holes." " You're the a-hole!" Sammy shouted after her. The door slammed in that quick, violent way of hotel doors. "A-hole." Ben looked at me, right eyebrow cocked. "What happened to your face?" "Nothing." "I hit her," Sammy said. "You hit her?" "For letting my daddy die." Now Sam lost it. As in tears, not fists, and the next thing I knew, Ben was kneeling and my baby brother was crying in his arms, and Ben was saying, "Hey, it's okay, soldier. It's going to be okay." Stroking the crew cut I was still getting used to--Sammy just didn't seem like Sammy without the mop of hair--saying that dumb-ass camp name over and over. Nugget, Nugget. I knew it shouldn't, but it bothered me that everyone had a nom de guerre but me. I liked Defiance . Ben picked him up and deposited him in the bed. Then he found Bear lying on the floor and placed him on the pillow. Sam knocked him away. Ben picked him up again. "You really want to decommission Teddy?" he asked. "His name isn't Teddy." "Private Bear," Ben tried. "Just Bear, and I never want to see him again!" Sam yanked the covers over his head. "Now go away! Everybody. Just. Go. Away!" I took a step toward him. Ben tsk ed at me and jerked his head toward the door. I followed him out of the room. A large shadow hulked by the window down the hall: the big, silent kid named Poundcake, whose silence did not fall into the creepy category, more like the profound stillness of a mountain lake variety. Ben leaned against the wall, hugging Bear to his chest, mouth slightly open, sweating despite the freezing temperature. Exhausted after a tussle with a couple of kids, Ben was in trouble, which meant we all were. "He didn't know your dad was dead," he said. I shook my head. "He did and he didn't. One of those things." "Yeah." Ben sighed. "Those things." A lead ball of silence the size of Newark dropped between us. Ben was absently stroking Bear's head like an old man strokes a cat while reading the newspaper. "I should go back to him," I said. Ben sidestepped to the door, blocking my way. "Maybe you shouldn't." "Maybe you shouldn't poke your nose into--" "Not the first person in his life to die. He'll deal." "Wow. That was harsh." We're talking about the guy who was my father, too, Zombie boy. "You know what I meant." "Why do people always say that after they say something totally cruel?" Then I said it, because I may have certain issues with self-editing: "I happen to know what it's like to 'deal' with death all by yourself. Just you and nothing else but the big empty of where everything used to be. It would have been nice, really, really nice, to have had someone there with me . . ." "Hey," Ben said softly. "Hey, Cassie, I didn't--" "No, you didn't. You really didn't." Zombie . Because he didn't have feelings, dead inside like a zombie? There were people at Ashpit like that. Shufflers , I called them, human-shaped sackfuls of dust. Something irreplaceable had crumbled inside. Too much loss. Too much pain. Shuffling, blank-eyed, slack-jawed mutterers. Was that Ben? Was he a shuffler? Then why did he risk everything to rescue Sam? "Wherever you were," Ben said slowly, "we were there, too." The words stung. Because they were true and because someone else said practically the same thing to me: You're not the only one who's lost everything. That someone else suffered the ultimate loss. All for my sake, the cretin who must be reminded, again, that she's not the only one. Life is full of little ironies, but it's also pockmarked with some the size of that big rock in Australia. Time to change the subject. "Did Ringer leave?" Ben nodded. Stroke, stroke. The bear was bugging me. I tugged it from his arms. "I tried to send Poundcake with her," he said. He laughed softly. "Ringer." I wondered if he was aware of how he said her name. Quietly, like a prayer. "You know we have no backup plan if she doesn't come back." "She'll come back," he said firmly. "What makes you so sure?" "Because we have no backup plan." Now an all-out, full smile, and it's disorienting, seeing the old smile that lit up classrooms and hallways and yellow school buses overlaid on his new face, reshaped by disease and bullets and hunger. Like turning a corner in a strange city and running into someone you know. "That's a circular argument," I pointed out. "You know, some guys might feel threatened being surrounded by people smarter than they are. But it just makes me more confident." He squeezed my arm and limped across the hall to his room. Then it's the bear and the big kid down the hall and the closed door and me in front of the closed door. I took a deep breath and stepped inside the room. Sat beside the lump of covers. I didn't see him but knew he was there. He didn't see me but knew I was there. "How did he die?" Muffled voice buried. "He was shot." "Did you see?" "Yes." Our father crawling, hands clawing the dirt. "Who shot him?" "Vosch." I closed my eyes. Bad idea. The dark snapped the scene into sharp focus. "Where were you when he shot him?" "Hiding." I reached to pull down the covers. Then I couldn't. Wherever you were. In the woods somewhere off an empty highway, a girl zipped herself up in a sleeping bag and watched her father die again and again. Hiding then, hiding now, watching him die again and again. "Did he fight?" "Yes, Sam. He fought very hard. He saved my life." "But you hid." "Yes." Crushing Bear against my stomach. "Like a big fat chicken." "Not like that," I whispered. "It wasn't like that." He slung the blankets aside and bolted upright. I didn't recognize him. I'd never seen this kid before. Face ugly and twisted by rage and hate. "I'm going to kill him. I'm going to shoot him in the head!" I smiled. Or tried to, anyway. "Sorry, Sams. I have dibs." We looked at each other and time folded in on itself, the time we had lost in blood and the time we had purchased in blood, the time when I was just the bossy big sister and he was the annoying little brother, the time when I was the thing worth living for and he was the thing worth dying for, and then he crumpled into my arms, the bear smushed between us the way we were trapped between the before-time and the after-time. I lay down next to him and together we said his prayer: If I should die before I wake . . . And then I told him the story of how Dad died. How he stole a gun from one of the bad guys and single-handedly took out twelve Silencers. How he stood up to Vosch, telling him, You can crush our bodies but never our spirit. How he sacrificed himself so I could escape to rescue Sam from the evil galactic horde. So one day Sam could gather the ragtag remnants of humanity and save the world. So his memories of his father's last moments aren't of a broken, bleeding man crawling in the dirt. After he fell asleep, I slipped out of bed and returned to my post by the window. A strip of parking lot, a decrepit diner ("All You Can Eat Wednesdays!"), and a stretch of gray highway fading into black. The Earth dark and quiet, the way it was before we showed up to fill it with noise and light. Something ends. Something new begins. This was the in-between time. The pause. Excerpted from The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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