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Authors: Dan Wells

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BOOK: Ruins
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“The Partial invasion was not your fault,” said Mkele.

“The final remnants of the human race will be glad to hear it,” said Tovar. “Unless the Partial invasion’s a big hit, in which case I’ll totally claim the credit.”

“Only if Hobb doesn’t beat you to it,” said Haru.

Senator Hobb spluttered an awkward defense, but Mkele merely glanced at Haru disapprovingly. “We have more important things to do than trade insults.”

“Even true ones,” said Tovar. Mkele and Hobb both glared at him, but he only shrugged. “What, am I the only one admitting my personal failings?”

“There’s a convicted war criminal with a nuclear weapon loose on our island,” said Hobb, “not to mention the army of super-soldiers murdering us like cattle. Can we maybe focus on that instead of personal attacks?”

“She’s not going to use it on the island,” said Haru. “Not even Delarosa’s that bloodthirsty. She’s not out to kill Partials, she’s out to save humans—she’s still going to kill the Partials, obviously, but not at the expense of the few of us who are left.”

“That’s a nice sentiment,” said Mkele, “but a nuclear warhead is a very imprecise weapon. How do we know she’ll use it wisely? Best-case scenario, she takes it to the mainland, blows it somewhere north of the Partials, and lets the fallout radiation finish them off; more likely, she takes it to their home base in White Plains and blows it there, killing all of us in the fallout instead.”

“Which might be the only plan that works,” said Hobb. “For all we know, they’re not even susceptible to radiation poisoning.”

“How close is White Plains?” asked Tovar. “Anybody have a map?”

“Always,” said Mkele, and set his briefcase on the table, undoing the locks with a pair of soft clicks. “Traveling from here to White Plains would take days, because you’d have to go around the Long Island Sound.” He unfolded a paper map and spread it flat on the table before them. “Even if she crosses the sound by boat, which is the route most likely to get her caught, it will take her a couple of days to get there, at minimum. Months, maybe, if she travels carefully enough to stay hidden. As the crow flies, though, it’s not that far. White Plains to East Meadow is . . .” He studied the map, pointing out the two cities and measuring their distance with a well-worn plastic ruler. “Forty miles, give or take.” He looked up. “Do we know what kind of nuke she has? What kind of payload?”

“She said she pulled it from a ship called
The Sullivans
,” said Haru. “Plural like that, I don’t know why.”

“That’s a destroyer,” said Tovar, “Arleigh Burke class—an older ship, even twelve years ago, but very dependable; the navy used them for years.
The Sullivans
was named after five brothers who all died in the same battle in World War II.”

“I thought you didn’t know about the nuke,” said Hobb.

“I didn’t,” said Tovar, “but you’re talking to an ex-marine. Try to name a navy ship I
know the specs of.”

“Then tell us the specs of this one,” said Mkele. “Would that class of destroyer be armed with nuclear missiles, or would they have just put one in the cargo hold for onboard detonation, like a suicide bomber?”

“Arleigh Burke destroyers would be outfitted with Tomahawks,” said Tovar. “That’s a nuclear cruise missile with a two-, maybe three-hundred-kiloton payload. Those are designed for long-range attacks, but the Partials had enough antimissile defense to shoot one down before it hit home. The reason it’s sitting right off the coast of Long Island, I assume, is that they brought it close to detonate on site; it would have sacrificed the fleet, and most of New York and New Jersey and Connecticut, but it would have destroyed the Partials pretty decisively.”

Haru grimaced, marveling again at how desperate the old government must have been to consider such a thing—though he supposed it was no more desperate than their situation now. Before the world ended, and knowing that it was about to, a nuke would have been a small price to pay: You’d kill everyone in range, and destroy the area for decades to come, but the Partials would have been gone. It might have actually been worth it. Now, though, with the last of the human race sitting just forty miles away . . .

“What’s the radius of destruction?” asked Haru. “Is the entire island dead?”

“Not necessarily,” said Tovar, “but we don’t want to be here if we can help it. At that payload the initial fireball’s going to be about a mile and a half wide—that’s the part that’s two hundred million degrees—and the physical shock wave will destroy everything within five or six miles. Everything in that zone is going to go up in flames, instantly, and that much fire starting that abruptly will suck in enough air to jump-start a raging hurricane with air temperatures hot enough to boil water. Every living thing within . . . ten miles of ground zero would be dead in minutes, and five or ten miles farther out you’d still kill enough of everything not to know the difference. Here on the island we won’t have any of those primary effects—we might feel a thump, and anyone looking right at the detonation will be blinded, but that should be the worst of it.
Should be.
Until the radioactive ash cloud gives us all leukemia and we die in slow, crippling agony.”

“And how big is the ash cloud?” asked Haru.

“A nuclear ash cloud doesn’t radiate out like a shock wave,” said Mkele. “It’s a distribution of physical material, so the exact pattern will depend on the weather. The major winds in this region tend to blow northeast, so most of the ash cloud will drift that way, but we’re still going to get some peripheral fallout—flurries around the edges, and castoffs from the winds in the firestorm.”

“Anyone less than ninety miles downwind will be dead within two weeks,” said Tovar. “We just have to hope the winds don’t change.”

“So the Partials would be effectively destroyed,” said Hobb.

“Everyone on the mainland, yes,” said Mkele, “but this close to the blast zone we’re going to lose a lot of humans as well, even under ideal conditions.”

“Yes, but the Partials will be gone,” Hobb repeated. “Delarosa’s plan will work.”

“I don’t think you’re grasping the ramifications here—” said Haru, but Hobb cut him off.

“I don’t think you are either,” Hobb snapped. “What are our options, honestly? Do you think we can stop her? The entire Partial army has been trying to find Delarosa for weeks, and they can’t; we can barely leave this basement without getting shot at, so I’m pretty sure we’re not going to find her either. We could find her strike force, maybe, because we have protocols in place for that, but the team delivering the warhead is likely beyond recall. This bomb is going off, whether we like it or not, and we need to be ready.”

“The Partials will catch her,” said Mkele. “A warhead’s not an easy thing to transport—it’s going to compromise her ability to stay hidden.”

“And if that happens, she might just blow it on sight,” said Hobb. “As long as she’s twenty miles from East Meadow, our major population center is safe, and then the winds will blow the fallout north to White Plains.”

“If she makes it twenty miles,” said Haru.

Tovar raised his eyebrow. “Are we prepared to risk the human race on a bunch of ifs?”

“What are we risking?” asked Hobb. “We send someone to stop her, and everyone else to evacuate the island—we’re not risking anything unless we don’t act.”

“Hobb wasn’t exaggerating about how hard it is to move around,” said Mkele. “Haru can do it because he’s been trained, and he knows the island, but how do you intend to carry out a mass evacuation without drawing attention?”

“We do it after the blast,” said Hobb. “Spread the word, get everything ready, and when the bomb goes off and the occupation force is distracted, we rise up, kill as many Partials as we can, and run south.”

“So your plan is to murder a superior enemy army,” said Tovar, “and then outrun the wind. I’m glad it’s so simple.”

“We have to evacuate first,” said Haru, “now, to avoid even the periphery of the nuclear fallout.”

“We already talked about how that’s not going to work,” said Hobb. “There’s no way to move that many people without the Partials seeing us and stopping us.” He looked at the others. “Remind me why the kid is even here?”

“He’s proven himself valuable,” said Mkele. “We’re not exactly in a position to turn away help.”

“Which is also why you’re still here,” said Tovar.

“My wife and child are in East Meadow,” said Haru, “and you know who they are—every human being alive knows who they are. And that means you know why we don’t have time to waste. Arwen is the only human child in the world, and she’s going to attract some attention—for all we know, they’re already in Partial custody somewhere, ready to be cut open and studied.”

“We can’t lose that child,” said Tovar, and Haru could see that the fear in his face was real. “Arwen represents the future. If she dies in that explosion, or in the fallout after . . .”

“That’s why we have to evacuate now,” said Haru, “before Delarosa detonates that nuke. There’s got to be a way.”

“Hobb’s plan uses the explosion as a distraction,” said Mkele. “But what if we distracted them another way?”

“If we could create a distraction big enough to overthrow the Partials, we’d have done it already,” said Hobb. “The nuke is all we have.”

Mkele shook his head. “We don’t need to overthrow them, just pull their attention. Delarosa’s guerrillas have been doing that already, more or less, but if we went all out—”

“We’d die,” said Tovar. “It’s like Hobb said, if we could do it safely, we’d have done it already.”

“So we don’t do it safely,” said Mkele.

The other men went quiet.

“This is as final and as deadly as any situation can be,” said Mkele. “We’re talking about a nuclear explosion forty miles from the last group of human beings on the planet. Even our best-case scenario, where somebody finds Delarosa and stops her in time, leaves us trapped in the hands of an occupying species that treats us like lab rats. An all-out attack on the Partials is going to kill every human soldier who tries it—none of us hold any illusions about that—but if there’s a chance that the rest of the humans could escape, then how can we possibly argue that it’s not worth it?”

Haru thought about his family: his wife, Madison, and his baby girl. He couldn’t bear to think of leaving Arwen without a father, but Mkele was right—when the only alternative is extinction, an awful lot of horrors become acceptable. “We’re going to die anyway,” he said. “At least this way our deaths will mean something.”

“Don’t go volunteering just yet,” said Tovar. “This is a two-part plan: One group provides the distraction, and the other gets everyone as far south as humanly possible. No pun intended.”

“Then we run,” said Mkele. His voice was somber. “Away from our only source of the cure. Or did we all forget?”

The room fell quiet again. Haru felt a numbness creeping up his legs and back—no matter how far they ran, they still had RM. Arwen was alive because Kira had found a cure in the Partials’ pheromonal system, but so far the humans had been unable to replicate it in a lab. They’d have to start over in a new medical facility, and it could take years just to find one and get it working again—and there was no guarantee that they’d ever be successful. If the Partials died, the cure would almost certainly die with them.

Haru could tell from their faces that the others were thinking of the same insurmountable problem. His throat was dry, and his voice sounded weak when he broke the silence. “Our best-case scenario keeps sliding closer and closer to our worst.”

“The Partials are our greatest enemy, but they’re also our only hope for the future,” said Mkele. He steepled his fingers and pressed them to his forehead a moment before continuing. “Maybe we should take some with us.”

“You say that like it’s easy,” said Haru.

“What do you want to do?” asked Tovar. “Just keep a few in cages and pull out the pheromone when you need it? Doesn’t that seem kind of evil to any of you?”

“My job is to protect the human race,” said Mkele. “If it means the difference between life and extinction, then yes, I will keep Partials in cages.”

Tovar’s face was grim. “I keep forgetting you had this same job under Delarosa.”

“Delarosa was trying to save the human race,” said Mkele. “Her only crime was that she was willing to go too far in order to do it. We decided, briefly, that we didn’t want to go along with her, but look at us: We’re hiding in a basement, letting Delarosa fight our battles, seriously considering letting her deploy a nuclear bomb. We are long past the point where we can pick and choose our morality. We either save our species or we don’t.”

“Yes,” said Tovar, “but I’d prefer it if we were still worth saving by the end of it.”

“We either save our species or we don’t,” Mkele repeated, more forcefully this time. He looked at the other men one by one, starting with Hobb. The amoral senator nodded almost immediately. Mkele turned next to Haru, who stared back only a moment before nodding as well.
When the alternative is extinction, all kinds of horrors become acceptable.

“I don’t like it,” said Haru, “but I like it more than everybody dying. We’re out of time for anything better.”

Mkele turned to Tovar, who threw up his hands in frustration. “Do you know how long I fought against these kinds of fascist policies?”

“I do,” said Mkele calmly.

“I started a civil war,” said Tovar. “I bombed my own people because I thought freedom was more important than survival. There’s no point saving us if we lose our humanity in the process.”

“We can change if we live,” said Mkele. “A nation built on slavery can be redeemed, but not if we all die.”

“This is wrong,” said Tovar.

“I never said it wasn’t,” said Mkele. “Every choice we have is wrong. This is the lesser of ninety-nine evils.”

“I’ll lead your distraction,” said Tovar. “I’ll give my life to help the rest of you escape, and I’ll sell that life as dearly as possible. Hell, I’ve always been a better terrorist than a senator anyway.” He stared at them pointedly. “Just don’t give up on goodness yet. Somewhere out there there’s a way to get through this.” He opened his mouth to say something else, but instead just shook his head and turned to leave. “I hope we find it in time.”

BOOK: Ruins
3.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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