Authors: Dan Wells
“But you’re dying,” said Kira. “What changed?”
“Don’t you see? We have to find it because . . .” His voice trailed off, and he shook his head. “Because we have to. Because he has something to tell us.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“How can it not make sense?” Green sounded almost frustrated, as if he were explaining that that water was wet to someone too thick to understand.
Kira shook her head. “Green, listen to me. This is the link—whatever you’re sensing right now is luring you in, on purpose.”
“Maybe. We can handle it.”
“No, we can’t,” said Kira. She thought about Morgan’s arrival in the Preserve, when she and Vale had used their own fierce control over the link to force the nearby Partials to obey them. “I’ve seen this kind of intensity in the link before, and it only comes from a member of the Trust. The people who made the Partials. There are two of them in this area—Dr. Morgan and Dr. Vale—and we don’t want to meet either one of them.” She planted herself in front of him. “If you keep going, we’ll be caught and imprisoned, maybe executed. You do not want to do this.”
He pushed past her and started running.
She took off after him, but he was running at full speed now, arms pumping at his sides, and she struggled to keep up. Kira had something of a Partial’s physical prowess, but she wasn’t trained like he was. She sucked in breaths of freezing air, feeling her arms and chest grow sweaty with effort, and shivering almost immediately after as the sweat cooled and evaporated.
They approached an underpass and Green swerved right, scaling a stepped stone wall and then pelting onto the railroad tracks above. Kira followed, desperate to reach him and stop him, until a gust of wind brought the link data rushing into her lungs, coursing through her brain, stronger than she’d ever imagined, and then she was racing not after him but with him, convinced above all else that she needed to go now, to find this person, to hear his message. They ran along the tracks and then swerved off, down a hill and through a parking lot, crossing streets and jumping fences, until at last a vast field opened up before them. An ancient park, trees shaking in the freezing wind, and beyond it the roiling gray sea. They ran past benches and bushes and old baseball diamonds, barely visible in the new growth that had reclaimed the park. Beyond the field was another road, and beyond that a strip of sand rimmed with rocks and crashing waves. They’d run nearly a mile from where Green first felt the command. Others had apparently felt the same, for a ten-man squad of Partials sat scattered on the rocks, their expressions blank, their link data as stunned as Green’s.
At the front of the group, staring out at the ocean, sat a giant creature, dark red, with skin like rhinoceros hide. Kira slowed to a stop, the sight a shock to her senses, momentarily giving her clarity as her brain fought to determine which feelings were her own and which were coming from the link. It was a clarity that she alone experienced; the rest of the Partials stood in rapt attention.
“You’re just in time.” The thing’s voice rumbled. “It’s starting now.”
Green staggered forward, rubbing his chest to keep warm, taking up a position in the same loose semicircle as the other ten Partials. Kira walked forward as well, not stopping in the circle but pressing through it, approaching the creature directly.
“Who are you?”
“I’ve called you here to warn you,” said the creature. She couldn’t see its mouth move, but felt its voice rumbling powerfully in her chest. “I warned the people on the island, and the Partials in White Plains, but they did not heed me.”
“You’ve been to White Plains?” asked Kira. “You’ve seen Dr. Morgan?”
“It was not a happy reunion,” said the thing, and looked down at its chest. Kira followed its gaze and found that the creature’s chest was riddled with bullet holes. One arm hung uselessly at its side, and the other clutched a gaping wound in its gut. “This body can regenerate most of the damage it takes, but not this much all at once. I am dying.” It turned to look at her, and Kira saw a pair of nearly human eyes buried deep in the thing’s monstrous face. “But I have delivered my warning.”
Kira stepped forward, trying to see the wounds better. “What warning?”
“I have repaired the climate,” said the creature. “I’ve fixed the planet we broke so long ago. Now the world can heal again.”
Kira shook her head, barely understanding what he was trying to say. “You’re saying you’re the one who made it cold?”
“I cleansed the air, the water, the atmosphere. Earth’s protective layers. Undid all the damage from our weapons in the old war. I’ve restored balance. We’ll have seasons again. The first winter will be hard, and none of the people are ready. I warned them to help them survive.”
“You’re one of the Trust,” said Kira. She ran through her mental list, cataloguing every member she knew and which ones she didn’t, to puzzle out who this might be. There were only two unaccounted for, and one was her father, Armin Dhurvasula. Her mind reeled at the thought that this impossible creature—so altered by gene mods that he’d lost his humanity completely—might be her father.
She tried to speak, but her voice was lost. She coughed, shivering in the cold spray of the ocean sound, and tried again. “Who are you? What’s your name?”
“No one has used my name in . . . thirteen years.”
She stared at the wounds, at the dark blood seeping out onto the cold gray rocks below. She barely dared to speak it. “Armin?”
“No,” said the creature. It watched the coming storm with sad, wistful eyes. “My name was Jerry Ryssdal.”
Kira felt a rush of emotion—loss and sadness, that the man she’d found was not her father, and joy, that her father was not this thing dying slowly on the beach. Guilt, that she took joy in any aspect of another man’s death. She wondered if some of those emotions were his—his sadness at dying, his joy at fixing the weather. His guilt for destroying the world.
Jerry Ryssdal was the one she knew the least about; Vale had said he lived in the south, near the eternal fires of old Houston. He’d changed himself,
Vale said. Kira had never known what to make of that, but it was obvious now. A brutal barrage of gene mods to help him survive in the toxic wasteland. He’d dedicated his life to restoring the world—not the people in it, but the world itself. Somehow, impossibly, he’d done it.
The first winter will be hard,
she thought, repeating his words. She’d never known a real winter; very few people had. There hadn’t been one since the old war, before the Isolation War, when buttons were pushed and hell was unleashed and the world had been changed forever.
It’s changing back now. But any change this drastic will be painful to endure.
She looked up and saw the first snowflake fall.
t’s not enough to go after Delarosa,” said Marcus. “We have to warn the rest of the island as well.”
“Agreed,” said Vinci. “We need to do both.”
“You can’t do either one,” said the guard. “You’re still handcuffed and locked in the back of an old supermarket.”
“Um, you’re not really a part of this conversation,” said Marcus.
“I’m sitting ten feet away from you.”
“Then plug your ears,” said Marcus. “And sing to yourself for a few minutes, too. We’re about to discuss our plans for escape.”
“Shut up, Valencio.” Woolf sighed and turned to the guard. “Soldier, if you’re in a talkative mood, I’d love to hear your justification for going along with all this. I don’t care where Delarosa sets off that nuke, it’s going to kill what few of us are left.”
The guard glowered at them and returned to his former silence, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms with a frown.
“How about this,” said Marcus, still addressing the guard. “You’re stuck here guarding us, which isn’t helping our plans or yours. How about we find some common ground: Let’s all start traveling south, to warn everyone about the nuke, and we promise we won’t slow you down or cause any trouble. Even as a loyal fan of the nuclear solution, surely you agree that people need to be warned.”
“We’re not going to just warn the humans and ignore what Delarosa is going to do to the Partials,” said Vinci.
“Well—” Marcus stopped, trying to find the right words. “I was—that was kind of going to be the part of the scheme I didn’t tell him out loud. Like, he would come over to free us because he was swayed by my brilliant and well-considered plan, and then when he got close you could jump up and . . . knock him out or something.”
“You’re a Partial,” said Marcus. “You could beat up a guy while still in handcuffs, right?”
“That was a terrible plan,” said Vinci. “I can say without exaggeration that that’s actually the worst plan I’ve ever heard.”
“That’s not entirely fair, though,” said Marcus. “All the other plans you’ve ever heard have been designed by Partial strategists, and I’m just like a regular . . . guy.”
“The worst part,” said Vinci, “was when you revealed the entire plan right in front of the guard. You were intending to trick him, and then I asked you
and you said everything out loud, right in front of him.”
Marcus stuttered, trying to protest.
“Maybe that was actually the best part of the plan,” said Vinci, “since it meant that we never attempted to carry out the actual plan, which as I mentioned was terrible. This way you just look stupid instead of all of us getting killed.”
“None of us would get killed,” said Marcus. “It was a great plan.” He made vague karate-style movements with his hands, though no one could see them with his hands still cuffed behind his back, and the raw skin on his wrists burned from the effort. “Super Partial combat prowess, you could totally have—”
“Will you please shut up!” said the guard. “Holy hell, it’s like listening to my little sisters.”
“You have little sisters?” asked Marcus.
“Not anymore,” said the guard, “thanks to that mongrel sitting next to you.” He pointed at Vinci, his face growing tenser and angrier. The room fell silent for a moment, but then Marcus spoke softly.
“Technically, he’s less mongrel than anyone else in this room. He was grown in a lab from custom-engineered DNA; he’s like a perfect . . . specimen, and all the rest of us are the mo—”
The guard leapt to his feet and crossed the narrow room in a single step, lashing out with the butt of his rifle to crack Marcus hard across the side of his face. Marcus reeled back from the blow, bright lights flashing behind his eyelids, his skull ringing, his entire consciousness focused on the intense, mind-ripping pain.
Somebody slapped him, and he struggled to open his eyes. Woolf knelt in front him, his hands free; behind him the guard lay unconscious on the floor, and Vinci and Galen were stripping him of his weapons and gear.
“Holy crap,” said Marcus. “How long was I out?”
“Just a minute at the most,” said Woolf, examining his head. “You’re going to have a massive bruise here. If you remember back when we made this plan,
was the one who was supposed to get hit in the face. He heals faster.” He reached behind Marcus and unlocked his handcuffs.
“Vinci didn’t take it far enough,” said Marcus, examining his chafed wrists before touching the side of his head gently. It was already swollen, a rigid band of raised blood and tissue as hard as bone. “We got him all riled up and ready to pounce, and then Vinci didn’t step up with the final insult. The moment was passing; I had to do
“You didn’t have to push him quite that far,” said Woolf. “That little speech about a Partial being a ‘perfect specimen’ would have gotten you punched in a nunnery.”
“I didn’t realize he needed further incentive,” said Vinci, checking his rifle. “I’m sorry. I suppose I’m not very good at insulting humans.”
“Marcus is a damned expert at it,” said Woolf. He claimed the guard’s sidearm, a semiautomatic pistol, and gave the combat knife to Galen. “Now let’s get out of here before he wakes up.”
“One thing first,” said Marcus, crouching back down by the guard’s feet. His head swam slightly as he did, and he paused a moment while the room stopped spinning.
“What are you doing?” asked Vinci.
Marcus began untying the guard’s shoelaces. “Buying us an extra thirty seconds.” He began tightly knotting the shoelaces back together, tying one shoe to the other; Galen groaned as soon as he realized what Marcus was doing.
“Oh, come on,” said Galen, “it’s taking you at least thirty seconds just to do that. You’re not buying us anything.”
“I’m buying a happy memory,” said Marcus. “I didn’t like this guy even before he tried to crack my skull open.” He looked at the fallen guard and grinned. “Have fun falling down idiotically twice in one day.” He stood, reaching out a hand as the world swam again. Woolf grabbed him and held him firm. “Tell me about the first time he fell,” said Marcus. “I missed it.”
“Vinci swept his legs and then head-butted him on the way down,” said Galen.
“Was it awesome?” asked Marcus. “Tell me it was awesome.”
“Both of you shut up,” said Woolf. “We’re leaving now.” He put a hand on the back door—it was locked, but the guard had held the key in his shirt pocket. The guard took the prisoners out through it at regular intervals to pee, which had given the three others their brief time alone to plan this escape. Woolf listened cautiously at the door, slid in the key, and turned it with a scrape and a rusty click. They froze, listening again for any sign that the noise had been noticed, but there was nothing.
Marcus shivered, ignoring the pain of the air brushing the skin around his wrists. “Are you sure I was only out a few minutes? I’m freezing—it feels like it’s already night.”
“One minute only,” said Vinci. “It’s late afternoon.”
“But it is cold,” said Woolf. He turned the creaky handle, as slowly as he could, and pulled the door open. “Holy . . .”
The parking lot outside was half-filled with cars, old and rusted, the pavement run through with seams and cracks as plants pushed up from underneath—and over it all, white and ethereal, was a gauzy curtain of falling snow.