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Authors: Dan Wells

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BOOK: Ruins
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Tovar’s hand was inches from the doorknob when suddenly the door shook, practically rattling on its hinges as someone pounded on the other side.

“Senator!” It was a young voice, Haru thought, probably another soldier. Tovar glanced back at the group curiously before opening the door.

“Senator Tovar,” said the soldier, practically tripping over himself in his rush to speak. “The message has stopped.”

Tovar frowned. “The message . . . stopped?”

“The radio message from the Partials,” said the soldier. “They’ve stopped the broadcast. Every channel is clear.”

Mkele stood up. “Are you sure?”

“We’ve scanned every frequency,” said the soldier.

“They’ve found her,” said Haru, stunned by the sudden blend of relief and terror. He’d known Kira for years, and the thought of her in Partial hands was sickening, but at the same time, Kira would be the first to say that one girl was more than a fair trade for the hundreds of people the Partials seemed willing to kill in their search for her. He’d come to hate her for not turning herself in, and eventually convinced himself that she couldn’t possibly still be on the island; she must have either fled or died, or surely she would have come forward by now. No one could stand by silently while so many people were executed.
But now, if she’s been captured, maybe that means she’s been here all along. . . .
The thought made him furious.

“We don’t know for sure that they’ve found the girl,” said Mkele. “It’s possible that their radio tower’s just failed temporarily.”

“Or maybe they just gave up,” said Hobb.

“Keep monitoring the frequencies,” said Tovar to the soldier. “Let me know the instant you hear anything. I’ll join you when I can.” The soldier nodded and ran off at a dash. Tovar closed and locked the door, keeping their conversation secret—nobody else knew about the nuke, and Haru knew it was wise to keep it that way. “How does this change our plans?” asked Tovar, looking back at the group. “Does it change them at all? There’s still a nuke, and Delarosa’s still probably going through with her plan. Even without the daily executions it’s still just a matter of time, and this is still the strongest blow she can strike against them.”

“If the Partials pull out, it makes the nuke an even more attractive option,” said Mkele, “because it will catch more of them in the blast.”

“And Kira too,” said Haru. He didn’t know how he felt about that.

Tovar smiled sadly. “Twenty minutes ago we were struggling to justify this attack, and now we can’t bear to give it up.”

“Delarosa will go through with her plan,” said Hobb, “and we should go through with ours.”

“Then I guess it’s time to piss off the overwhelming enemy,” said Tovar. He saluted them stiffly, the ex-marine appearing like magic from inside the form of the old, weathered traveler. “It’s been a pleasure serving with you.”

Mkele saluted him back, then turned toward Hobb and Haru. “You’re in charge of the evacuation.”

“He means me,” said Hobb.

“He means us,” said Haru. “Don’t think you’re in charge just because you’re a senator.”

“I’m twice your age.”

“If that’s the best reason you can come up with, you’re definitely not in charge.” Haru stood. “Can you shoot?”

“I’ve trained with a rifle since we founded East Meadow,” said Hobb indignantly.

“Then get your gear ready,” said Haru. “We’re leaving in an hour.” He left the room, deep in his own thoughts. Maybe the Partials really had found Kira—but where? And why now, after all this time?

And now that they had her, what would they do?

CHAPTER THREE

K
ira stared up at the surgery robot, a massive metal spider looming down from the ceiling. Twelve sleek, multijointed arms swiveled into place, each tipped with a different medical instrument: scalpels and clamps in half a dozen different sizes, syringes with interchangeable barrels of brightly colored liquid, and spanners and spikes and other devices with functions Kira could only guess at. She’d been in medical training since she was ten—almost eight years ago now—but there were things in here she’d never even dreamed of.

They showed up all the time in her nightmares, though. This was the same facility in Greenwich, Connecticut, where Dr. Morgan had captured her and tortured her before Marcus and Samm had saved her. Now she’d abandoned them both and come back of her own free will.

The spider rotated silently, reaching toward her with sleek steel pincers. Kira suppressed a scream and tried to think calm thoughts.

“Local anesthetic to points four, six, and seven,” said Morgan, tapping the locations on a massive wall screen, where a diagram of Kira’s body hung motionless in the air. “Engage.” The spider reached down without pause or ceremony and plunged its needles into Kira’s hip and abdomen. Kira stifled another scream, gritting her teeth and compressing her fears into a low grunt.

“Such a glowing bedside manner,” said Dr. Vale, standing by another wall. “It warms my heart, McKenna—you’re like a mother hen.”

“I started a war to find this girl,” said Morgan. “You want me to ask permission every time I touch her?”

“A quick ‘This will only hurt a little’ might be nice,” said Vale. “Maybe even an ‘Are you ready, Kira?’ before we start the surgery?”

“As if my answer would change anything?” asked Kira.

Morgan shot her a glance. “You made the choice to be here.”

Vale snorted. “Another answer that didn’t technically change anything.”

“It changed a great deal,” said Morgan, looking back at the wall screen. She plotted out lines for incisions. “It impressed me.”

“Well, then,” said Vale. “By all means, treat her like a lab rat.”

“I was a lab rat last time,” said Kira. “This time is better, believe me.”

“That’s the kind of answer that only makes this worse,” said Vale, shaking his head. “You were always cold, McKenna, but this is the most coldhearted, dehumanizing—”

“I’m not a human,” said Kira, and realized with a start that Morgan had said almost the same thing—“She’s not a human”—simultaneously. They looked at each other for a moment, then Morgan turned back to her wall screen.

“In the interest of”—Morgan paused, as if searching for the right way to say it—“a peaceful working relationship, I will be more communicative.” She tapped a few icons on the wall screen, which split into three sections—the line diagram of Kira’s body on one side, and two half-size boxes on the other showing two sets of data: one labeled “Expiration” and one labeled “Kira Walker.” “Dr. Vale and I were part of the Trust—the group of ParaGen scientists who created the Partials and the RM plague. We didn’t intend for the plague to bring the human race to the brink of extinction, obviously, but the damage is done, and once I realized the humans were a lost cause, I turned my attention to the Partials instead. I’ve spent the last twelve years helping them build a new civilization, trying to find ways to overcome the sterility and other handicaps hardwired into their DNA. Imagine my surprise when they began dying, for no discernible reason, precisely twenty years after they were created.”

Vale spoke up again. “The expiration date was—”

“The expiration date was the surest sign that ‘the Trust’ was a horrible misnomer,” said Morgan. “Living, thinking beings that I helped create were preprogrammed to wither to dust in a matter of hours the moment they hit their biological deadline, and I knew nothing about it. I’ve been doing everything in my power to fix it, which brings us here.”

“You think I can cure it,” said Kira.

“I think something in your body holds the secret that will help me cure it,” said Morgan. “The last time I had you in a lab, when we discovered you were a Partial—another secret the ‘Trust’ kept from me—my initial scans determined that despite being a Partial, you had none of the genetic handicaps the others have: no sterility, no fixed age, no inhibition of growth or any other human function. If it turns out that you have no expiration date either, there might be a way to reverse engineer certain fragments of your genetic code to help save the rest of the Partials.”

“I’ve already told you that this is impossible,” said Vale. “I’m the one who programmed the expiration date—I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you at the time, but there it is. You were unstable, and no, we didn’t trust you. It wasn’t just you, though—Armin didn’t trust me with some of the pieces, either.”

Armin,
thought Kira.
My father—or the man I used to think was my father. He took me home to raise as his own, he never even told me what I was. Maybe he would have, one day. Now nobody even knows where he is.
She wondered if he was dead. Everyone else in the Trust had survived the Break—Trimble and Morgan here with the Partials, Vale in the Preserve with a group of hidden humans, Ryssdal in Houston working on “environmental issues,” whatever that meant, and Nandita on Long Island with the humans.

Nandita. The woman who raised me, who
also
didn’t tell me I was a Partial.

Dr. Morgan tried to kill me, but at least she hasn’t pretended to be something she isn’t.

“Even if you can find something in there,” Vale continued, “how are you going to incorporate it into the Partials’ genetic sequence? Gene mods? You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people—even if we had the facilities and the personnel to mount that kind of a mass modification effort, we don’t have the time to pull it off. How many Partials are left, half a million?”

“Two hundred thousand,” said Morgan, and Kira couldn’t help but gasp at the low number. Morgan’s voice was grim and exhausted. “They were created in batches, so they die in them as well. The next wave is due in just a few weeks.”

“And they’re all soldiers,” said Vale. “Infantry and pilots and maybe a few commandos, but the leaders are all dead—more to the point, the doctors are all dead. It’ll be up to you and me, and we wouldn’t be able to process even a tenth of what’s left before their time runs out—even if we already knew how.”

“That’s why we have to do something,” said Kira. She thought of Samm, and everything they’d shared, and their final, terrifying, passionate moment together. She loved him, and if her sacrifice here could keep him alive . . . “Everyone in the world is dying, humans and Partials, and I gave myself up because this is our best shot at saving anyone. So let’s get on with it.”

Vale’s expression darkened. “I’m trying to help you, Kira, don’t get snotty with me.”

“You don’t know her very well,” said Morgan, and her voice softened.

Vale stared at her a moment, then snarled and turned away.

Morgan looked at Kira. “Last time, we scanned your reproductive system only peripherally—back when we thought you were human, it wasn’t a priority. Today we’re going to do several biopsies.”

Kira’s hips and abdomen already felt numb and lifeless from the anesthetic. She looked back at Morgan, steeling her resolve, and nodded silently.

“Engage,” said Morgan, and the spider unfurled its knives.

CHAPTER FOUR


D
isengage that last hose,” said Heron. Her voice sounded tinny and distant through the radio, and Samm bristled again at the oddness of trying to communicate without the link. Partials used pheromonal communication because it was efficient, folding words and emotions and tactical information into a single, silent package. Working side by side, yet communicating solely through the radios in their helmets, felt like being deaf and mute. He still didn’t understand how humans did it.

As difficult as dealing with the repurposed diving gear was, though, it was necessary. If either of them breathed a whiff of the air in the laboratory, they’d be unconscious in seconds.

Samm slowly disengaged the final hose from the unconscious Partial’s odd metal face mask. There were ten comatose Partials here in Dr. Vale’s old laboratory, fast asleep in a secret subbasement of the Preserve. Vale had kept them here, unconscious, for thirteen years, tending them like plants and harvesting the Lurker pheromone from their bodies—an engineered chemical, naturally produced by all Partials, which served as the only known cure for RM. These Partials had kept the humans of the Preserve alive for over a decade, allowing them to raise healthy children—something the humans on Long Island had been completely unable to do. These ten Partials—
But no,
Samm corrected himself,
these nine Partials
. These nine Partials had given the Preserve a life and hope no other human had felt since the end of the world. Maybe even before that. They were saviors. But they were unwitting, unwilling, unconscious saviors, and Samm could not allow that to continue. The tenth Partial, this last one with the odd-looking face mask, had been modified by Dr. Vale to produce a different pheromone: one that would instantly render any Partial comatose. His mere proximity was a weapon.

Samm and Heron were disconnecting him, but they still had no idea what to do with him.

“That hose was pumping his sedative throughout the building,” said Heron. “Now that we’ve cut off his access, the effect should be limited to his immediate presence.”

“He’s got a tag,” said Samm, leaning in closer. “Williams.” He flipped the dog tag over, reading the numbers on the back; he couldn’t interpret them perfectly, but he knew the coding system well enough to know that Williams had been assigned to the third regiment.
The group we left behind, back in the rebellion, to guard Denver and NORAD after we’d taken them.
He guessed that the other Partials in the room had come from the same group. He flipped the tag over again, hoping to find something he’d missed, but there was nothing. It wasn’t surprising, exactly—most Partials only had a first name—but it was odd to find one who only had a
last
name. He wondered what the man’s story was, where his name had come from, what he’d done and what he’d thought and how he’d lived, but that information was lost forever now. His own genes would keep him sedated for the rest of his life.

It was the cruelest thing Samm had ever witnessed, and Samm had watched the world end.

BOOK: Ruins
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