Authors: Dan Wells
“Not all of it,” said the first voice. The door closed again. “Stashed behind the bar they’ve got two unopened bottles of wine, completely sealed.”
“Don’t taunt me.”
Ariel heard a clink of glass, followed by a cheer.
Definitely more than three voices,
she thought, but she couldn’t tell how many.
Xochi lowered her rifle. After a long pause, Hobb did the same. Ariel stepped quietly backward to Isolde and pressed her cheek to the other girl’s ear, whispering as softly as she could. “Can you keep walking?”
“If I have to.”
“They won’t be occupied for long,” said Ariel. “We need to get out this back door before they come looking for food.” She turned to the others and motioned toward the door. They crept toward it slowly, one foot at time, barely even daring to breathe.
All of them but Kessler.
The older woman stayed rooted in place, staring at the kitchen door.
thought Ariel. She waved her over, trying to get her attention. Nandita was already by the back door, her hand poised to open it. Kessler turned toward them, finding Isolde. Her eyes were sad, but her jaw was set and determined.
Ariel screamed in her head,
Don’t do it!
“Help us,” said Kessler loudly. “We have a sick child, and we need medicine. Can you help us?”
“No!” screamed Isolde.
The room beyond exploded in sound, four or five or ten Partial soldiers all standing up at once, glasses falling with a crash. “Who’s there? Identify yourselves!”
“We need your help,” said Kessler again. “The child is dying.”
“I won’t let you hurt him!” howled Isolde, clutching Khan to her chest. Kessler strode toward her, whispering softly, trying to speak as Hobb held her back.
“No one will hurt him,” she whispered. “They’ll just see him and get sick and take it back to their outpost to infect everyone else. We may lose a few days, but we’ll be safer, we won’t have any more patrols to worry about, we’ll be free—”
“We’re coming in,” shouted a Partial, right on the other side of the door. “We want to see hands in the air and weapons on the floor.”
“Leave us alone!” shouted Hobb.
The door opened a few inches, though no Partials were visible. “Weapons on the floor or we come in shooting.” Isolde threw her rifle down, looking at Kessler like she wanted to tear her apart with her teeth. “That’s right,” said the voice, “keep going. Every gun in the room goes down.” Kessler dropped her rifle, then Hobb and Xochi. “Keep going, come on.” Ariel was the last to surrender her rifle, and as soon as her hands were raised, Partials swarmed into the room, four that she could see with at least one more waiting in the other room. “Hands in the air,” the lead Partial repeated. “Where did you come from? We’ve had this area cleared for weeks.”
“We need help,” said Kessler. “We’ve been trying to make it back to East Meadow to save the child.” She pointed to Isolde, but the nearest Partial shoved his gun closer to her face, and she quickly raised her arm again. “It’s the storm,” she said. “We weren’t ready, and he’s gotten sick. Can you help him?”
The Partials said nothing, but Ariel could feel a faint buzz on the edge of her perception.
Is that what it feels like?
After a moment the lead Partial stepped forward, his rifle down, his arm outstretched toward Isolde.
“Let me see him.”
“Don’t you touch him,” Isolde hissed.
“We’re not here to hurt you. We don’t have a medic, but we do have a supply of medicine. If there’s something we can do for him, we will.”
“Just let him see the child,” said Hobb. “We don’t want any trouble.”
you might not be infected yet. Just run now and—
He stepped forward again, keeping his eyes locked on Isolde’s. “I’m just going to look. Move your hands to the side, please—hands away from the child, please.” Ariel realized that they might suspect a bomb, as there was really no way of knowing that the tiny bundle on Isolde’s chest was really a child. She moved her hands away, her face a mass of devastated tears. The Partial reached out, touched the edge of the blanket around Khan’s head, and pulled it back.
“Bioweapon!” he screamed. “Fall back, fall back!” He practically tripped over himself trying to get away from the sick, blistered baby. Isolde wrapped her arms around the child and turned away; the soldiers scrambled for the door they came through; Kessler surged forward, shouting for them to stay, that it was all right, and a terrified Partial shot her in the chest. The shot was like a signal for the world to go mad, and in a heartbeat the entire room was filled with gunfire, Partials roaring the retreat, Ariel’s group diving for cover and scrambling for their weapons. Bullets and shrapnel flew through the air, bouncing off pots and pans and showering the room in dust and plaster. Ariel drew her pistol and dropped to the cover of the central counter, firing into the wall of Partials without even pausing to aim. Xochi went down, and Nandita beside her, but Ariel couldn’t see if they’d been hit or were simply hiding. Isolde ran for the back door, Hobb roaring a warning and shielding her with his body. Two tufts of red flew up from his back, and he shoved the mother and child out into the storm.
reen and the other soldiers wanted to move quickly, hoping to travel another mile before nightfall, but Kira insisted that they bury the two Ivies. She had killed several of them by now, but this one had shaken her. They took the bodies to the nearest residential street, found a pair of shovels in the shed of a small, blocky home, and spent an hour digging a hole: first through the snow, nearly three feet high and frozen into hard-packed ice, and then through the stiff, unyielding soil below. Commander Woolf said a few words, and then Green and Falin performed a Partial ritual Kira had never seen before: They fanned at the body, spreading the link data of
out into the air. If there were other Partials in the area it would give away their position, but Kira didn’t bring that up. It was obviously important to them.
Marcus and Woolf were traveling with a group of forty-seven refugees, including a soldier named Galen. They traveled as far as they could that night, exchanging stories along the way: Marcus and Woolf told of their excursion up to Trimble’s stronghold; Kira told of her journey out west, and of her eventual revelation about the dual cure for RM and expiration. That night they camped in a high school auditorium, tearing down the tall, moth-eaten curtains to build a series of smaller tents among the old rows of chairs. The auditorium had no exterior windows or walls, which helped keep the brutal cold at bay, and the tents helped trap their body heat where it could do the most good. Kira crawled into a small tent with Marcus and Woolf to discuss their plans.
“We’re only a mile outside East Meadow,” said Marcus. “We just follow this same road, but . . . I can’t say how long it’s going to take us to get there. The snow’s been slowing us down too much.”
“I remember this area from some of our salvage runs,” said Kira. “We’re closer here to the hospital than the hospital is to the coliseum. Do we know where the Partial army is stationed?”
“All over the island,” said Marcus. “That’s what I was trying to tell you earlier—the army’s been scattered, hunting down Tovar and Mkele and everyone else. They’ve been distracting the Partials, leading them away from East Meadow so the rest of us could escape.”
“Escape to where?” asked Kira. “The airport? Long Beach? You can’t just hide thirty-five thousand people, they’ll find us again.”
“We’re leaving the island,” said Woolf. “And we’re running out of time to do it.”
“We can’t leave,” said Kira quickly, shaking her head. “We have to stay—we have to work together, like I told you. We have to forget all our hatred and the wars and everything else—”
“Delarosa has a nuke,” said Marcus.
Kira felt like she’d been kicked in the stomach. “What?”
“She’s planning to set it off in White Plains,” Marcus continued. “The odds are against her, and she probably won’t even make it that far, but we have to plan for the worst. We’ve been making our way to East Meadow ever since we escaped, gathering refugees in the wilderness as we go. We have to warn them, and we have to get out.”
“Even if the nuke doesn’t go off,” said Woolf, “it’s still best to leave. Partials and humans are never going to come to a truce—minor exceptions notwithstanding. We can’t live in their shadow anymore.”
“We have to stay together,” said Kira, feeling her whole world slipping away. “We need them—they need us—”
“But who’s going to agree to it?” asked Woolf. “A few stragglers here and there, sure, but that’s not enough.”
“No, it’s not,” said Kira hotly. “We need to convince them, on both sides, that this is the only way any of us can survive. If we run away, we’re just going to put ourselves right back in the same old position again, losing every new child to RM, with no future and no hope for anything.”
“Kira—” said Marcus, but she spoke right over him.
“We need to stop Delarosa,” said Kira. “Warn East Meadow and evacuate and whatever you need to do, but if what you say about her is true, I don’t have a choice. I’m turning around and going after that nuke. We can’t let anyone else die.” She started to rise, but Marcus put a hand on her arm.
“Somebody’s already gone after her.”
She paused in midcrouch, listening tentatively.
“He’s a friend of ours,” Marcus continued. “A Partial soldier named Vinci. Delarosa’s got a two-week lead on you, but only a few days on him. For all we know he’s already stopped her, but we can’t take the chance of not warning everyone, just in case.”
Kira shook her head, fighting back tears. “But what if he doesn’t make it?”
“You wouldn’t even know where to start looking,” said Marcus. “You want to work together with the Partials? Then trust Vinci. Help us warn East Meadow—humans and Partials.”
“We can’t help the humans escape the occupation by telling the occupiers where we’re going,” said Woolf.
“This is a really terrible time to even bring that up,” said Marcus, shooting him a hard glance. He looked back at Kira, who was trying her best not to scream. She breathed carefully, forcing herself to be calm.
This is just another obstacle,
she told herself.
I’ve overcome others, I can overcome this one.
“This is always the hardest part,” she said.
Marcus raised his eyebrow. “Evacuating the entire human population of Earth from a nuclear fallout zone?”
Kira gave a sad smile. “Accepting that I can’t fix everything.”
She curled up in her bedroll apart from the others and tried to sleep. They needed to rise early in the morning and get to East Meadow quickly. The Partials had to listen to reason. She’d seen too many groups like Green’s and Falin’s, lost and directionless as Morgan withdrew ever deeper into her obsession. They were occupying the island because they didn’t know what else to do—surely she could convince them of her plan?
I need to save everyone,
. I can’t live with anything less. I won’t leave anyone behind.
She fell asleep and dreamed of Samm.
In the morning Kira rose early, roused Green and Marcus, and set out for East Meadow. Newbridge Road was wide and straight, lined with trees and stores and crumbling houses. The center strip, which had once been grass, was now bursting up with bushes and saplings, lumpy and white with mounds of snow. The storm had stopped in the night, letting them see farther than they had in days, and the sun was blinding as it reflected off the fierce white sheet. A small breeze blew whorls of loose powder across the surface of the drifts, white ghosts on a white field. The crust was brittle, and they sank to their thighs with each freezing step.
One mile took them nearly an hour.
The closer they came to East Meadow, the more Kira felt her nerves wearing thinner, her teeth more on edge. The city was familiar—the only home she could remember—but it was intensely unfamiliar at the same time, eerily empty and buried in a death shroud of snow. When they reached the turnpike and turned west, they could see the hospital rising high above the rest of the city, the tallest building for miles, but where it was once the hub of a bustling community, it stood now pale and lifeless, the street leading up to it as silent as a tomb. Kira had lived her life among the abandoned detritus of a lost civilization—homes and buildings and cars full of skeletons; wearing dead girls’ clothes and living in dead men’s houses; watched by a thousand lifeless eyes from the family photos of the ones who hadn’t made it. It had never bothered her because it couldn’t—because it was the only world she’d ever known. The old world was gone, and they were building a new one in its ashes. Now she saw her world as theirs, her own life become a lifeless ruin. It made her feel numb, even more so than the cold and the snow and the tiny trickles of ice sliding down her frost-hardened face.
A nurse sat in the hospital lobby, alone in the cavernous silence. She looked up with a stunned expression, as shocked to see them as they were to see her, and after a moment Kira recognized her from her old days as an intern.
The woman smiled, polite but confused. Kira pulled off the long strip of blanket she’d been using as a scarf, and Sandy’s eyes went wide. “Kira Walker?”
Kira smiled back, feeling suddenly self-conscious. “Hi.” This city had gone through hell for her, daily executions trying to draw her out. For all she knew Sandy may have lost a loved one because of her. Kira watched her stand up and step toward her, hesitantly at first, but after a moment she was running, wrapping Kira in a tearful hug without regard for the wet slush that coated her chest and legs.
Kira hugged her back. “Where is everybody?”
“Running,” said Sandy, “or getting ready to. Haru sent word that the Partials are planning a final attack, to get rid of us for good.” Her face was pale with fear. “They’re going to wipe us out.”