I looked down at Constance fussing with her rucksack. The back of her exposed neck glowed golden in the failing light. I imagined taking my knife and plunging it to the hilt into the soft skin. Hate was not the answer; I knew that. She was as much a victim as me, as the seven billion dead, as the child running through the sea of wheat. In fact, she and Walker and the thousands infected with the Silencer program were the saddest, most pitiful victims of all.
At least when I die, I’ll do it with my eyes wide-open. I’ll die knowing the truth.
She looked up at me. I wasn’t sure, but I thought she was waiting for me to tell her to fuck off again.
I didn’t. “Do you know him?” I asked. “Evan Walker. You must all know each other, right? You spent ten millennia together up there,”—with a tilt of my head toward the green smudge in the sky. “Did you have any idea he’d go rogue?”
Constance bared her big teeth and didn’t answer.
“Okay, that’s bullshit,” I said. “Everything you think is the truth is bullshit. Who you think you are, your memories, all of it. Before you were born, they embedded a program in your brain that booted up when you hit puberty. Probably a chemical reaction kick-started by the hormones.”
She nodded, still all teeth. “I’m sure that’s a comforting thought.”
“You’ve been infected with a viral program that literally rewired your brain to ‘remember’ things that didn’t happen. You aren’t an alien consciousness here to wipe out humanity and colonize the Earth. You’re human. Like me. Like Vosch. Like everyone else.”
She said, “I’m not anything like you.”
“You probably believe that at some point you’ll return to the mothership and let the 5th Wave finish the human genocide, but you won’t, because they aren’t going to do it. You’ll end up fighting the very army you’ve created until there are no bullets left and history stops. Trust leads to cooperation leads to progress, and there’ll be no more progress. Not a new Stone Age, a perpetual Stone Age.”
Shouldering her rucksack, Constance rose from the tarmac. “That’s a fascinating theory. I like it.”
I sighed. There was no breaking through. I didn’t blame her, though. If she told me, Your father wasn’t an artist and a drunk; he was a teetotaling Baptist minister, I wouldn’t believe her. Cogito ergo sum. More than the sum of our experiences, our memories are the ultimate proof of reality.
The plane’s engines roared to life. I flinched at the sound. I spent forty days in the wilderness without any reminders of the mechanized world. The smell of the exhaust rushing over me and the air vibrating against my skin brought on the ache of nostalgia in my heart, because this, too, will end. The final battle hadn’t started, but the war was already over.
As if with a weary sigh, the sun dipped beneath the horizon. The green eye brightened against the darkening sky. Constance and I jogged up the platform into the plane and strapped in side by side.
The door locked into place with a loud hiss. A second later we were taxiing toward the runway. I looked over at Constance: her grin frozen in place and her dark eyes expressionless as a shark’s. My hand shot out and grabbed her forearm, and I felt the hate boiling through the fabric of her heavy parka. The hate and rage and disgust cascaded from her into me, and I knew: Regardless of her orders and all of Vosch’s promises, once she acquired the target and our usefulness was over, she would kill me and Zombie and everyone else. There was too much risk in letting us live.
Which meant I had to kill her.
The plane lurched forward. My stomach protested; a wave of nausea rolled over me. Weird. I’d never had motion sickness before.
I leaned my back against the bulkhead and closed my eyes. The hub, answering my desire, shut down my hearing and tactile senses. In the gift of the numb silence that enfolded me, I worked through the options.
Constance had to die, but killing Constance compounded the Evan problem. Vosch might dispatch a second operative, but he’ll have lost all tactical advantage. If I kill Constance, he might decide to take us all out with a Hellfire missile.
Unless he didn’t need to kill Walker.
Unless Walker was already dead.
There was a sour taste in my mouth. I swallowed, fighting the urge to throw up.
Vosch had to run Walker through Wonderland. It was the only way to know why Evan rebelled against his programming—if the flaw lay in Walker or in the program or in some toxic combination of the two. A fundamental flaw in the program would create an unsustainable paradigm.
But if Walker was dead, Vosch couldn’t identify the flaw in the system, and the whole operation could collapse: You can’t have a war, especially of the endless variety, if everyone’s on the same side. Whatever went “wrong” in Walker could go wrong in the other Silencers. He had to know why Evan’s programming failed.
I can’t let it happen. I can’t risk giving Vosch what he wants.
Denying him what he wanted might be the only hope we had left. And there was only one way to do that.
Evan Walker had to die.
ZOMBIE ON THE ROAD, shrinking.
Zombie and Dumbo walking down the empty road awash in starlight, fading.
Sam pulls the silver chain from his pocket and holds it tightly in his hand.
Have I broken one yet?
And the dark closing around Zombie like a monster’s mouth until there is no Zombie, only the monster, only the dark.
He presses his other hand against the cold glass. On the day the bus took him to Camp Haven, he watched Cassie on the brown road, holding Bear, shrinking away to nothing, swallowed by the dust like Zombie was swallowed by the dark.
Behind him, Cassie says to Evan Walker in her angry voice, “Why didn’t you stop him?”
“I tried,” Evan Walker answers.
“Not very hard.”
“Short of breaking his legs, I don’t know what I could have done.”
When Sam takes his hand away, the glass holds the memory of it like the bus window once did, a misty imprint of where his hand had been.
“After you lost Sam, could anyone have stopped you from finding him?” Evan Walker asks. Then he goes outside.
Sam can see his sister’s face reflected in the glass. Like everything else since they came, Cassie’s changed. She’s not the same Cassie shrinking on the dusty road. Her nose is kind of crooked, like the nose of someone pressing her face against a windowpane.