They had taken her from the bus and hidden her until it was time to plant the pill-bomb in her throat. She wasn’t alone, she said. There were a lot of kids they pulled from the buses. Hundreds of children, and Evan Walker said each of them was used to trick survivors. The children were airlifted or driven to places where the enemy knew people were hiding. The people brought in the children to save them. Then the people died.
And Cassie said they had to trust Evan Walker!
The gun under his shirt is cold against his bare skin. It’s a nice feeling, better than a hug. He isn’t afraid of the gun. He isn’t afraid of anything. His orders are to watch Megan, but Zombie left nobody in charge of watching Evan Walker. So Sam will do that, too.
At Camp Haven, the soldiers in charge said they would protect him. They told him he was perfectly safe. They told him everything was going to be all right. And they lied. They lied about everything because everybody is a liar. They make promises they don’t keep. Even his mommy and daddy lied. When the mothership came, they said they would never leave him, and they did. They promised everything would be all right, and it wasn’t.
He crawls into the bed opposite Megan’s and stares at the bare wires and the two dusty metal balls hanging from the ceiling. Megan is watching him, pulling Bear tight against her chest, and her mouth hangs open a little, like the air is running out.
He turns his head toward the wall. He doesn’t want Megan to see him cry.
He isn’t a baby. He’s a soldier.
There’s no way you can tell who’s human anymore. Evan Walker looked human but he wasn’t, not inside, not where it matters. Even people like Megan, who are human—maybe—couldn’t be trusted, because you can’t know what the enemy has done to them. Zombie, Cassie, Dumbo . . . you can’t really trust them, either. They could be just like Evan Walker.
In the pressing dark beneath the broken mobile, Sam’s heart speeds up. Maybe they’re all tricking him. Even Zombie. Even Cassie.
His breath catches in his throat. It’s hard to breathe. You have to pray, Cassie said. He used to pray every night, all the time, and the only answer God ever gave was no. Let Mommy live, God. No. Let Daddy come back, God. No. You can’t trust God, either. Even God is a liar. He put rainbows in the sky as a promise he’d never kill everyone again, and then he let the Others come and do it. All the people who died must have prayed, too, and God said, No, no, no, seven billion times, seven billion nos, God said no, no, no.
The cool metal of the gun against his bare skin. The cold like a hand against his forehead, pressing. Megan breathing through her mouth, reminding him of bombs triggered by human breath.
They won’t stop, he thinks. They’ll never stop until everyone is dead. God let it happen because God wants it to happen. And nobody can win against God. He’s God.
Megan’s breathing fades away. Sam’s tears dry. He floats in a vast, empty space. There’s nothing and no one, just empty space that goes on and on and on.
Maybe that’s it, he thinks. Maybe there’s already nobody human left. Maybe they’re all infested.
Which means he’s the last one. He’s the last human on Earth.
Sam presses his hands against the pistol. Touching the gun comforts him. Megan has Bear. He has the gun.
If it is a trick, if they’re all aliens in disguise, he won’t let them win. He’ll kill them all if he has to. Then he’ll ride the rescue pod up to the mothership and blow it up. They’ll lose—the last human will die—but at least the Others won’t win.
God said no. He can, too.
IT TAKES LESS than an hour to reach the city limits sign. Urbana, dead ahead. Literally. I pull Dumbo off the road before we go in. I’ve been debating with myself whether to tell him, but there’s really no choice. He needs to know.
“You know what Walker is,” I whisper.
He nods. His eyes dart left, right, then back to my face. “He’s a freaking alien.”
“That’s right, it was downloaded into Walker’s body when he was a kid. You’ve got some, like Vosch, running the camps, and then you’ve got others, like Walker, lone operatives who patrol assigned territories, picking off survivors.”
Dumbo’s eyes leave my face to confront the dark again. “Snipers?”
“We’re gonna be passing through two of those territories. One that runs between Urbana and the caverns. And one that begins on the other side of this sign.”
He wipes the back of his hand across his mouth. He tugs on an earlobe. “Okay.”
“And they’re loaded for bear. I don’t know, some kind of technology that jacks them up. Gives them super strength, speed, senses, that kind of thing. We go quick and we go quiet.” I lean toward him. Important he understands. “If something happens to me, you abort this mission. Get back to the safe house.”
He’s shaking his head. “I won’t leave you, Sarge.”
“Yes, you will. And that’s an order, Private, in case you’re wondering.”
“Would you leave me?”
“You bet your ass I would.” I pat him on the shoulder. He watches silently as I dig the eyepiece out of my rucksack and slip it on. His head lights up through the lens, a bright ball of green fire. I survey our surroundings for any other telltale green blobs while he puts on his own eyepiece.
“One last thing, Bo,” I whisper. “There are no friendlies.”
I swallow. My mouth is dry. I wish there were another way. It makes me sick, but I didn’t invent this game. I’m just trying to stay alive long enough to play.
“Unclean glows green. Anything that lights up, we take out. No hesitation. No exceptions. Understand?”
“That won’t work, Zombie. What if it’s Ringer or Teacup?”
Damn. Hadn’t thought of that. I also hadn’t thought through Ringer’s options, which were identical to mine. Shoot first and ask questions later? Or fire only if fired upon? I think I know which she’d choose. She’s Ringer.
A little voice in my head whispers: Two of you double the risk. Send Dumbo back. The cool, quiet voice of reason, which has sounded a lot like Ringer’s ever since I met her. Points you just can’t argue with, like somebody telling you that granite is hard and water is wet.
Dumbo is shaking his head. We’ve been through the shit together; he knows me. “Two sets of eyes are better than one, Sarge. We go like you said, quick and quiet, and hopefully we see them before they see us.”