“I’m sorry,” Ben said. “I shouldn’t have gone off like that.”
He came over and sat down about two inches too close. I used to fantasize about Ben Parish sitting with me on the sofa at my house while we shared a blanket and watched old horror movies until one A.M., holding a big bowl of popcorn in his lap. It was a Saturday night and he was missing about six killer parties populated by people way cooler than me, but he wouldn’t be anywhere else; the pleasure of my company was enough.
Now here he was, only there were no killer parties, no TV, no blanket, and no damn popcorn. The world used to contain two Bens—the real Ben, who didn’t know I existed, and the imaginary Ben, who fed me popcorn with buttery fingers. Now there were three. The first two and the one who was sitting two inches too close, wearing a tight black sweater and sporting stubble that made him look like an indie rocker taking a break in the green room between sets. That’s a lot of Bens to hold in your head at once. I should give them different names to keep them straight: Ben, Has-Ben, and What-Might-Have-Ben.
“I get it,” I said. “But why do you have to go now? Why can’t you wait? If Evan can pull this off . . .”
He was shaking his head. “Whether or not he pulls it off won’t make a difference. The danger isn’t the aliens up there. The danger is the humans down here. I need to find Ringer and Cup before the 5th Wave does.”
He pulled my hand into his, and a little voice rose up from deep inside: Ben. That little voice belonged to the frizzy-haired middle-schooler who refused to die, the freckly-nosed, introverted know-it-all, self-conscious and awkward despite dance lessons and karate lessons and pep talks from her parents, toting around a bulging bag of secrets, the silly, mundane, melodramatic secrets of adolescence that would shock the popular, pretty kids, if only they knew.
What was up with her? Why wouldn’t she just go away already? Not only was I carrying around too many Bens, there were also too many Cassies. Three Bens, two Cassies, a couple of Sams, and, of course, the literal duality of Evan Walker. Nobody was integrated anymore. Our true selves shimmered like a desert mirage forever receding into the distance.
Ben touched my face, fingertips brushing my cheek, feather-light. And that little voice in my head, that fading cry: Ben.
Then my voice: “You’re going to die.”
“You bet I am,” he said with a smile. “And it’s gonna happen the way it should. Not their way. My way.”
The front door creaked on its rusty hinges and a voice said, “She’s right, Ben. You should wait.”
Ben pulled away from me. Evan was leaning in the doorway.
“Nobody asked you,” Ben said.
“The ship is central to the next phase,” Evan said slowly and distinctly, like he was talking to a crazy person or a moron. “Blowing it up is the only way we can end this.”
“I don’t care what you blow up,” Ben said. He turned away like he couldn’t stand to look at Evan. “I don’t even give a shit about ending it. Maybe it’s hard for somebody with a savior complex to understand, but I don’t want to save the world. Just two people.”
He stood up, stepped over my legs, and walked toward the hallway. Evan called after him, and what he said stopped Ben cold.
“The spring equinox is in four days. If I don’t get to that ship and blow it up, every city on Earth will be destroyed.”
Holy shit. I looked at Ben, he looked back at me, and then we both looked at Evan.
“When you say ‘destroyed’ . . . ?” I started.
“Blown up,” Evan said. “It’s the last step before the launch of the 5th Wave.”
Ben was slowly shaking his head at him, horrified, disgusted, enraged. “Why?”
“To make it easier to finish the cleansing. And to wipe out anything human that remains.”
“But why now?” Ben asked.
“The Silencers will be back on board the ship—it’s safe. For us, I mean. Safe for us.”
I looked away. I was going to be sick. I should know better by now. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it gets worse.
I MOTION DUMBO out of the room. Let Sullivan say what she wants—he’ll always be Nugget to me. The kid starts to follow me and Dumbo into the hall and I order him to fall back. I close the door and turn to Dumbo. “Grab your gear. We’re moving out.”
Dumbo’s eyes go wide. “When?”
He swallows hard and glances down the hallway toward the family room. “Just me and you, Sarge?”
I know what he’s worried about. “I’m good, Bo.” Touching the spot where Ringer placed the bullet. “Not 100 percent, more like 86.5, but good enough.”
Pain knifes into my side when I reached up to pull my rucksack from the closet shelf. Okay, take off a point and a half, make it 85, still closer to 100 than to zero. Anyway, who’s 100 percent this late in the game? Even the good evil alien broke his ankle.
I rummage through the sack, though there’s not a hell of a lot to rummage through. I’ll need to grab some fresh water and rations from the kitchen, and a knife might come in handy. I dig into the outer pocket. Empty. What the hell? I know I put it there. What happened to it?
I’m kneeling on the bedroom floor, tearing through my stuff for the third time, when Dumbo comes in.
“It was here. It was right here.” I look up at him and something about my expression makes him flinch. “Somebody must have taken it. Jesus Christ, who the hell would have taken it, Dumbo?”
I rock back onto my heels and pat my pockets. Shit. There it is, right where I put it. My sister’s necklace, the one that tore off in my hand on the night I left her to die.
“Okay, we’re good.” I push myself to my feet, grab the rucksack from the floor and the rifle from the bed. Dumbo’s watching me carefully, but I hardly notice. The kid’s been mother-henning me for months now.
“I thought we were leaving tomorrow night,” he says.
“If they aren’t between here and the hotel, or where the hotel used to be, we’ll have to cut through Urbana—twice,” I tell him. “And I don’t want to be anywhere near Urbana when the bastards go all Dubuque on it.”