“Dubuque?” The color drains out of his face. Oh God, Dubuque again!
I drop the rucksack over one shoulder and the rifle over the other. “Buzz Lightyear just told us they’re blowing up the cities.”
That takes a second to sink in. “Which cities?”
“All of them.”
His jaw drops. He trails me into the hallway, then around the corner and into the kitchen. Bottled water, some unopened packages of beef jerky, crackers, a handful of protein bars. I divide the supplies between us. Got to be quick before Nugget’s radar goes off and he barrels out of that room to Velcro himself onto my leg.
“All of them?” Dumbo asks. He frowns. “But Ringer said they weren’t going to blow up the cities.”
“Well, she was wrong. Or Walker’s lying. Some bullshit about having to wait until the Silencers were extracted. You know what I’ve decided, Private? I’m not wasting any more time worrying about all the things I don’t know.”
He shakes his head. He still can’t wrap his mind around it. “Every city on Earth?”
“Down to the last shitty one-traffic-light town.”
“The mothership. In four days, one big swing around the planet, dropping the bombs as she goes. Unless Walker can blow up the ship before it happens, and I don’t put a lot of faith in that.”
“Because I don’t put a lot of faith in Walker.”
“I still don’t get it, Zombie. Why’d they wait till now to start dropping bombs?”
Every part of him is shaking, including his voice. He’s losing it. I put my hands on his shoulders and force him to look at me. “I told you. They’re pulling out the Silencers. Sending down pods for every last infested one of them, except for handlers like Vosch. Once they’ve been evac’ed and the cities are gone, there’s no place for survivors to hide, making it a turkey shoot for the poor bastards they brainwashed into finishing the job: the 5th Wave. Get it?”
He wags his head from side to side. “It don’t matter. I go where you go, Sarge.”
A shadow moves behind him. A damned Nugget-shaped shadow. I took too long.
“Okay.” I sigh. “Dumbo, give us a second.”
He leaves the kitchen with a single, muttered word: Dubuque! Then there’s just me and Nugget. I didn’t want this, but you can’t run from anything, not really. It’s all a circle; Ringer tried to tell me that. No matter how far or fast you run, sooner or later you’re back where you started. I got mad when Sullivan threw my sister up in my face, but we both knew she was right. Sissy was dead; Sissy would never die. I’m forever reaching for her. She’s forever falling away, the silver chain breaking off in my hand.
“Where are Privates Teacup and Ringer?” I ask him.
His freshly scrubbed face is lifted up to mine. He pooches out his lower lip. “I don’t know.”
“Neither do I. So me and Dumbo are gonna find out.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“That’s a negative, Private. I need you to watch your sister.”
“She doesn’t need me. She has him.”
I don’t try to argue with that. He’s too sharp for me to win. “Well, I’m putting you in charge of Megan.”
“You said we weren’t splitting up. You said no matter what.”
I take a knee in front of him. His eyes shine with tears, but he isn’t crying. He’s a tough little son of a bitch, way older than his years.
“I’ll only be gone a couple of days.” Déjà vu: practically the same thing Ringer said before she left.
And that was practically what I said back to her. Ringer didn’t promise; she knew better. Me, I’m not that smart. “Have I broken one yet?” I take his hand, peel back his fingers, and press Sissy’s locket into his palm. “Hold on to this,” I order him.
“What is it?” Staring at the metal glittering in his hand.
“Part of the chain.”
“The chain that holds it all together.”
He shakes his head, mystified.
He isn’t the only one. I have no clue what just came out of my mouth, what it means, or why I said it. That cheap piece of costume jewelry—I thought I kept it out of guilt and shame, to remind myself of my failure, of all the things that had been ripped away, but maybe there’s another reason, a reason I can’t put into words because I don’t have the words for it. Maybe there aren’t any.
HE TRAILS AFTER me into the family room.
“Ben, you haven’t thought this through,” Walker says. He’s where I left him, standing by the front door.
I ignore him. “They’re either at the caverns or they’re not,” I tell Sullivan, who’s hugging herself beside the fireplace. “If they are, we’ll bring them back. If they aren’t, we won’t.”
“We’ve been holed up here for six weeks,” Walker points out. “Under any other circumstance, we’d be dead. The only reason we aren’t dead is because we neutralized the agent who patrolled this sector.”
“Grace,” Cassie translates for me. “To get to the caverns, you’ll have to cross through three—”
“Two,” Walker corrects her.
She rolls her eyes. Whatever. “Two territories patrolled by Silencers just like him.” She glances at Walker. “Or not just like him. Not good Silencers. Really bad Silencers who are really good at silencing.”
“You might get lucky and slip past one,” Walker says. “Not two.”
“But if you wait, there won’t be any Silencers to slip past.” Cassie is beside me now, touching my arm, pleading. “All of them will be back on the mothership. Then Evan does his thing and then you can . . .” Her voice trails off. She’s run out of the breath necessary to blow smoke up my ass.
I’m not looking at her. I’m looking at Walker. I know what he’s going to say next. I know because I’d say the same thing: If there’s no way Dumbo and I can make it to the caverns, there’s no way Ringer and Teacup could, either. “You don’t know Ringer,” I tell him. “If anybody could have made it, she could.”