Home > The Last Star (The 5th Wave #3)(12)

The Last Star (The 5th Wave #3)(12)
Author: Rick Yancey

“That’s for the seven billion. You remember them.”


IN THE INFIRMARY I was given a thorough physical. Diagnostics were run on the 12th System to ensure it was fully operational. Then an orderly brought in a tray groaning with food. I tore into it. I hadn’t had a decent meal in over a month. When the plate was empty, the orderly came back carrying another. I knocked that off, too.

They brought my old uniform. I stripped. I washed up the best I could in the sink. I could smell the stench of forty unwashed days hovering around me, and for some reason I felt embarrassed. There was no toothbrush, so I rubbed my finger over my teeth. I wondered if the 12th System protected my enamel. I pulled on the clothes, laced the boots tight. I felt better. More like the old Ringer, the blissfully ignorant, naïve, unenhanced Ringer who left Zombie that night with the unspoken promise: I will come back. If I can, I will.

The door swung open. Constance. She’d changed out of her lieutenant’s uniform and into a pair of mom jeans and a tattered hoodie.

“I feel like we started off on the wrong foot,” she said.

“Fuck off.”

“We’re partners now,” she said sweetly. “Buddies. We should get along.”

I followed her down three flights of stairs into the underground bunker, a snarl of gray-walled passageways pocked with unmarked doors, under fluorescent lights that bled a constant, sterile glow, reminding me of the hours with Razor while my body fought its losing battle against the 12th System. Playing chaseball and creating secret codes and plotting the phony escape that would lead me back beneath this ghastly light, another circle bound by uncertainty and fear.

Constance was a half step in front of me. Our footfalls echoed in the empty space. I could hear her breathe. It would be so easy to kill you right now, I thought idly, then pushed the thought away. That time would come, I hoped, but it wasn’t now.

She pushed open a door identical to the fifty or so other unmarked doors we’d passed, and I followed her into the conference room. A projection screen against one wall. A long table in front of the screen. A small metal box on the center of the table.

Vosch was sitting behind the table. He stood up as we came in. The lights dimmed and the screen lit up with an aerial shot looking straight down at a two-lane road that cut through empty, rolling fields. In the center of the frame, the rectangular rooftop of a house. A solitary, shimmering dot on the left edge of the rectangle—the heat signature of someone on the watch. A cluster of glowing smudges inside the house. I counted them first, then gave them names: Dumbo, Poundcake, Sullivan, Nugget, Walker, and one more makes Zombie.

Hello, Zombie.

“From a reconnaissance flight six weeks ago,” Vosch said. “Approximately fifteen miles southeast of Urbana.” The video feed went black for an instant, then popped back on: same thin black ribbon of the road, same dark rectangle of the house, but fewer glowing smudges inside it. Two were missing.

“This is from last night.”

The camera zoomed out. Woods, fields, more clusters of black rectangles, dark blotches against gray landscape, the world emptied, abandoned, lifeless. The thin black ribbon of road slid out of the shot. Then I saw them: two glowing dots far to the northwest. Someone was on the move.

“Where are they going?” I asked, but I was pretty sure I knew the answer already.

Vosch shrugged. “Impossible to know for certain, but the most likely destination is here.” The image froze. He pointed to a spot at the top of the screen and gave me a knowing look.

I closed my eyes. I saw Zombie wearing that ugly yellow hoodie, leaning against the counter in the lobby of the old hotel, that stupid brochure clutched in his hands, and me saying, I’ll scope it out and be back in a couple of days.

“They’re going to the caverns,” I said. “To look for me.”

“Yes, I think so,” Vosch agreed. “And that’s exactly who they’ll find.” The lights came up. “You’ll be dropped in tonight, well ahead of their arrival. Lieutenant Pierce is tasked with target acquisition. Your only responsibility is getting her within striking distance. At the completion of the mission, Lieutenant Pierce and Walker will be extracted and returned to base.”

“Then what?” I asked.

He blinked slowly. He expected me to know. “And then you and your companions are free to go.”

“Go where?”

A small smile. “Wherever the wind might take you. But I suggest you keep to open country. Urban areas won’t be safe.”

He nodded to Constance, who brushed past me on her way to the door. “Take it, cupcake. You’ll want it.”

I watched her leave. Take it? Take what?

“Marika.” Vosch crooked his finger at me. Come here.

I didn’t move. “Why are you sending her with me?” Then I answered my own question: “You’re not letting us go. Once you have Walker, you’re going to kill us.”

His eyebrow rose toward his crew cut. “Why would I kill you? The world would be a much less interesting place without you in it.” He looked away quickly, biting his lower lip, as if he’d said too much.

He gestured toward the box sitting on the table. “We will not see each other again,” he said gruffly. “I thought this was appropriate.”


“A parting gift.”

“I don’t want anything from you.” Not my first thought. My first thought was Stick it up your ass.

He slid the box toward me. He was smiling.

I lifted the lid. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe a travel-sized chess set—a reminder of all the good times we had together. Inside the box, nestled in a foam cushion, was a green capsule encased in clear plastic.

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