Read Fragments Online

Authors: Dan Wells

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Survival Stories, #Social Issues, #Prejudice & Racism

Fragments

BOOK: Fragments
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DEDICATION

This book is dedicated to everyone who ever admitted they were wrong. It’s not a sign
of weakness or a lack of dedication, it’s one of the greatest strengths a person—human
or Partial—can have.

CONTENTS

Dedication

Part 1

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Part 2

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Part 3

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Part 4

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Four

Chapter Forty-Five

Chapter Forty-Six

Chapter Forty-Seven

Chapter Forty-Eight

Chapter Forty-Nine

Chapter Fifty

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Copyright

About the Publisher

PART 1
CHAPTER ONE

“R
aise a glass,” said Hector, “to the best officer in New America.”

The room came alive with the clink of glass and the roar of a hundred voices. “Cornwell!
Cornwell!” The men tipped their mugs and bottles and drained them in gurgling unison,
slamming them down or even throwing them at the floor when the booze within was gone.
Samm watched in silence, adjusting his spotting scope almost imperceptibly. The window
was murky, but he could still see the soldiers grin and grimace as they slapped one
another on the back, laughed at ribald jokes, and tried not to look at the colonel.
The link would be telling them everything about Cornwell anyway.

Hidden in the trees on the far side of the valley, well outside the effective range
of the link, Samm had no such luxury.

He twisted the knob on his tripod, swiveling the microphone barely a fraction of a
millimeter to the left. At this distance even a small change of angle swept the sound
across a vast portion of the room. Voices blurred through his earbuds, snatches of
words and conversations in a quick aural smear, and then he was listening to another
voice, just as familiar as Hector’s—it was Adrian, Samm’s old sergeant.

“. . . never knew what hit them,” Adrian was saying. “The enemy line shattered, exactly
as planned, but for the first few minutes that made it all the more dangerous. The
enemy became disoriented, firing in all directions at once, and we were pinned down
too fiercely to reinforce him. Cornwell held the corner through the whole thing, never
flinching, and all the time the Watchdog was howling and howling; it nearly deafened
us. No Watchdog was as loyal as his. She worshipped Cornwell. That was the last major
battle we saw in Wuhan, and a couple of days later the city was ours.”

Samm remembered that battle. Wuhan had been taken almost sixteen years ago to the
day, in March 2061, one of the last cities to fall in the Isolation War. But it had
been one of Samm’s first enemy engagements; even now he could remember the sounds,
the smells, the taste of the gunpowder sharp in the air. His head buzzed with the
memory, and phantom link data coursed through his brain, just enough to stir his adrenaline.
Instincts and training surfaced almost immediately, heightening Samm’s awareness as
he crouched on the darkened hillside, prepping him for a battle that existed only
in his mind. This was followed almost immediately by an opposite reaction—a calming
wave of familiarity. He hadn’t linked to anyone in days, and the sudden feeling, real
or not, was almost painfully comfortable. He closed his eyes and held on to it, concentrating
on the memories, willing himself to feel them again, stronger, but after a few fleeting
moments they slipped away. He was alone. He opened his eyes and looked back through
the scope.

The men had brought out the food now, wide metal trays heaped high with steaming pork.
Herds of wild pigs were common enough in Connecticut, but mostly in the deep forest
away from Partial settlements. They must have hunted pretty far afield for a feast
like this. Samm’s stomach rumbled at the sight of it, but he didn’t move.

Far away the soldiers stiffened, only slightly but all in unison, warned by the link
about something Samm could only guess at.
The colonel
, he thought, and twisted his scope to look at Cornwell: He was as bad as ever, cadaverous
and rotten, but his chest still rose and fell, and there didn’t seem to be anything
immediately wrong. A twinge of pain, perhaps. The men in the room were ignoring it,
and Samm chose to do the same. It wasn’t time yet, it seemed, and the party continued.
He listened in on another conversation, more reminiscing about the old days in the
Isolation War, and here and there a story about the revolution, but nothing that fired
Samm’s memory as profoundly as the sergeant’s story. Eventually the sight of the pork
ribs and the sound of chewing became too much, and Samm carefully dug a plastic bag
of beef jerky from his pack. It was a pale imitation of the juicy ribs his former
comrades were enjoying, but it was something. He turned his eyes back to the scope
and found Major Wallace right as he stood up to speak.

“Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cornwell is unable to speak to you today, but I’m honored
to say a few words on his behalf.” Wallace moved slowly, not just his walk but his
gestures, his speech—every motion was measured and deliberate. He looked as young
as Samm, like an eighteen-year-old human, but in real time he was nearing twenty—the
expiration date. In another few months, maybe only a few weeks, he’d start to decay
just like Cornwell. Samm felt cold, and pulled his jacket tighter around his shoulders.

The party grew as quiet as Samm, and Wallace’s voice carried powerfully through the
hall, echoing tinnily in Samm’s earbuds. “I’ve had the honor of serving with the colonel
my entire life; he pulled me out of the growth tank himself, and he put me through
boot camp. He’s a better man than most I’ve met, and a good leader to all his men.
We don’t have fathers, but I’d like to think that if we did, mine would be something
like Richard Cornwell.”

He paused, and Samm shook his head. Cornwell
was
their father, in every sense but the strictly biological. He had taught them, led
them, protected them, done everything a father was supposed to do. Everything Samm
would never have the chance to do. He tweaked the zoom on the spotting scope, pushing
in as close on the major’s face as he could. There were no tears, but his eyes were
gaunt and tired.

“We were made to die,” said the major. “To kill and then to die. Our lives have but
two purposes, and we finished the first one fifteen years ago. Sometimes I think the
cruelest part wasn’t the expiration date, but the fifteen years we had to wait to
find out about it. The youngest of you have it worst, because you’ll be the last to
go. We were born in war, and we earned our glory, and now we sit in a fading room
and watch each other die.”

The roomful of Partials stiffened again, harder this time, some jumping to their feet.
Samm swung his scope wildly, looking for the colonel, but the tight zoom on the major’s
face made him lose his bearings, and he searched helplessly for a few panicked seconds,
listening to shouts of “The colonel!” and “It’s time!” Finally Samm pulled back, reset
the scope, and zoomed in again from nearly a full mile away. He found the colonel’s
bed, in a place of honor at the front of the room, and watched as the old man shook
and coughed, flecks of black blood dribbling from the corners of his mouth. He looked
like a corpse already, his cells degenerating, his body rotting away almost visibly
as Samm and the other soldiers watched. He sputtered, grimaced, hacked, and lay still.
The room was silent.

Samm watched, stone-faced, as the soldiers prepared the final death rite: Without
speaking a word, the windows were thrown open, the curtains cleared, the fans turned
on. Humans met death with crying, with speeches, with wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The Partials met it as only Partials could: through the link. Their bodies were designed
for the battlefield: When they died, they released a burst of data to warn their fellow
soldiers of danger, and when they felt it, those soldiers would release more data
of their own to spread the word. The fans churned at the air, blowing that data out
into that world so that everyone would link it and know that a great man had died.

Samm waited, tense, feeling the breezes blow back and forth across his face. He wanted
it, and he didn’t; it was both connection and pain, community and sadness. It was
depressing how often those two came together these days. He watched the leaves flutter
on the trees below him in the valley, watched the branches sway gently as the wind
brushed past them. The data never came.

He was too far away.

Samm packed up his scope and the directional microphone, stowing them in his pack
with their small solar battery. He searched the site twice, making sure he’d left
nothing behind—the plastic bag of food was back in his satchel, the earbuds were stowed
in his pack, his rifle was slung over his shoulder. Even the marks of the tripod in
the dirt he kicked smooth with his boot. There was no evidence he had ever been here.

He looked one last time at his colonel’s funeral, pulled on his gas mask, and slipped
back into exile. There was no room in that warehouse for deserters.

CHAPTER TWO

T
he sun beat down through the gaps in the skyline, mapping out a pattern of ragged
yellow triangles on the broken streets below. Kira Walker watched the road carefully,
crouched beside a rusted taxi at the bottom of a deep urban canyon. Grass and scrub
and saplings stood motionless in the cracked asphalt, untouched by wind. The city
was perfectly still.

Yet something had moved.

Kira brought her rifle to her shoulder, hoping for a better view with the telescopic
sight, then remembered—for the umpteenth time—that her scope had been broken in the
cave-in last week. She cursed and lowered the gun again.
As soon as I’m done here, I’m going to find another gun store and replace the stupid
thing.
She peered down the road, trying to separate shape and shadow, and raised her gun
again before cursing under her breath.
Old habits die hard.
She ducked her head and scuttled to the back end of the taxi; there was a delivery
truck a hundred feet down sticking halfway into the street, which should be able to
hide her movements from whatever—or whoever—was down there. She peered out, stared
for nearly a minute at the unmoving street, then gritted her teeth and ran. No bullets
or clatters or roars. The truck did its job. She trotted up behind it, dropped to
one knee, and peeked out past the bumper.

An eland moved through the underbrush, long horns curling into the sky, its long tongue
picking at shoots and greens growing up through the rubble. Kira stayed still, watching
intently, too paranoid to assume that the eland was the same thing she’d seen moving
before. A cardinal screeched overhead, joined moments later by another, bright red
streaks spinning and diving and chasing each other through the power lines and traffic
lights. The eland nibbled at the small green leaves of a maple sapling, peaceful and
oblivious. Kira watched until she was certain there was nothing else to see, then
watched some more just in case. You could never be too careful in Manhattan—the last
time she’d come here she’d been attacked by Partials, and so far on this trip she’d
been chased by both a bear and a panther. The memory made her pause, turn, and check
behind her. Nothing. She closed her eyes and concentrated, trying to “feel” a nearby
Partial, but it didn’t work. It never had, not in any way she could recognize, even
when she had spent a week in close contact with Samm. Kira was a Partial, too, but
she was different—she appeared to lack the link and some of their other traits, plus
she aged and grew like a normal human. She didn’t really know what she was, and she
had no one she could turn to for answers. She didn’t even have anyone to talk to about
it—only Samm and the mad Partial scientist Dr. Morgan knew what she was. Kira hadn’t
even told her boyfriend—her best friend—Marcus.

BOOK: Fragments
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