Authors: Dan Wells
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Survival Stories, #Social Issues, #Prejudice & Racism
Isolde looked down, rubbing her belly the way Madison always used to. Marcus worked
as hard as he could—everyone on the cure teams did—but they were still no closer to
synthesizing the cure for RM. Kira had figured out what the cure was and was able
to obtain a sample from the Partials on the mainland, but Marcus and the other doctors
were still a far cry from being able to manufacture it on their own.
“Another died this weekend,” said Isolde softly. She looked up at Sandy for confirmation,
and the nurse nodded sadly. Isolde paused, her hand on her belly, then turned to Marcus.
“There’s more, you know—the Hope Act is gone, none of our pregnancies are mandatory
anymore, and yet there are more now than ever before. Everyone wants to have a child,
trusting that you’ll have figured out how to manufacture the cure reliably by the
time they come to term.” She looked back down. “It’s funny—we always called them ‘infants’
in the Senate, back before the cure, like we were trying to hide from the word ‘child.’
When all it was was death reports, we never wanted to think of them as babies, as
children, as anything but subjects in a failed experiment. Now that I’m . . . here,
though, now that I’m . . . making one of my own, growing another human being right
inside of me, it’s different. I can’t think of it as anything besides my baby.”
Sandy nodded. “We did the same thing in the hospital. We still do. The deaths are
still too close, so we try to keep death distant.”
“I don’t know how you can do it,” said Isolde softly. Marcus thought he heard her
voice crack, but he couldn’t see her face to tell if she was crying.
“You have to have some kind of progress, though,” Madison told Marcus. “You have four
“Five,” said Marcus.
“Five teams now,” said Madison, “all trying to synthesize the Partial pheromone. You
have all the equipment, the samples to work from, you have everything. It . . .” She
paused. “It can’t be a dead end.”
“We’re doing everything we can,” said Marcus, “but you have to understand how complex
this thing is. It doesn’t just interact with RM, it’s part of the RM life cycle somehow—we’re
still trying to understand how it works. I mean . . . we still don’t even understand
why it works. Why would the Partials have the cure for RM? Why would it be part of
their breath, in their blood? As near as we could gather from Kira before she left,
the Partials don’t even know they have it, it’s just part of their genetic makeup.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Sandy.
“Not unless there’s some larger plan,” said Marcus.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s some huge hypothetical plan,” said Madison. “It doesn’t
matter where the pheromone came from, or how it got there, or why the sky is blue—all
you have to do is copy it.”
“We have to know how it works first—” said Marcus, but Isolde cut him off.
“We’re going to go take it,” said Isolde. There was an edge in her voice Marcus hadn’t
heard before. He raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“You mean from the Partials?”
“The Senate talks about it every day,” said Isolde. “There’s a cure, but we can’t
make it on our own, and babies are dying every week, and the people are getting restless.
Meanwhile right across the sound there are a million Partials who make our cure every
day, without even trying. It’s not ‘will we attack the Partials,’ it’s ‘how much longer
will we wait.’”
“I’ve been across the sound,” said Marcus. “I’ve seen what Partials are capable of
in a fight—we wouldn’t stand a chance against them.”
“It doesn’t have to be an all-out war,” said Isolde, “just a raid—in and out, grab
one guy, done. Just like Kira and Haru did with Samm.”
That got Haru’s attention, and he looked up from his argument with Xochi. “What about
me and Samm?”
“They’re talking about whether the Grid’s going to kidnap another Partial,” said Madison.
“Of course they’re going to,” said Haru. “It’s inevitable. They’ve been stupid to
wait this long.”
Now I’m stuck in a conversation with Haru whether I like it or not.
“We don’t have to kidnap one,” said Xochi. “We could just talk to them.”
“You were attacked last time,” said Haru. “I’ve read the reports—you barely made it
out alive, and that was with a Partial you trusted. I’d hate to see what happens with
a Partial faction you don’t know anything about.”
“We can’t trust all of them,” said Xochi, “but the other thing you must have seen
in the reports is that Samm disobeyed his commander to help us. Maybe there are more
Partials who share his perspective.”
“If we could really trust them,” said Haru, “we wouldn’t have to rely on the one disobedient
outlier to help us. I’ll believe in peace with the Partials as soon as I see them
raise a finger to help us.”
“He talks big,” said Madison, “but he wouldn’t trust a Partial even then.”
“If you remembered the Partial War,” said Haru, “you wouldn’t either.”
“So we’re back to the beginning,” said Isolde. “Nobody in charge wants to make peace
with them, and nobody in the hospital can make the cure without them, so our only
option is war.”
“A small attack,” said Haru. “Just slip in and grab one and they won’t even notice.”
“Which will mean war,” said Marcus, sighing as they dragged him into the argument.
“They’re already in a war with each other, and that’s probably the only reason they
haven’t attacked us yet. The group we ran into across the sound was studying Kira
to try to solve their own plague, their built-in expiration date, and there is clearly
a faction of them that believes humans are the key and will stop at nothing to turn
us all into experiments. The instant they win their civil war, they’ll come down here
with guns blazing and kill or enslave us all.”
“So then war is inevitable,” said Haru.
“Almost as inevitable as you using the word ‘inevitable,’” said Marcus.
Haru ignored the jab. “Then there’s no reason for us to not raid them. In fact, it’s
better to do it now, while they’re distracted; we’ll grab a few, extract enough of
the cure to last us as long as we’ll need, kill them, and get out of Long Island before
they ever have a chance to come after us.”
Sandy frowned. “You mean leave Long Island completely?”
“If the Partials start invading again, we’d be stupid not to run,” said Haru. “If
we didn’t need them for the cure, we’d have done it already.”
“Just give us time,” said Marcus. “We’re close, I know we are.”
Marcus expected Haru to argue, but it was Isolde who responded first. “We’ve given
you a chance,” she said coldly. “I don’t care if we synthesize it, steal it, form
a treaty, or whatever you want, but I’m not going to lose my baby. People are not
going to go back to how it used to be, not now that they know there’s a cure. And
it doesn’t sound like the Partials are going to wait forever. We’re lucky we’re not
looking down the business end of a Partial invasion already.”
“You’re in a race,” said Haru. “Make more of the cure, or war is inevitable.”
“Yeah,” said Marcus, standing up. “You said that. I need some air—the entire future
of the human race resting on my shoulders is a little much all of a sudden.” He walked
outside, glad that nobody stood up to follow him. He wasn’t mad, at least not at them;
the truth was, the future of the human race
resting on his shoulders, on all their shoulders. With barely 35, 000 people left,
it wasn’t like there was anybody else to rest it on.
He pushed open the back door and walked into the cool evening air. Twelve years ago,
before the Break, there would have been electric lights all over the city, so bright
they blotted out the stars, but tonight the sky was filled with twinkling constellations.
Marcus looked up at them, breathing deeply, pointing out the few he remembered from
school: Orion was the easiest, with his belt and his sword, and there was the Big
Dipper. He closed one eye and traced the handle with his finger, looking for the North
“You’re going the wrong way,” said a girl’s voice, and Marcus jerked in surprise.
“I didn’t realize anyone was out here,” said Marcus, hoping he hadn’t looked too stupid
when he jumped. He turned to see who it was, wondering suddenly who would be hiding
in Xochi’s backyard, and yelped in terror when a woman stepped out of the shadows
with an assault rifle. He stumbled backward, trying to find his voice—trying just
to process the unexpected appearance—and the woman held her finger to her lips. Marcus
backed into the side of the house, steadying himself against the wall. The gesture,
and the gleaming gun barrel, caused him to close his mouth.
The girl stepped forward, smiling like a cat. Marcus could see now that she was younger
than he’d surmised at first—she was tall and slender, her movements full of power
and confidence, but she was probably no more than nineteen or twenty years old. Her
features were Asian, and her jet-black hair was pulled back in a tight braid. Marcus
smiled back at her nervously, eyeing not only the rifle but the pair of knives he
now saw clipped to her belt. Not one knife—a pair of knives.
Who needs two knives? How many things does she have to cut at once?
He was in no hurry to find out.
“You can talk,” said the girl, “just don’t scream or call for help or anything. I’d
prefer to get through the evening without running—or, you know, killing anybody.”
“That’s great news,” said Marcus, swallowing nervously. “If there’s anything I can
do to keep you from killing anybody, you just let me know.”
“I’m looking for someone, Marcus.”
“How do you know my name?”
She ignored the question and held out a photo. “Look familiar?”
Marcus peered at the photo—three people standing in front of a building—then held
out his hand to take it, looking at the girl for permission. She nodded and held it
closer, and he took it from her hand, holding it up to the starlight. “It’s kind of—”
She flicked on a small flashlight, training it on the image. Marcus nodded.
“—dark, thank you.” He looked closer at the photo, uncomfortably aware of the girl’s
gun so close beside him. The picture showed three people, a man and a woman with a
little girl between them, no more than three or four years old. Behind them was a
great glass building, and Marcus realized with a start that the sign on the side of
. He opened his mouth to comment on this, but realized with another shock that the
woman in the picture was someone he’d known for years.
“Nandita Merchant,” said the girl. She flicked off the light. “I don’t suppose you
know where she is?”
Marcus turned back to face her, still trying to figure out what was going on. “Nobody’s
seen Nandita in months,” he said. “This is her house, but . . . she used to go out
on salvage runs and stuff all the time, looking for herbs for her garden, and the
last time she went out, she never came back.” He looked at the picture again, then
back at the girl. “Are you with Mkele? Or forget who you’re with, who are you? How
do you know who I am?”
“We’ve met,” she said, “but you don’t remember. I’m very hard to see if I don’t want
“I’m getting that impression,” said Marcus. “I’m also getting the impression that
you’re not exactly the East Meadow police. Why are you looking for her?”
The girl smiled, sly and mischievous. “Because she’s missing.”
“I suppose I walked into that one,” said Marcus, suddenly aware of how attractive
this girl was. “Let me rephrase: Why do you need to find her?”
The girl flicked on the flashlight again, first blinding Marcus and then angling it
away toward the photo in his hand. He looked at it again.
“Look closely,” said the girl. “Do you recognize her?”
“It’s Nandita Merchant,” said Marcus. “I already—”
“Not her,” said the girl. “The child standing next to her.”
Marcus looked again, holding the image close, peering intently at the little girl
in the center. Her skin was light brown, her pigtails dark as coal, her eyes bright
and curious. She wore a brightly colored dress, the kind a little girl would wear
to a park on a summer day. The kind he hadn’t seen in twelve years. She looked happy,
and innocent, and her face was slightly scrunched as she squinted one eye against
There was something familiar about that squint. . . .
Marcus’s mouth fell open, and he nearly dropped the photo in shock. “That’s Kira.”
He looked up at the mystery girl, more confused now than ever. “That’s a picture of
Kira from before the Break.” He looked at it again, studying her face; she was young,
her round face soft with baby fat, but the features were still there. That was Kira’s
nose, Kira’s eyes, and the same way Kira squinted in the sun. He shook his head. “Why
is she with Nandita? They didn’t even meet until after the Break.”
“Exactly,” said the girl. “Nandita knew about this, and never told anyone.”
That was a weird way to phrase it,
Not “Nandita knew Kira,” but “Nandita knew about this.”
“Knew about what?”
The girl flicked off her flashlight, slipped it into a pocket, and plucked the photo
from Marcus’s hand. “Do you know where she is?”
“Kira or Nandita?” asked Marcus. He shrugged helplessly. “The answer’s no to both,
so it doesn’t matter. Kira went looking for . . .” Kira was looking for the Partials,
and he’d been careful never to tell anybody, but he supposed it didn’t matter in this
case. “You’re a Partial, aren’t you?”
“If you talk to Kira, tell her that Heron says hello.”
Marcus nodded. “You’re the one who caught her; the one who took her to Dr. Morgan.”
Heron didn’t respond, tucking the photo away and glancing into the shadows behind
her. “Things are going to get very interesting on this island, very soon,” she said.
“You’re familiar with the expiration date Samm talked about?”
“You know Samm, too?”