Read Fragments Online

Authors: Dan Wells

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

Fragments (9 page)

BOOK: Fragments
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The side door opened, and Marcus caught a glimpse of the Grid soldiers guarding the
other side. They stepped aside and a large man stepped in: Duna Mkele, the “intelligence
officer.” It occurred to Marcus that he didn’t know who, exactly, Mkele worked for;
he seemed to have free access to the Senate, and some measure of authority over the
Grid, but as far as Marcus could tell, he didn’t really answer to either group. Regardless
of how those relationships worked, Marcus didn’t like the man. His presence was almost
always a sign of bad news.

Mkele walked to Senator Woolf and whispered in his ear; Marcus tried to read their
lips, or at least judge the reaction on their faces, but they turned their backs on
the crowd. A moment later they walked to Tovar and whispered to him. Tovar listened
solemnly, then looked at the crowd of people watching him. He turned back to Woolf
and spoke in a loud stage voice obviously intended to carry throughout the room.

“They already know the first half; you might as well tell them the rest.”

Marcus saw clearly the stern look that passed over Mkele’s face. Woolf looked back
unapologetically, then turned to face the crowd.

“It appears our timetable has been accelerated,” said Woolf. “The Partials have made
ground on Long Island, near Mount Sinai Harbor, approximately five minutes ago.”

The meeting hall erupted in noisy conversations, and Marcus felt his stomach lurch
with a sudden, terrifying fear. What did it mean—was this the end? Was this an invasion
force, or a brazen raid to steal human test subjects? Was this Dr. Morgan’s group,
Dr. Morgan’s enemies, or some other faction altogether?

Was Samm with them?

Did this mean Heron’s plan had failed? They couldn’t find Kira and Nandita through
stealth and investigation, so it was time for a full invasion? He felt a moment of
horrifying guilt, as if the entire invasion was his fault, personally, for failing
to heed Heron’s warning. But he hadn’t seen Kira in months and Nandita in over a year;
what could he have done? As the crowd roared in fear and confusion, as the reality
of the situation sank into him, Marcus realized that it didn’t matter. He wasn’t ready
to sacrifice anyone; he’d rather go down fighting than sell his soul for peace.

For the second time that day Marcus felt himself standing, heard his voice calling
out. “I volunteer for the force that goes out to meet them,” he said. “You need a
medic—I volunteer.”

Senator Tovar looked at him, nodded, then turned back to Mkele and Woolf. The room
continued to buzz with fear and speculation. Marcus collapsed back into his chair.

I really need to learn to keep my mouth shut.

CHAPTER SEVEN

K
ira picked through the ruins of the town house, overwhelmed by the chaos: Walls had
fallen in, floors and ceilings had collapsed, shards of furniture had separated and
scattered and clustered again in random piles. Wood and books and paper and dishes
and twisted chunks of metal filled the crater and spilled far into the street, thrown
by the force of the blast.

The home had definitely been inhabited, and recently. Kira had seen a lot of old-world
debris in her life; she had grown up surrounded by it, and it had become familiar:
framed photos of long-dead families, little black boxes of media players and game
systems, broken vases full of brittle stems. The details varied from house to house,
but the feel was the same—forgotten lives of forgotten people. The debris from this
home was different, and distinctly modern: stockpiles of canned food, now burst and
rotting in the rubble; boarded windows and reinforced doors; guns and ammunition and
handmade camouflage. Someone had lived here, long after the world was destroyed, and
when someone else—the Partials?—had invaded their privacy, they blew up their own
home. The pattern of the destruction was too complete, and too contained, to be an
outside attack; an enemy would have used a smaller explosive to breach the wall, or
a larger one that would have caught the neighboring houses as well. Whoever had destroyed
this home had done their work pragmatically and with devastating thoroughness.

The crater reminded her, the more she thought about it, of a similar explosion she’d
seen last year—before the cure, before Samm, before everything. She’d gone on a salvage
run with Marcus and Jayden, somewhere on the North Shore of Long Island, and a building
had been rigged to explode. It had been a booby trap, much like this one seemed to
be—not designed to kill but to destroy evidence.
What was the name of that little town? Asharoken; I remember how Jayden made fun of
the name. And why were they looking in that building, anyway? It had been flagged
by a preliminary salvage crew, and the soldiers had gone back to investigate; they’d
had specialists with them, like a computer guy or something. Something electronic?
Her breath caught in her throat as the memory returned: It was a radio station. Someone
had set up a radio station on the North Shore, and then blown it up to keep it secret.
And now someone had done the same thing here. Was it the same someone?

Kira stepped back reflexively, as if the demolished building could somehow contain
another bomb. She stared at the wreckage, summoned her courage, and walked in, placing
her feet carefully in the unstable ruins. It didn’t take long to find the first body.
A soldier dressed in a gray uniform—a Partial—was lodged under a fallen wall, a fractured
corpse in the crumpled remains of composite body armor. His rifle lay beside him,
and she pulled it from the rubble with surprising ease; the action moved stiffly,
but it moved nonetheless, and the chamber still held a bullet. She popped out the
clip and found it full—the soldier hadn’t fired a single round before he died, and
his fellow soldiers had neither recovered his gear nor buried his body.
That means the bomb took them by surprise,
Kira thought,
and it killed them all. There was no one left to recover the fallen.

Kira searched further, sifting cautiously through the fallen beams and bricks, and
found at last the old familiar sight—the blackened fragments of a radio transceiver,
just like in Asharoken. The two situations were too similar to dismiss: A group of
scouts investigate something suspicious, find a fortified safe house full of communications
equipment, and die in a defensive trap. Kira and the others had assumed the site in
Asharoken belonged to the Voice, but Owen Tovar denied it then and now. The next most
likely candidates were the Partials, yet here was a group of Partials caught in the
same trap.
Another Partial faction, then,
thought Kira.
But which belongs to Dr. Morgan—the spies with the radio, or the scouts that attacked
it? Or neither? And how does this connect to ParaGen?
Whoever had taken the computers from the offices had also taken the radios from the
store, and now here were fragments of both in one place. There had to be a connection.
It seemed likely that the faction collecting radios was the same faction that was
establishing these radio stations throughout the ruins. But what were they doing?
And why would they kill so freely to hide it?

“What I need is a clue,” said Kira, frowning at the devastation. She was talking to
herself more and more these days, and she felt foolish to hear her voice ringing out
through the empty city. On the other hand, hers was the only voice she’d heard in
weeks, and it was oddly soothing every time she spoke. She shook her head. “Gotta
talk to somebody, right? Even if it does make me look pathetic.” She bent down, examining
the bits of paper sprinkled throughout the rubble. Whoever had made the safe houses
and planted the bombs was still out there, and finding them would be all but impossible
now that they’d blown up all the evidence. Kira laughed dryly. “But I suppose that’s
kind of the point.”

She pulled one of the papers from the debris at her feet; it was a fragment of old-world
newspaper, wrinkled and yellow, and the headline was just barely legible.
DETROIT PROTEST TURNS VIOLENT
, she read. The smaller words in the body of the article were only barely legible,
but Kira deciphered the words “police” and “factory,” and several references to Partials.
“So the faction collecting radios is also collecting articles about the Partial rebellion?”
She frowned at the paper, then rolled her eyes and dropped it back to the ground.
“Either that, or
every
newspaper from right before the Break talked about Partials, and this means nothing.”
She shook her head. “I need something concrete. You know, aside from all the actual
chunks of concrete.” She kicked a piece of rubble, and it skittered away across the
crater, bouncing off the fallen radio antenna with a clang.

She walked over to the examine the antenna; it was large, probably several yards tall
when it was still straight, but as thin as cable. It must have been pretty sturdy
to have stood up straight, but the explosion and the fall had twisted it into tight
creases and curls. Kira pulled on it, trying to drag it out from the fallen bricks
and Sheetrock that held it half-buried. It moved about three feet before catching
on something; she strained against it, but it refused to budge any further. She dropped
the antenna, panting with exertion, and looked for more . . . anything. She found
more news clippings, three more decaying Partial bodies, and a nest of garter snakes
curled under the shelf of a fallen solar panel, but nothing that told her where the
bombers had gone, or if they might have another radio station elsewhere in the city.
She sat down beside another solar panel to rest, pulling out a canteen of water, when
suddenly it occurred to her:

Why were there two banks of solar panels?

This type of solar panel was called a Zoble, and Kira knew them well; Xochi had installed
one on their roof at home to run her music players, and there were several more at
the hospital. They could draw a lot of power and transfer it very efficiently, and
they were incredibly rare. Xochi had only been able to afford hers through her “mother”
and her connections to the farms and the fresh food market. To find one in Manhattan
wasn’t necessarily bizarre—demand was less, after all, with no other scavengers to
compete with—but to find two, rigged to the same building, spoke of abnormally high
power needs. She scoured the crater again, on her hands and knees this time, searching
for the capacitor that stored all this energy, and found instead the broken shards
of a third Zoble panel.

“Three Zobles,” whispered Kira. “Why do you need all that juice? For the radio? Can
they possibly need that much?” She’d used walkie-talkies back home that fit snugly
in the palm of her hand, running off tiny rechargeables. What kind of radio needed
three Zoble panels and a five-meter antenna? It didn’t make sense.

Unless they were powering more than just a radio. Unless they were powering, say,
a collection of stolen ParaGen computers.

Kira looked around, not at the crater but at the street behind her and the cold, lifeless
buildings beyond. She felt exposed, as if a spotlight had just been pointed at her,
and she stepped into the shadow of a fallen wall.
If there were really something valuable under here,
she thought,
whoever was protecting this place would have come to dig it up by now. The extra juice
was here to power the radio and the computers, and whoever I found collecting radios
and computers was doing it in the last few months—long after this building exploded.
They’re still out there, and they’re up to something weird.

She looked up at the roofline, and the darkening sky beyond it.
And all I have to do to find them is to find what they need: a giant antenna and enough
solar panels to run their radio. If there are other such sites in the city, I won’t
be able to see them from down here.

“Time to go up.”

Kira’s plan was simple: climb the tallest building she could find, get a good view
of the city, and watch. If she was lucky she’d see another smoke trail, though she
had to assume her targets had learned their lesson after the last time; more likely,
she’d just have to study the skyline as closely as she could, in all directions and
in all angles of sunlight, hoping to catch a glimpse of a giant antenna and a bank—or
banks—of solar panels.

“Then I just have to keep notes, find them on my map, and check them out in person,”
said Kira, talking to herself as she climbed another flight of stairs. “And hope I
don’t get blown up, like everyone else has so far.”

The building she’d chosen was relatively close to the ParaGen building, maybe a mile
southwest—a massive granite skyscraper proudly proclaiming itself the Empire State
Building. The outer walls were overgrown with vines and moss, like most of the city,
but the inner structure seemed stable enough, and she’d only had to shoot one lock
to get into the main stairway. She was on the 32nd floor now, slowly rounding the
railing to the 33rd; according to the signs in the lobby, she had fifty-three to go.
“I’ve got three liters of water,” she told herself, reciting her supplies as she climbed,
“six cans of tuna, two cans of beans, and one last MRE from that army supply store
on Seventh Avenue. I need to find another one of those.” She reached the landing of
the 34th floor, stuck out her tongue, and kept climbing. “That food had better last
me a while, because I don’t want to make this climb any more often than I have to.”

What felt like hours later she collapsed on the 86th floor with a gasp, pausing to
drink more water before checking out the alleged “observatory.” It had a great view,
but the walls were mostly windows, and almost all had been shattered, leaving the
entire floor drafty and frigid. She trudged back to the stairway and ended up on the
102nd floor, at the base of a giant spire that continued up another two or three hundred
feet. A plaque at the door congratulated her for climbing 1,860 individual stairs,
and she nodded as she caught her breath. “Just my luck,” she gasped. “I’m going to
have the best glutes left on the planet, and there’s nobody here to see them.”

BOOK: Fragments
7.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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