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By Chris Weitz
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After the emotional cliffhanger of The New Order, shocking events take place for Donna, Jefferson, Kath, and their tribe as they face their greatest challenge yet–how to hold the new city-state of New York against a ruthless attack from the Old World.
Heart-stopping action and exciting new revelations will leave readers hungry for the final installment in the series.
Table of Contents
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THE STEADY DRONE OF HELICOPTER blades and military jargon might put me in a meditative frame of mind, if my heart weren't beating louder than any other sound, because New York, beautiful New York, hideous New York, is stretched ahead of us, the thick ribbon of Manhattan joined loosely to the mainland and the nub of Long Island by thin threads of bridge.
Somewhere in those canyons and alleys, I hope, is Jefferson.
The damage is hard to see from up here. We dive down for a lower pass, and Colonel Wakefield talks to me over the headphones.
Wakefield: "It doesn't look too bad. I don't see a problem with Zone A."
Zone A is Central Park.
Me: "I'm telling you, it's better to go to Randall's Island." I search my mind for the correct jargon. "Zone C. There's no way of knowing what's going down in the park, I mean Zone A. You could have loonies with bows and arrows hiding out in the bushes. Things get pretty real down there."
Wakefield: "I think we should just about manage."
This is the British understatement thing, which is cute and all, but it doesn't fill me with the confidence it's supposed to. I get where he's coming from—these are some major ass-kickers I'm traveling with. SAS stands for Special Air Service, which sounds like they're really great flight attendants or something, but in fact the SAS are the most killer-y of killers selected from the British armed forces, a group already loaded chock-full of working-class guys with attitude problems. People like to think of the Brits as sophisticated and everything, all umbrellas and tea and stuff, but a pint glass smashed into your face at closing time is probably more representative of the population as a whole. The officers are even more scary because they seem all genteel but they're every bit as ready-to-eat-bugs-and-jam-their-thumbs-into-your-eyes as the rest.
I look down the line of jump seats and see the Gurkhas. Little smiley guys with big curved knives. By reputation they're the most dangerous of the lot.
Rab catches my eye and holds up three fingers, which means channel three. He wants a private moment on a separate channel from the others.
I've been ignoring him so far. But it's getting to be more trouble than it's worth.
Rab: "I just want you to know that I agree with you."
Me: "Well, as we used to say, that and three bucks gets me a ride on the subway."
Rab: "Getting back into a New York state of mind, I see."
I'm not really in the mood for banter.
Me: "What do you want?" I can't even say his name.
Rab: "You're thinking about him. Jefferson."
I'm annoyed that he's even bringing this up. Maybe I'm a little ashamed. Maybe he's putting it out there, like, If we do find Jefferson, I'm going to tell him we've been sleeping together, and spoil your little reunion.
I look over at Rab, the honey trap, the muscley shoulder to cry on. The government informer. The spy. The liar.
Rab: "I'm sorry. They made me do it."
Me: "Not half as sorry as I am." They made me do it. That's nice.
Rab: "I wanted to tell you. I still—"
I jump back to channel one. No interest in rehashing that stuff. I suppose you have to admire the guy for trying. What does he want? Is there something else he can get out of me? Or does he really want to make amends, to, what, "get back together"? I look away, which takes a little doing, since he's nice to look at. But it's so over.
Poor Donna, deceived by a dude, all alone in a box of bros. Working for the Man.
My mind turns again to the gender politics of this race to secure the nukes. I'm thinking how all up and down the line, the guys running this show, not to mention the Reconstruction Committee, are, you know, guys.
I used to think I was a feminist. I was all, Girl power! and stuff. Figured that if I didn't take any shit, that pretty much counted as, like, my contribution to society. But when I look back and examine my actions, I was mostly going with the flow. A lot of the time when I thought I was being awesome and Equal? I was just making token resistance, a sort of Aunt Thomasina.
I look around the cabin, full of broken noses and swollen knuckles, and I think, Maybe men and women are individual, but symbiotic, species? I mean, what if back in the primordial soup, before sexual reproduction, everything was just fine and then that Y chromosome snuck in and made half the population brutal and slutty?
But how to even up the score? How to be a real feminist, post-apocalyptically speaking?
The chopper makes a hard right toward Central Park, the cabin tilting, the squaddie next to me practically crushing me. "Sorry, miss," he says, but he cops a feel as he slides back down the bench.
For the past few years of my life, this has been the deal—a lot of people with dicks and guns doing whatever they like.
Life back at Washington Square, our tribe's home, had been, again theoretically, more fair. I mean, there's nothing like the end of civilization for a reboot of society. But even there, it was a bro running the show. I loved Washington as much as anybody else. But still. Sometimes I think a girl like me might have run things better, nome sane?
The helicopter backs and hovers, whipping up dirt and chaff from the ground through the cold air, and the SAS guys give their kit one last check, all their nylon war-fetish gear, their matte-black knives and carabiners and nylon loops and snub automatics.
Maybe this is how it works. Maybe the road to equality is not paved with good intentions and laid on a foundation of law and gradual social change. Maybe it's seized at gunpoint.
The helicopter sets down as light as can be, the rotors flattening the tall brown grass outward into an undulating crop circle. Out pour the commandos, ten from each of the two troop choppers, plus myself, my gigantic minder, Titch, and my lying-sack-of-shit ex-briefly-boyfriend, Rab. A third helicopter, a giant number with two rotors, disgorges its cargo like big rectangular poops and heads back to the east, where the carrier group is waiting in the Long Island Sound.
The moon is only a semicircular gouge of light, so the world is dark gray, with the lumps of granite and shaggy outlines of trees giving way to blocky rectangles of apartment buildings shouldering over the park walls in the distance.
I know who lives there.
The helicopter has given away the game. By now everybody above Fifty-Ninth Street has probably seen us and realized that, contrary to what they thought, the rest of the world is not mired in a post-apocalyptic goatfuck like they are. I can't imagine they're taking it in stride. They will be awakening, with a jolt, from a nightmare into a world of infinite possibilities.
Sheep Meadow is even more sketch than it was the last time I was here. Overgrown and stuck in winter, it looks like the landscape equivalent of a drug-addicted drifter who hasn't showered in a month.
Last time—those were the days! Jefferson and I were young and infected and Not Dead Yet, trekking north, stalked by Uptowners and polar bears. Aiming to save the world, or at least ourselves, with a cure for the Sickness. And damned if we didn't do it, minus one or two fatalities.
Wakefield: "So far, so good."
He means that he was right and I was wrong, and the shitstorm of Hurricane Sandy proportions that I had been expecting hasn't materialized. The park does seem quiet.
Wakefield: "We'll make our way east to the UN and, with any luck, the football."
"The football" is the launch codes and activation device for the US Strategic Nuclear Arsenal. So, you know, kind of a big deal.
That's what we're here for. It's a big black leather satchel, very dowdy and unstylish, like total substitute teacher gear, with a leather loop attached to the handle that goes around your arm. Or rather, a military officer's arm. It was that person's job to hover in the vicinity of the president at all times, waiting around just in case somebody felt like setting off a global thermonuclear war. At such time, the president had his handy-dandy launch authorizations nearby to call in to CentCom via a special satphone—"the biscuit"—and authorize the end of the world, or at least the next best thing.
Wakefield continues, "We should be able to fend off any sporadic attacks in the meanwhile."
Me: "Colonel, everybody on this island is gonna want to find out who you are, and how you managed to live this long, and whether you've got a cure for the Sickness. That means thousands of desperate, armed people."
Me: "Who have survived here for years. Unlike you."
He looks at me skeptically, as though making a Mental Note in his Mental Notebook, which is probably, by the way, Mentally Matte Black. I wonder how many generations of military types have ignored the advice of their native guides—which is more or less what I am—and how many people have gotten killed as a result.
Wakefield: "That's not my concern."
It is, I understand, beyond the scope of his interest, which is to say it has nothing to do with the mission to get the football.
Guja: "Miss Donna, you are doing okay?" He's a little man—shorter than me, at least, and I barely top five feet—with a wide and ready smile. Calling him little might make him sound less than formidable, but Guja is a Gurkha, from this brigade of Nepalese soldiers who've served in the British army for over two hundred years.
Story was, the British, who in that particular century were traipsing around the globe trying to subjugate anybody brown they found along the way, hit a speed bump when they came across this one tribe. The Gurkhas hadn't opened the e-mail about cringing before the awesome spectacle of Victorian tech and discipline. They were all, like, Come at me, bro. The Brits were so impressed they hired them.
Guja and the other Gurkhas are hacking away at the long grass of Central Park with their kukris, which are these long, curved knives that look like sharpened metal boomerangs. Now he's taken a break from punishing the local flora to ask after me.
I like Guja, but I also know why he and the other Gurkhas make up half the team. It's because they take orders and kill without question and have just about zero sense of connection to teenage New Yorkers who, to be fair, probably have zero affinity for Nepalese tribesmen.
Me: "Okay, Guja."
But really, nothing is okay. Okayness is definitely in short supply. I'm back in the suck. After a brief interlude in Cambridge, where for a while I had even convinced myself that I was just a normal survivor of the American diaspora, stuff got, once again, F'd up, like beyond F'd up, practically G'd up or H'd up.
I glance at Rab. He's pushing back his magazine-shoot hair and hefting crates and boxes from the helicopter to stack them outside, trying to fit in with the Gurkhas and the hard-faced SAS commandos. I could almost feel sorry for him, pretty boy among all these stony military types.
When I met him in Cambridge, I thought he was part of the student Resistance, protesting the social controls that the government and the American Reconstruction Committee had placed on the populace. Restrictions on speech, movement, ideology. Behind a façade of normal life, they had eyes and ears on everything at all times. You were even monitored from your own pocket—every cell phone an informant.
And me? I was just a little citrus fruit they wanted to squeeze for information. I'd been at the UN, you see, the day that the president died. So they figured I had information about the football.
Anyway, Rab wasn't working for the Resistance after all. He was working for the government.
He smiles at me, shrugs, like Who am I kidding? and saunters over from the piles of gear. His face registers determination. Once-more-into-the-breach kind of thing.
Rab: "I never thought I'd end up here. Did you? That night in the bar?"
The scene: the college bar, a lonely American girl far from home, nursing a Budweiser. In steps Rab, all raven-haired and copper-skinned beauty, limestone-green eyes, the whole package. Begin a friendship tinged with attraction. Cut the cord connecting the girl to her friends, telling her they're dead. American girl falls into the ready arms of the new friend and tells all—everything she knows about her dark past in post-catastrophe New York. Government gets what it wants.
Rab is still waiting for an answer to his question.
Me: "No, I guess I never thought I'd be back in New York."
I was ready to stay in Cambridge. On some level, I knew that Rab was too good to be true. I was broken and falling and looking for a soft place to land. Someone to listen. A good time. A little happiness. So sue me.
His hand wanders toward mine. There is a thrill—but it's just some stupid emo neurons that haven't gotten the memo, firing for no good reason. I pull away. Turn my back.
Jefferson is somewhere out there. I hope.
Me: "Cut it out."
Rab: "Donna. This is the right side. Us." I'm not sure if he means him and the rest of the Brits, or him and me.
Me: "See, that's your problem. The moment I think you're getting real, it gets all political."
Rab: "I want you to be safe, that's why. If Jefferson is alive—" He's taken aback by the contempt on my face. "And I hope he is, for your sake," he adds. "If he's alive, then he's in the company of some dangerous, irresponsible people."
He means the Resistance. Specifically, Chapel.
Me: "Wow. You really drank the Kool-Aid, huh? Or did Welsh tell you to say that?"
Rab: "You think the Resistance wants to save everybody. I get it. That's why they used you. But they don't care about distributing the Cure. All they want is the nukes. And if they get them, they're going to send the world back to the Stone Age."
Except maybe he's right. Chapel came on very idealistic and self-sacrificing, like he wanted to save all of us post-apocalyptic little mofos. Otherwise we wouldn't have helped him. But something about this whole affair—down to my getting used by the government—makes me think that nobody in this game is innocent.
Except Jefferson. Of everyone I know, he's the one who would hold on to his principles. He would never compromise.
The gear has been unloaded, but we're still just standing around at the landing site. I want to get going. Go find him. But there's some kind of delay, a general milling about and grimacing among the SAS guys that, to me, indicates a hitch in our plans. I hear voices raised near one of the helicopters.
I've had enough of this. I walk over to the lead chopper.
The metal cowling is open, and a squaddie is peering in and fiddling with a bit of the engine, a little flashlight (they call them torches, which is cute, very Minecraft) clenched between his teeth like a cigar, freeing up both hands. He notices me watching him and contorts his face into a smile without removing the flashlight. The light blinds me for a moment.
Squaddie: "All right, miss?" (Or rather, "Aawwight, mih?")
The squaddies are polite and respectful on the surface, despite their gnarly lifestyle. Seems like they get shipped around to various foreign locales to kick down doors, stab people in the neck, and blow insurgents' brains out from preposterous distances, then get put back on the leash and run through obstacle courses for a rest. They are thoroughly under control, like dogs that can balance a treat on their nose until ordered to eat. Still, they can't seem to stop themselves from eye-boning me, which is surprising since I'm wearing a bulky green jumpsuit a few sizes too big. I guess they don't see too many girls.
I give him a little wave and a shy "Hi!" Despite the fact that I've probably seen more death and destruction than your most hard-bitten special ops special-opper, I'd rather have the squaddies believe that I'm a helpless little waif. It muddies up their suspicions and allows me to slip back into the body of the helicopter unregarded.
The cabin is gloomy, illuminated only by some yellowish LED strips plastered haphazardly here and there. It takes me a while to find what I'm looking for, especially since I have to shift things around as quietly as possible.
Finally, I locate it, a snub orange plastic device that looks like a cartoonish toy pistol. I take some flares from the box and slip it into a pocket of my jumpsuit.
They didn't give me a gun, probably because they don't think I'd know how to use one. Or maybe because they think, if I did know how to use one, I'd just as soon use it on them. Trust has been in pretty short supply since my shenanigans on the flight deck of the Ronald Reagan, when I helped the others escape.
But that's not what I want the flare gun for. I hop from the chopper and raise it above my head and fire. As the pink light streaks upward, the overgrown meadow around us is, for a moment, caught in a garish, ruddy glow. We're a lit diorama, a night shoot, a rave, and I can see the confused expressions on everyone's faces.
Swearing and shouting.
Wakefield: "Put that down. Now."
He nods to one of the Gurkhas, who sprints toward me.
I have the second flare in my left hand and jam it quickly into the breech. The heat from the first charge sears my fingers.
I take aim at the moon and pull the trigger. WHOOMF. The second flare goes up, burning a line in the sky, the two residual smoke trails making a V with its point on our location.
The Gurkha tackles me, and the air hisses out of my lungs. Up goes the kukri, and I see the bent blade glimmer in the light of the second flare.
The knife pauses in the air, suspended like a second moon. Guja comes up behind his man and gives him an order in Nepali. The man stands up and raises me by the collar.
Guja looks at me, his smile gone like it never was there.
Guja: "Why, miss? Why?"
I realize that I may have been his particular responsibility just now, and I may have gotten him in some deep shit.
Me: "Sorry, Gooj."
Even if he cared about the answer, how could I explain? That I had a feeling that somewhere out there Jefferson would see, that somehow he would know it was me? That he would come for me and we'd be together again?
THROUGH THE FROST-RIMMED WINDOW, I see the flares die down, but the hope remains. A ghostly pink V has taken shape over the park, pointing the way.
We're holed up in a dentist's office in Midtown on what should be called the thirteenth floor but is labeled the fourteenth out of a retrospectively ironic desire to avoid bad luck. Peter lolls on the ground, nursing his heartbreak. The twins leaf through old copies of Highlights, looking for Goofus and Gallant cartoons. Kath sits next to Brainbox, who's laid out on the couch.
"Let's go," I say.
"What if it's not somebody come to help?" says Kath, her lips twisted in a skeptical moue. At least I'm pretty sure that's what they call it. A distortion that reminds you of the beauty of the original form.
"If it's not, what do we have to lose?" I say.
"Everything," says Kath. "Half the city probably wants to kill you."
"Thanks to you and Theo," I say. There's been no sign of Theo, the Harlemite who went to the lab with us, and then to the carrier, and then on the helicopter back home. Whatever he did after he and Kath exposed my lies at the UN, we've had no word.
"Don't blame Theo, who had a legitimate beef with you, and don't blame me, either. I didn't force you to lie to everybody," Kath says. "I didn't force you to hide the truth."
"If they knew that…" I search for the right word, choosing the most useful one. "…civilization had survived, there'd be a massacre. Everybody would be rushing for the exit out of here."
"That's what Chapel said, right? The guy who stole the World's Most Important Briefcase?" She looks over at Peter, who registers the feeling you get when you unexpectedly hear the name of somebody who dumped you. "Sorry," Kath says.
"Even if he's a liar about everything else, he was right about one thing. Haven't you heard the gunshots? The screams? The explosions out there? It's anarchy."
Kath shrugs. "Right. Which is why we should sit tight. Everybody's losing their minds. You remember what that random said? Everybody's heading down to Battery Park."
"There's a big boat coming to pick everybody up!" says Anna, the girl twin, brightly.
"There's no boat," I say. "Well, there is, but it's not coming for us. It's a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and they'd just as soon carpet bomb this place. I don't trust the Reconstruction Committee."
"But you trust whoever shot those flares? That's weak."
I don't tell her that, deep inside, I have a hope, which is becoming a conviction, that it's Donna who shot those flares. It doesn't make any sense. But the feeling is there nonetheless.
"So stay. I'm going to find out who it was." I shoulder my pack.
Kath looks like she doesn't buy my indifference. And it's true, she's a hard person to be indifferent about, even if she has completely screwed up my life. There's her beauty, of course, the ridiculous plummy ripeness of her. But it's more than that. There's a sort of gravitational quality to her spirit, like a cliff edge that you can't help but peek over. And some part of me always wants to jump. Thanatos, they used to call it—the death wish.
"Is that any way to thank me for saving your life?" Kath continues with a smile.
That's technically true. Once everyone else found out about the Cure, I was lucky to escape with my skin intact. Kath and the Thrill Kill Twins pulled me out, along with Brainbox and Peter, through the cloaca of the UN compound.
"You killed me," I counter. "You started the lynch mob that's after me." Now we're hiding by day, moving by night, waiting for the peasants with pitchforks and torches.
"Don't be a drama queen. They would have found out you were lying soon enough."
"I just needed a little time. I wanted something better. For everybody."
"Yeah, I know." Kath smirks. "You're cute. I bet that big get-together you organized gave you a raging Righteousness Boner. You got to play Model UN. Even write a constitution."
I wanted to establish some kind of structure before the adults came. According to Chapel, they were just waiting for us to die off. So it seemed to me the best thing to do was to band together. After all, we had the Cure. We could start again. And we could organize to defend ourselves against whoever was coming once the rest of the world realized that we were staying for the long haul.
"But guess what?" Kath says. "Given the choice, given the facts, people didn't want to be part of your Utopia. They wanted Wi-Fi."
"If you think I'm so naive, then what are you doing here?"
I still can't figure it. It was one thing for her to take revenge. After all, I broke up with her. If you can really use a banal term like that in a world that comprehends plague and cannibalism. And I left her for dead.
Of course, I didn't know she wasn't actually dead. Not that she didn't hold it against me.
But by hanging around, she's put herself in danger, too.
At that, Kath actually seems kind of stumped. Or as though she doesn't want to say. Finally, she shrugs.
"Nothing better to do. But that doesn't mean I want to waltz around outside asking to get shot."
"It's your own damn people that's gonna do it," says Peter, reminding Kath of her Uptown roots.
"Yeah, my former own damn people. I'm not exactly beloved out there." She raises her eyebrows (plucked, somehow, even under these circumstances) for emphasis. "Look, I'm not just thinking for myself any longer. I've got two kids."
She means the Long Islanders she picked up at the lab, towheaded twins named Anna and Abel but who she calls the Thrill Kill Twins. The springy little blue-eyed ectomorphic psychotics follow Kath's instructions to the letter, which is what they did for the Old Man before I killed him. I can't tell if Kath really cares about them or if her protectiveness is an elaborate running gag on her part. Maybe she can't tell, either.
"I'm heading toward those flares," I say. "I bet it's the adults. It might be military, it might be the Resistance, but whoever it is, they're our best shot at helping Brainbox. If we don't get him some medical attention soon…"
I don't finish the thought. I don't want Brainbox to hear, if he's even conscious.
His stomach has stopped bleeding. There's a neat little hole where Chapel shot him, about four inches to the left of his belly button, surrounded by flesh so pallid it could be a fish's stomach instead of a kid's. No exit wound. I think that's not a good thing. Like maybe the bullet bounced around inside him, or expanded as it traveled through his guts. They designed them to do that. His breathing is shallow and fast, his pulse irregular. His body is slick with oily sweat.
Donna would know what to do about it. She was the tribe's doctor, since she practically grew up in the ER where her mom was a nurse. She would manage to whip up some kind of treatment from the dentist's shelves. Now it's been two days and I've run out of bright ideas. We found some expired novocaine and shot him up. Beyond that, I'm out of answers, at a point of absolute stasis. Like a marble at the bottom of a bowl—no kinetic energy left for me to move anywhere. At least I was, until I saw the flares.
"Jefferson's right. We need to make a move. I'll help," says Peter. He literally shakes off his grief over Chapel's betrayal—wagging his head like he can dispose of his thoughts by flinging them centrifugally out of his brain.
- On Sale
- Jul 19, 2016
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers