Sam woke to a feeling of utter, profound, incredible relief.He closed his eyes as soon as he opened them, afraid that being awake would just invite something terrible to appear.Astrid was back. And she was asleep with her head on his arm. His arm was asleep, completely numb, but as long as that blond head was right there his arm could stay numb.She smelled like pine trees and campfire smoke.He opened his eyes, cautious, almost flinching, because the FAYZ didn’t make a habit of allowing him pure, undiluted happiness. The FAYZ made a habit of stomping on anything that looked even a little bit like happiness. And this level of happiness was surely tempting retaliation. From this high up the fall could be a long, long one.
It’s time,” Jack said.“Breeze? Count the kids,” Sam said.Brianna was back in twenty seconds. “Eighty-two, boss.”“About a third,” Jack observed. “A third of what’s left.”“Wait. Make that eighty-eight,” Brianna said. “And a dog.”Lana, looking deeply irritated—a fairly usual expression for her—and Sanjit, looking happy—a fairly usual expression for him—and Sanjit’s siblings were trotting along to catch up.“I don’t know if we’re staying up there or not,” Lana said without preamble. “I want to check it out. And my room smells like crap.”Just before the time was up, Sam heard a stir. Kids were making a lane for someone, murmuring. His heart leaped.“Hey, Sam.”He swallowed the lump in his throat. “Diana?”“Not expecting me, huh?” She made a wry face. “Where’s blondie? I didn’t see her at the big pep rally.”“Are you coming with us?” Brianna demanded, obviously not happy about it.“Is Caine okay with this?” Sam asked Diana. “It’s your choice, but I need to know if he’s going to come after us to take you back.”“Caine has what he wants,” Diana said.“Maybe I should call Toto over,” Sam said. The truth teller was having a conversation with Spidey. “I could ask you whether you’re coming along to spy for Caine, and see what Toto has to say.”Diana sighed. “Sam, I have bigger problems than Caine. And so do you, I guess. Because the FAYZ is going to do something it’s never done before: grow by one.”“What’s that mean?”“You are going to be an uncle.”Sam stared blankly. Brianna said a very rude word. And even Dekka looked up.“You’re having a baby?” Dekka asked.“Let’s hope so,” Diana said bleakly. “Let’s hope that’s all it is.
It takes me a while to figure things out, doesn't it? Edilio grinned. Do me a favor. When you find Astrid, repeat that to her, word for word, the part about how it takes you a while. Then remember her exact reaction and tell me.
There's a lot youdon't know, Sam. There's a lot I don't tell you. I know who I am. I know what I do, and what I am to this place.I know what I am to you, and how much you depend on me.You may be the symbol, and you may be the one everyone turns to when something goes bad, and you're the big badass, but I'm the guy doing the day-in, day-out work of running things. So I don't make this about me.
About time,” Brianna said.“Hey, sorry, we were kind of busy,” Quinn snapped. “And I didn’t exactly realize I was on a schedule.”“I don’t like what I have to do here,” Brianna said. She handed Quinn the note.He read it. Read it again.“Is this some kind of joke?” he demanded.“Albert’s dead,” Brianna said. “Murdered.”“What?”“He’s dead. Sam and Dekka are off in the wilderness somewhere. Edilio’s got the flu, he might die, a lot of kids have. A lot. And there are these, these monsters, these kind of bugs . . . no one knows what to call them . . . heading toward town.” Her face contorted in a mix of rage and sorrow and fear. She blurted, “And I can’t stop them!”Quinn stared at her. Then back at the note.He felt his contented little universe tilt and go sliding away.There were just two words on the paper: “Get Caine.
Sam. Brianna is dead.”He just stared at her. Then, in a soft, almost childlike voice, he said, “Breeze?”“She stopped Gaia. It looked like Brianna almost killed her. The second time she . . . But this time . . .”There were tears in Sam’s eyes. “My God. How is Dekka?”“Like you’d expect. Destroyed. Roger’s dead, too, so Edilio . . . It’s been really bad, Sam. Really bad. It’s like we’re in a war.”“We are.
Brianna’s looking for Drake,” Edilio said, thinking out loud.“You sent her out against Drake?” Albert demanded.“Sent her? Who sends Brianna out to get into a fight? She goes on her own. Anyway, it’s not like you’ve left us with anyone else.”Albert had the decency not to say anything to that.“You know, you guys put me in charge. I didn’t ask to be in charge. I didn’t want to be in charge. Sam was in charge and all you guys ever did was give him grief,” Edilio said. “You two, especially.” He pointed at Albert and Astrid. “So, okay, Astrid takes over. And then Astrid finds out it’s not so much fun being in charge. So it’s like, okay, let’s get the dumb wetback to do the job.”“No one ever—,” Astrid protested.“And me, like a fool, I’m thinking, okay, that must mean people trust me. They asked me to be in charge, be the mayor. Come to find out, I’m not making decisions; Albert’s making decisions. Albert’s deciding we need to find more water and sending our two best fighters off into the countryside. Now I’m supposed to fix everything? It’s like you go, ‘Fight a war,’ but you sent my army off on a wild goose chase.
Look, people, I’m announcing a new rule. It’s going to seem harsh. But it’s necessary.”The word “harsh” got almost everyone’s attention.“We can’t have people sitting around all day playing Wii and watching DVDs. We need people to start working in the fields. So, here’s the thing: everyone age seven or older has to put in three days per week picking fruit or veggies. Then Albert’s going to work with the whole question of freezing stuff that can be frozen, or otherwise preserving stuff.”There was dead silence. And blank stares.“What I’m saying is, tomorrow we’ll have two school buses ready to go. They hold about fifty kids each and we need to have them mostly full because we’re going to pick some melons and it’s a lot of work.”More blank stares.“Okay, let me make this simple: get your brothers and sisters and friends and anyone over age seven and be in the square tomorrow morning at eight o’clock.”“But how about—?”“Just be there,” Sam said with less firmness than he’d intended. His frustration was draining away now, replaced by weariness and depression.“Just be there,” someone mimicked in a singsong voice.Sam closed his eyes, and for a moment he almost seemed to be asleep. Then he opened them again and managed a bleak smile. “Please. Be there,” he said quietly.He walked down the three steps and out of the church, knowing in his heart that few would answer his call.
I’m killing Zil. Clear enough? I’m putting him down.”“Whoa, man,” Edilio said. “That’s not what we do. We’re the good guys, right?”“There has to be an end to it, Edilio.” He wiped soot from his face with the back of his hand, but smoke had filled his eyes with tears. “I can’t keep doing it and never reaching the end.”“It’s not your call anymore,” Edilio said.Sam turned a steely glare on him. “You too? Now you’re siding with Astrid?”“Man, there have to be limits,” Edilio said.Sam stood staring down the street. The fire was out of control. All of Sherman was burning, from one end to the other. If they were lucky it wouldn’t jump to another street. But one way or the other, Sherman was lost.“We should be looking to save any kids that are trapped,” Edilio said.Sam didn’t answer.“Sam,” Edilio pleaded.“I begged Him to let me die, Edilio. I prayed to the God who Astrid likes so much and I said, God, if You’re there, kill me. Don’t let me feel this pain anymore.”Edilio said nothing.“You don’t understand, Edilio,” Sam said so softly, he doubted Edilio could hear him over the roar and crackle of the fire raging all around them. “You can’t do anything else with people like this. You have to kill them all. Zil. Caine. Drake. You just have to kill them. So right now, I’m starting with Zil and his crew,” Sam said. “You can come with me or not.
Albert had created a currency based on gold bullets and McDonald’s game pieces. He’d wanted to call the currency something else, but no one remembered what. So, ’Bertos they were, a play on “Albert,” coined by Howard, of course, who had also come up with “the FAYZ” to describe their weird little world.Sam had thought Albert was nuts with his obsession with creating money. But the evidence was in: Albert’s system was producing just enough food for kids to survive. And a lot more kids were working. Far fewer were just hanging out. It was no longer impossible to get kids to go into the fields and do the backbreaking work of picking crops. They worked for ’Bertos and spent ’Bertos, and for now at least starvation was just a bad memory.
Little Pete. He’s not exactly just Astrid’s autistic brother.” He explained briefly while Toto added a chorus of “Sam believes that’s true” remarks.“How do we get Little Pete to do anything?” Dekka asked.“The last time Little Pete felt mortal danger he made the FAYZ,” Sam said. “He needs to be in mortal danger again.”Jack and Dekka exchanged a wary look, each wondering what the other had known or guessed about Little Pete.“Little Pete?” Jack asked. “That little kid has that kind of power?”“Yes,” Sam said simply. “Next to Pete, me, Caine, all of us, we’re like . . . like popguns compared to a cannon. We don’t even know what the limits of his powers are,” Sam said. “What we do know is we can’t communicate with him very well. We can’t even guess what he’s thinking.”“Little Pete,” Dekka muttered and shook her head. “I knew he was important, I got that a long time ago. But he can do that? He has that kind of power?” She pondered for a moment, nodded, and said, “I see why you kept it secret. It’s like having a nuclear weapon in the hands of, well, a little autistic kid.
Caine’s a guy who needs to win. He needs to win before he poofs. Or he needs to win before I poof. The point is, he’s not going to just accept us freeing all these kids from Coates and taking over Perdido Beach,” Sam said. “So we need to be ready. And we need to be ready for something else, too: tomorrow is my birthday.” He made a wry face. “Not a birthday I’m exactly looking forward to. But, anyway, we need to decide who takes over for me if…when…I step outside.”Several of the kids made sympathetic or encouraging noises about how Sam maybe wasn’t going to blink out, or maybe it would be a good thing, an escape from the FAYZ. But Sam hushed them all.“Look, the good thing is, when I go, so does Caine. The bad thing is, that still leaves Drake and Diana and other bullies. Orc…well, we don’t exactly know what’s going on with him, but Howard’s not with him. And Lana…we don’t know what happened to her, whether she left or what.”The loss of Lana was a serious blow. Every one of the Coates refugees adored her for the way she had healed their hands. And it was reassuring to think that she could heal anyone who was injured.Astrid said, “I nominate Edilio to take over if…you know. Anyway, we need a number two, a vice president or vice mayor or whatever.”Edilio did a double take, like Astrid must be talking about some other Edilio. Then he said, “No way. Astrid’s the smartest person here.”“I have Little Pete to look after. Mary has to care for the prees and keep them out of harm’s way. Dahra has responsibility for treating anyone who gets hurt. Elwood has been so busy in the hospital with Dahra, he hasn’t dealt with Caine or Drake or any of the Coates faction. Edilio’s been up against Orc and Drake. And he’s always been brave and smart and able.” She winked at Edilio, acknowledging his discomfort.“Right,” Sam said. “So unless someone has an objection, that’s the way it is. If I get hurt or I ditch, Edilio’s in charge.”“Respect to Edilio,” Dekka said, “but he doesn’t even have powers.”“He has the power to earn trust and to come through when he has to
Caine has Drake and Orc, Panda and Chaz, and I hear Mallet has made peace with him. And maybe a half dozen other guys.”“Are you afraid of them?” Astrid asked him.“Yeah, Astrid, I am.”“Okay,” she said. “But you were scared of going into a burning building, too.”“You don’t get this, do you?” Sam demanded with enough heat that Astrid took a step back. “I know what you want, okay? I know what you and a bunch of other people want. You want me to be the anti-Caine. You don’t like the way he’s doing things and you want me to go kick him out. Well, here’s what you don’t know: even if I could do all that, I wouldn’t be any better than him.”“You’re wrong about that, Sam. You’re—”“That night when I first used the power? When I hurt my stepfather? How do you think I felt?”“Sad. Regretful.” Astrid looked at his face like the answer would be written there. “Scared, probably.”“Yeah. All that. And one more thing.” He held up his hand and inches from her nose squeezed his fingers into a tight fist. “I also felt a rush, Astrid. A rush. I thought, oh my God, look at the power I have. Look what I can do. A huge, crazy rush.”“Power corrupts,” Astrid said softly.“Yeah,” Sam said sarcastically. “I’ve heard that.”“Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I forget who said it.”“I make a lot of mistakes, Astrid. I don’t want to make that mistake. I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to be Caine. I want to…” He spread his arms wide, a gesture of helplessness. “I just want to go surfing.”“You won’t be corrupted, Sam. You wouldn’t do those things.” He had moved back. She moved to close the distance.“How can you be so sure?”“Well, two reasons. First, it’s not your character. Of course you felt a rush from the power. Then, you pushed it away. You didn’t grab at it, you pushed it away. That’s reason number one. You’re you, you’re not Caine or Drake or Orc.”Sam wanted to agree, wanted to accept that, but he felt he knew better. “Don’t be so sure.”“And reason number two: you have me
Hunter’s entire body writhed and squirmed.The side of his head was partly gone. A creature, like some monstrous melding of insect and eel, protruded from Hunter’s shoulder and as they stood there rooted in horror it took a vicious bite of Hunter’s flesh.Taylor was suddenly gone.Dekka’s face was grim, her eyes wet.“I tried . . . ,” Hunter said. He held up his hands, mimicked pressing them against his head. “It didn’t work.”“I can do it,” Sam said softly.“I’m scared,” Hunter said.“I know.”“It’s ’cause I killed Harry. God has to punish me. I tried to be good but I’m bad.”“No, Hunter,” Sam said gently. “You paid your dues. You fed the kids. You’re a good guy.”“I’m a good hunter.”“The best.”“I don’t know what’s happening. What’s happening, Sam?”“It’s just the FAYZ, Hunter,” Sam said.“Can the angels find me here so I can go to heaven?”Sam didn’t answer. It was Dekka who spoke. “Do you still remember any prayers, Hunter?”The insectlike creature was almost completely emerged from Hunter’s shoulder. Legs were becoming visible. It had wings folded against its body. It looked like a gigantic ant, or wasp, but silver and brass and covered with a sheen of slime.It was emerging like a chicken breaking out of an egg. Being born. And as the creature was born, it fed on Hunter’s numbed body.Jerky movements beneath Hunter’s shirt testified to more of the larvae emerging.“Do you remember ‘now I lay me down to sleep’?” Dekka asked.“Now I lay me down to sleep,” Hunter said. “I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”Sam raised his hands, palms out.“If I should die—”Twin beams of light hit Hunter’s chest and face. His shirt caught fire. Flesh melted. He was dead before he could feel anything.Sam played the light up and down Hunter’s body. The smell was sickening. Jack wanted to look away, but how could he?Sudden darkness as Sam terminated the light.Sam lowered his hands to his side.They stood there in the darkness. Jack breathed through his mouth, trying not to smell the burned flesh.Then they heard a sound. Many sounds.Sam raised his hands and pale light glowed.Hunter was all but gone.The things that had been inside him were still there.
Sam, no!” Edilio snapped.Sam missed a step, then stopped. He looked at Edilio, puzzled.“We’re scattered. And we can’t risk you. You die and the light dies with you.”“Are you out of your mind? You think I’m going to let Drake come in here and take Diana?”“Not you, Sam. Dekka, yes. Orc, yes. He’s out there, too. And send Jack as well. Anyone but you.”Sam looked like he’d been punched. Like someone had knocked the wind out of him. He blinked and started to say something and stopped.“You aren’t replaceable, Sam. Figure it out, okay? It’s going dark and you make light. So this isn’t going to be your battle. Not now. It’s on the rest of us to step up.
Sam sent me to give you a message, Edilio. He said, ‘Tell Edilio I couldn’t kill the bugs.’”“The things that came out of Hunter?” Howard asked.Taylor closed her eyes. Tears squeezed out and rolled down her cheeks. “Yes. The things that came out of Hunter. Sam shot them, you know, with his light. But they’re like, reflective or whatever. Anyway, it didn’t kill them.
What’s Albert going to do?” a boy named Jim demanded. “Where’s Albert?”Albert stepped from an inconspicuous position off to one side. He mounted the steps, moving carefully still, not entirely well even now.He carefully chose a position equidistant between Caine and Sam.“What should we do, Albert?” a voice asked plaintively.Albert didn’t look out at the crowd except for a quick glance up, like he was just making sure he was pointed in the right direction. He spoke in a quiet, reasonable monotone. Kids edged closer to hear.“I’m a businessman.”“True.” Toto.“My job is organizing kids to work, taking the things they harvest or catch, and redistributing them through a market.”“And getting the best stuff for yourself,” someone yelled to general laughter.“Yes,” Albert acknowledged. “I reward myself for the work I do.”This blunt admission left the crowd nonplussed.“Caine has promised that if I stay here he won’t interfere. But I don’t trust Caine.”“No, he doesn’t,” Toto agreed.“I do trust Sam. But . . .”And now you could hear a pin drop.“But . . . Sam is a weak leader.” He kept his eyes down. “Sam is the best fighter ever. He’s defended us many times. And he’s the best at figuring out how to survive. But Sam”— Albert now turned to him—“You are too humble. Too willing to step aside. When Astrid and the council sidelined you, you put up with it. I was part of that myself. But you let us push you aside and the council turned out to be useless.”Sam stood stock-still, stone-faced.“Let’s face it, you’re not really the reason things are better here, I am,” Albert said. “You’re way, way braver than me, Sam. And if it’s a battle, you rule. But you can’t organize or plan ahead and you won’t just put your foot down and make things happen.”Sam nodded slightly. It was hard to hear. But far harder was seeing the way the crowd was nodding, agreeing. It was the truth. The fact was he’d let the council run things, stepped aside, and then sat around feeling sorry for himself. He’d jumped at the chance to go off on an adventure and he hadn’t been here to save the town when they needed it.“So,” Albert concluded, “I’m keeping my things here, in Perdido Beach. But there will be free trading of stuff between Perdido Beach and the lake. And Lana has to be allowed to move freely.”Caine bristled at that. He didn’t like Albert laying down conditions.Albert wasn’t intimidated. “I feed these kids,” he said to Caine. “I do it my way.”Caine hesitated, then made a tight little bow of the head.“I want you to say it,” Albert said with a nod toward Toto.Sam saw panic in Caine’s eyes. If he lied now the jig would be up for him. Toto would call him out, Albert would support Sam, and the kids would follow Albert’s lead.Sam wondered if Caine was just starting to realize what Sam had known for some time: if anyone was king, it was neither Sam nor Caine, it was Albert.
He pictured himself at the lake, on a houseboat. Dekka would be there, and Brianna and Jack. He would have friends. He wouldn’t be alone.But he couldn’t stop himself from looking for her.She no longer had Little Pete to worry about. They could be together without all of that. But of course he knew Astrid, and knew that right now, wherever she was, she was eaten up inside with guilt.“She’s not coming, is she?” Sam said to Dekka.But Dekka didn’t answer. She was somewhere else in her head. Sam saw her glance and look away as Brianna laid a light hand on Jack’s shoulder.Dahra was staying in the hospital, but a few more kids came. Groups of three or four at a time. The Siren and the kids she lived with came. John Terrafino came. Ellen. He waited. He would wait the full two hours. Not for her, he told himself, just to keep his word.Then Orc, with Howard.Sam groaned inwardly.“You gotta be kidding me,” Brianna said.“The deal was kids make a choice,” Sam said. “I think Howard just realized how dangerous life can be for a criminal living in a place where the ‘king’ can decide life or death.
Quinn came forward and Sam pulled him aside. His old friend looked tortured and sad.“What’s up, brah?” Sam asked.Quinn couldn’t speak. He was choked with emotion. “Dude . . .”“You want to stay in town.”“My crews . . . my boats and all . . .”Sam put a hand on his shoulder. “Quinn, I’m glad you found something so important to do. Something you really like.”“Yeah, but . . .”Sam pulled him into a brief hug. “You and me, we’re still friends, man. But you have responsibilities.
There were dozens of theories about what it was, that dome. Every scientist in the world, it seemed, had made a pilgrimage to the site. Tests had been conducted, measurements taken.They had tried drilling through it. Under it. Had flown over it. Had dug beneath it. Had approached it by submarine.Nothing worked.Every species of doomsayer from Luddite to End Times nut had had his say. It was a judgment. On America’s technological obsession, on America’s moral failure. This. That. Something else.Then the twins had popped out. Just like that. First Emma. Then, a few minutes later, Anna. Alive and well at the exact moment of their fifteenth birthday.They told tales of life inside the bowl. What they called the FAYZ.Connie Temple’s heart had swelled with pride for what she had learned of her son, Sam. And crashed into despair with tales of her other son, her unacknowledged child, Caine.Then, nothing. No other kids arrived for a while.Black despair settled over the families as they realized that it would be only these two. Months passed. Many lost faith. How could kids survive alone?But then, the Prophetess had reached into their dreams.One night Connie Temple had a lurid, incredible dream. She’d never had such a detailed dream. It was terrifying. The power of it took her breath away. There was a girl in that
Female say Pack Leader stop,” Pack Leader said angrily.“What?” Caine could make no sense of it till he saw Diana striding up, dark hair flying, eyes furious.“I told this filthy beast to stop,” Diana said, barely controlled.“Stop what?” Caine demanded.“They’re still attacking the kids,” Diana said. “We’ve won. Sam is dead. Call them off, Caine.”Caine turned his attention back to the battle between Drake and the monster. “They’re coyotes,” Caine said coldly.Diana flew at him. “You’ve lost your mind, Caine. This has to stop. You’ve won. This has to stop.”“Or what, Diana? Or what?” Caine demanded. “Go get Lana. I’m hurt. Pack Leader, do what you want.”“Maybe this is why your mother abandoned you,” Diana said savagely. “Maybe she could see that you weren’t just bad, you were twisted and sick and evil.
Here’s the thing, people: We have some serious problems. The lights are off. And it seems like that’s affecting the water flow in part of town. So, no baths or showers, okay? But the situation is that we think Caine is short of food, which means he’s not going to be able to hold out very long at the power plant.”“How long?” someone yelled.Sam shook his head. “I don’t know.”“Why can’t you get him to leave?”“Because I can’t, that’s why,” Sam snapped, letting some of his anger show. “Because I’m not Superman, all right? Look, he’s inside the plant. The walls are thick. He has guns, he has Jack, he has Drake, and he has his own powers. I can’t get him out of there without getting some of our people killed. Anybody want to volunteer for that?Silence.“Yeah, I thought so. I can’t get you people to show up and pick melons, let alone throw down with Drake.”“That’s your job,” Zil said.“Oh, I see,” Sam said. The resentment he’d held in now came boiling to the surface. “It’s my job to pick the fruit, and collect the trash, and ration the food, and catch Hunter, and stop Caine, and settle every stupid little fight, and make sure kids get a visit from the Tooth Fairy. What’s your job, Zil? Oh, right: you spray hateful graffiti. Thanks for taking care of that, I don’t know how we’d ever manage without you.”“Sam…,” Astrid said, just loud enough for him to hear. A warning.Too late. He was going to say what needed saying.“And the rest of you. How many of you have done a single, lousy thing in the last two weeks aside from sitting around playing Xbox or watching movies?“Let me explain something to you people. I’m not your parents. I’m a fifteen-year-old kid. I’m a kid, just like all of you. I don’t happen to have any magic ability to make food suddenly appear. I can’t just snap my fingers and make all your problems go away. I’m just a kid.”As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Sam knew he had crossed the line. He had said the fateful words so many had used as an excuse before him. How many hundreds of times had he heard, “I’m just a kid.”But now he seemed unable to stop the words from tumbling out. “Look, I have an eighth-grade education. Just because I have powers doesn’t mean I’m Dumbledore or George Washington or Martin Luther King. Until all this happened I was just a B student. All I wanted to do was surf. I wanted to grow up to be Dru Adler or Kelly Slater, just, you know, a really good surfer.”The crowd was dead quiet now. Of course they were quiet, some still-functioning part of his mind thought bitterly, it’s entertaining watching someone melt down in public.“I’m doing the best I can,” Sam said.“I lost people today…I…I screwed up. I should have figured out Caine might go after the power plant.”Silence.“I’m doing the best I can.”No one said a word.Sam refused to meet Astrid’s eyes. If he saw pity there, he would fall apart completely.“I’m sorry,” he said.“I’m sorry.
Find Sam Temple. Tell him you escaped.”Jack gulped and bobbed his head.“Better yet, find that girl, Astrid.” Diana recovered some of her mocking attitude. “Astrid the Genius. She’ll be desperate to save Sam.”“Okay. Okay.” He steeled himself. “I better go.”Diana touched his arm. “Tell them about Andrew.”Jack froze with his hand on the key. “That’s what you want me to do?”“Jack, if Sam blinks out, Drake will turn on me, and Caine won’t be able to stop him. Drake is stronger than before. I need Sam alive. I need someone for Drake to hate. I need balance. Tell Sam about the temptation. Warn him that he’ll be tempted to surrender to the big jump, but maybe, maybe, if he says no…” She sighed. It was not a hopeful sound. “Now: go.
Then, Zil and a half dozen of his crew swaggered into the plaza from the far side. Astrid clenched her jaw. Would the crowd turn on them? She almost hoped so. People thought because she wouldn’t let Sam go after Zil she must not really despise the Human Crew’s Leader. That was wrong. She hated Zil. Hated everything he had done and everything he had tried to do.Edilio moved quickly between Zil and a few of the boys who had started toward him, sticks and knives at the ready.Zil’s kids were armed with knives and bats, and so were those who wanted to take them on. Edilio was armed with an assault rifle.Astrid hated that this was what life so often came down to: my weapon is bigger than your weapon.If Sam were here it would be about his hands. Everyone had either seen what Sam could do, or heard the stories retold in vivid detail. No one challenged Sam.
Hey, Sam,” Drake shouted. “I thought you’d like to know this isn’t my whole army.”Sam didn’t doubt it.“Your girl Brianna tried to stop us.” Drake waved a bowie knife in the air. “I took this from her. I whipped her, Sam.” He snapped his whip hand. The crack was like a pistol shot. “I broke her legs so she couldn’t run. Then . . .”Dekka was halfway over the side, ready to swim ashore. Jack grabbed her and held her.“Let me go!” Dekka yelled.“Hold her,” Sam ordered Jack. “Don’t be stupid, Dekka. He wants us to come rushing at him.”“I can beat him,” Jack said. “Dekka and me together, we can kill him.”Sam registered the fact that Jack was actually making a physical threat. He didn’t remember ever hearing that kind of thing from Jack. But Dekka was Sam’s greater concern.“I’m going to kill him,” Dekka said in a voice so deep in her throat she sounded like an animal. “I’ll kill him. I’ll kill him.” Then she shouted, “I’m going to kill you, Drake. I’m going to kill you!”Drake grinned. “I think she liked it. She was screaming, but she liked it.”“He’s lying,” Toto said.“Who?” Sam snapped.“Him.” He pointed at Drake. “He hasn’t killed that girl or hurt her.”Dekka relaxed and Sam and Jack let go of her.“Truth-teller Toto,” Sam whispered. “He can tell when people are lying.”“I just decided I like you,” Dekka said to Toto. “You might be useful.”Toto frowned. “It’s true: you just decided you like me.
At the moment that target was eating tacos his mother had brought in despite hospital orders against outside food.“Oh, God, this is good,” Sam said as juicy beef and crisp lettuce dribbled out onto the tray on his lap.“Still not tired of eating?” Connie asked him.“I will never be tired of eating. I’m going to eat until I’m huge. Food, hot water, clean sheets. At least I’ll get those three in prison.
I’m trying to make a profit. I’m using batteries, toilet paper, and paper towels as currency. Each is something that will eventually be in short supply.”“You’re trying to get all the toilet paper in town?” Astrid shrilled. “Are you kidding?”“No, Astrid, I’m not kidding,” Albert said. “Look, right now, kids are playing with the stuff. I saw little kids throwing rolls of it around on their lawns like it was a toy. So—”“So your solution is to try and take it all away from people?”“You’d rather see it wasted?”“Yeah, actually,” Astrid huffed. “Rather than you getting it all for yourself. You’re acting like a jerk.”Albert’s eyes flared. “Look, Astrid, now kids know they can buy their way into the club with it. So they’re not going to waste it anymore.”“No, they’re going to give it all to you,” she shot back. “And what happens when they need some?”“Then there will still be some left because I made it valuable.”“Valuable to you.”“Valuable to everyone, Astrid.”“It’s you taking advantage of kids dumb enough not to know any better. Sam, you have to put a stop to this.”Sam had drifted away from the conversation, his head full of the music. He snapped back. “She’s right, Albert, this isn’t okay. You didn’t get permission—”“I didn’t think I needed permission to give kids what they want. I mean, I’m not threatening anyone, saying, ‘Give me your toilet paper, give me your batteries.’ I’m just playing some music and saying, ‘If you want to come in and dance, then it’ll cost you.’”“Dude, I respect you being ambitious and all,” Sam said. “But I have to shut this down. You never got permission, even, let alone asked us if it was okay to charge people.”Albert said, “Sam, I respect you more than I can even say. And Astrid, you are way smarter than me. But I don’t see how you have the right to shut me down.”That was it for Sam. “Okay, I tried to be nice. But I am the mayor. I was elected, as you probably remember, since I think you voted for me.”“I did. I’d do it again, man. But Sam, Astrid, you guys are wrong here. This club is about all these kids have that can get them together for a good time. They’re sitting in their homes starving and feeling sad and scared. When they’re dancing, they forget how hungry and sad they are. This is a good thing I’m doing.”Sam stared hard at Albert, a stare that kids in Perdido Beach took seriously. But Albert did not back down.“Sam, how many cantaloupes did Edilio manage to bring back with kids who were rounded up and forced to work?” Albert asked.“Not many,” Sam admitted.“Orc picked a whole truckload of cabbage. Before the zekes figured out how to get at him. Because we paid Orc to work.”“He did it because he’s the world’s youngest alcoholic and you paid him with beer,” Astrid snapped. “I know what you want, Albert. You want to get everything for yourself and be this big, important guy. But you know what? This is a whole new world. We have a chance to make it a better world. It doesn’t have to be about some people getting over on everyone else. It can be fair to everyone.”Albert laughed. “Everyone can be equally hungry. In a week or so, everyone can starve.
We’ve searched all of the homes and carried the food to Ralph’s,” Sam continued. “The problem is that all the fruit and veggies spoiled while we were all filling up on chips and cookies. The meat all rotted. People were stupid and careless, and there’s nothing we can do about that now.” Sam swallowed the bitterness he felt, the anger he felt at his own foolishness. “But we have food sitting out in the fields. Maybe not the food we’d like, but enough to carry us for months—many months—if we bring it in before it rots and the birds eat it.”“Maybe we’ll get rescued, and we won’t have to worry,” another voice said.“Maybe we’ll learn to live on air,” Astrid muttered under her breath but loudly enough to be heard by at least a few.“Why don’t you go get our food back from Drake and the chuds up there?”It was Zil. He accepted a congratulatory slap on the back from a creepy kid named Antoine, part of Zil’s little posse.“Because it would mean getting some kids killed,” Sam said bluntly. “We’d be lucky to rescue any of the food, and we’d end up digging more graves in the plaza. And it wouldn’t solve our problem, anyway.
First off,” he said, “I want to say I’m sorry about E.Z. He was a good kid. He didn’t deserve…” For a moment he almost lost it as a surge of emotion welled up from nowhere. “I’m sorry he died.”Someone sobbed loudly.“Look, I’m going to get right to it: we have three hundred and thirty-two…I’m sorry, three hundred and thirty-one mouths to feed,” Sam said. He placed his hands on his hips and planted his feet wide apart. “We were already pretty bad off for food supplies. But after the attack by the Coates kids…well, it’s not pretty bad off, anymore, it’s desperate.”He let that sink in. But how much were six-and eight-year-olds really grasping? Even the older kids looked more glazed than alarmed.“Three hundred and thirty-one kids,” Sam reiterated, “And food for maybe a week. That’s not a long time. It’s not a lot of food. And as you all know, the food we have is awful.”That got a response from the audience. The younger kids produced a chorus of gagging and retching sounds.“All right,” Sam snapped. “Knock it off. The point is, things are really desperate.
What’s up, Albert?”“Well, I’ve done inventory at Ralph’s, and I think if I had a lot of help, I could put together an okay Thanksgiving dinner.”Sam stared at him. He blinked. “What?”“Thanksgiving. It’s next week.”“Uh-huh.”“There are ovens at Ralph’s, big ones. And no one has taken the frozen turkeys. Figure two hundred and fifty kids if pretty much everyone from Perdido Beach shows up, right? One turkey will feed maybe eight people, so we need thirty-one, thirty-two turkeys. No problem there, because there are forty-six turkeys at Ralph’s.”“Thirty-one turkeys?”“Cranberry sauce will be no problem, stuffing is no problem, no one has taken much stuffing yet, although I’ll have to figure out how to mix, like, seven different brands and styles together, see how it tastes.”“Stuffing,” Sam echoed solemnly.“We don’t have enough canned yams, we’ll have to do fresh along with some baked potatoes. The big problem is going to be whipped cream and ice cream for the pies.”Sam wanted to burst out laughing, but at the same time he found it touching and reassuring that Albert had put so much thought into the question.“I imagine the ice cream is pretty much gone,” Sam said.“Yeah. We’re very low on ice cream. And kids have been taking the canned whipped cream, too.”“But we can have pie?”“We have some frozen. And we have some pie shells we can bake up ourselves.”“That would be nice,” Sam said.“I’ll need to start three days before. I’ll need, like, at least ten people to help. I can haul the tables out of the church basement and set up in the plaza. I think I can do it.”“I’ll bet you can, Albert,” Sam said with feeling.“Mother Mary’s going to have the prees make centerpieces.”“Listen, Albert…”Albert raised a hand, cutting Sam off. “I know. I mean, I know we may have some great big fight before that. And I heard you have your fifteenth coming up. All kinds of bad stuff may happen. But, Sam—”This time, Sam cut him off. “Albert? Get moving on planning the big meal.”“Yeah?”“Yeah. It will give people something to look forward to.
I want my mom,” a little boy cried out suddenly.Every voice fell silent. The boy had said what they were all feeling.Caine hopped down from the car and went to the boy. He knelt down and took the boy’s hands in his own. He asked the boy’s name, and reintroduced himself. “We all want our parents back,” he said gently, but loudly enough to be overheard clearly by those nearest. “We all want that. And I believe that will happen. I believe we will see all our moms and dads, and older brothers and sisters, and even our teachers again. I believe that. Do you believe it, too?”“Yes.” The little boy sobbed.Caine wrapped him in a hug and said, “Be strong. Be your mommy’s strong little boy.”“He’s good,” Astrid said. “He’s beyond good.”Then Caine stood up. People had formed a circle around him, close but respectful. “We all have to be strong. We all have to get through this. If we work together to choose good leaders and do the right thing, we will make it.”The entire crowd of kids seemed to stand a little taller. There were determined looks on faces that had been weary and frightened.Sam was mesmerized by the performance. In just a few minutes’ time, Caine had infused hope into a very frightened, dispirited bunch of kids.Astrid seemed mesmerized too, though Sam thought he detected the cool glint of skepticism in her eyes.Sam was skeptical himself. He distrusted rehearsed displays. He distrusted charm. But it was hard not to think that Caine was at least trying to reach out to the Perdido Beach kids. It was hard not to believe in him, at least a little. And if Caine really did have a plan, wouldn’t that be a good thing? No one else seemed to have a clue.
You weren’t going to tell us about Orsay?”“I didn’t say I—”“You don’t get to decide that, Sam. You’re not the only one in charge anymore. Okay?”Astrid had an icy sort of anger. A cold fury that manifested itself in tight lips and blazing eyes and short, carefully enunciated sentences.“But it’s okay for all of us to lie to everyone in Perdido Beach?” Sam shot back.“We’re trying to keep kids from killing themselves,” Astrid said. “That’s a little different from you just deciding not to tell the council that there’s a crazy girl telling people to kill themselves.”“So not telling you something is a major sin, but lying to a couple of hundred people and trashing Orsay at the same time, that’s fine?
Sam, can you, you know, like burn that concrete off her hands?”“No. I can’t aim that precisely.”“I don’t even know what can be done,” Edilio said as he fed the girl another microscopic bite of food. “You try and break that stuff off with a sledge hammer or something, or even a hammer and a chisel, it’s going to really hurt. Probably break every bone in her hands, man.”“Who would have done this to her?” Lana wondered.“That’s a Coates Academy uniform,” Astrid answered. “We’re probably not far from there.
Drake's whip hand spun Diana like a top.She cried out. That sound, her cry, pierced Caine like an arrow.Diana staggered and almost righted herself, but Drake was too quick, too ready.His second strike yanked her through the air. She flew and then fell.“Catch her!” Caine was yelling to himself. Seeing her arc as she fell. Seeing where she would hit. His hands came up, he could use his power, he could catch her, save her. But too slow.Diana fell. Her head smashed against a jutting point of rock. She made a sound like a dropped pumpkin.Caine froze.The fuel rod, forgotten, fell from the air with a shattering crash.It fell within ten feet of the mine shaft opening. It landed atop a boulder shaped like the prow of a ship.It bent, cracked, rolled off the boulder, and crashed heavily in the dirt.Drake ran straight at Caine, his whip snapping. But Jack stumbled in between them, yelling, “The uranium! The uranium!”The radiation meter in his pocket was counting clicks so fast, it became a scream.Drake piled into Jack, and the two of them went tumbling.Caine stood, staring in horror at Diana. Diana did not move. Did not move. No snarky remark. No smart-ass joke.“No!” Caine cried.“No!”Drake was up, disentangling himself with an angry curse from Jack.“Diana,” Caine sobbed.Drake didn’t rely on his whip hand now, too far away to use it before Caine could take him down. He raised his gun. The barrel shot flame and slugs, BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM.Inaccurate, but on full automatic, Drake had time. He swung the gun to his right and the bullets swooped toward where Caine stood like he was made of stone.Then the muzzle flash disappeared in an explosion of green-white light that turned night into day. The shaft of light missed its target. But it was close enough that the muzzle of Drake’s gun wilted and drooped and the rocks behind Drake cracked from the blast of heat.Drake dropped the gun. And now it was Drake’s turn to stare in stark amazement. “You!”Sam wobbled atop the rise. Quinn caught him as he staggered.Now Caine snapped back to the present, seeing his brother, seeing the killing light.“No,” Caine said. “No, Sam: He’s mine.”He raised a hand, and Sam went flying backward along with Quinn.“The fuel rod!” Jack was yelling, over and over. “It’s going to kill us all. Oh, God, we may already be dead!”Drake rushed at Caine. His eyes were wide with fear. Knowing he wouldn’t make it. Knowing he was not fast enough.Caine raised his hand, and the fuel rod seemed to jump off the ground.A javelin.A spear. He held it poised. Pointed straight at Drake.Caine reached with his other hand, extending the telekinetic power to hold Drake immobilized.Drake held up his human hand, a placating gesture. “Caine…you don’t want to…not over some girl. She was a witch, she was…”Drake, unable to run, a human target. The fuel rod aimed at him like a Spartan’s spear.Caine threw the fuel rod. Tons of steel and lead and uranium.Straight at Drake.
Help me,” the girl pleaded softly.Sam knelt beside her. He recoiled in shock. “Bette?”The left side of Bouncing Bette’s face was covered in blood. There was a gash above her temple. She was panting, gasping, like she had collapsed after a marathon and was trying with her last ounce of energy to crawl across the finish line.“Bette, what happened?”“They’re trying to get me,” Bette cried, and clutched at Sam’s arm.The three dark figures advanced to the edge of the circle of light. One was clearly Orc. No one else was that big. Edilio and Quinn moved into the garage doorway.Sam disengaged from Bette and took up a position beside Edilio.“You want me to beat on you guys, I will!” Orc yelled.“What’s going on here?” Sam demanded. He narrowed his eyes and recognized the other two boys, a kid named Karl, a seventh grader from school, and Chaz, one of the Coates eighth graders. All three were armed with aluminum bats.“This isn’t your business,” Chaz said. “We’re dealing with something here.”“Dealing with what? Orc, did you hit Bette?”“She was breaking the rules,” Orc said.“You hit a girl, man?” Edilio said, outraged.“Shut up, wetback,” Orc said.“Where’s Howard?” Sam asked, just to stall while he tried to figure out what to do. He’d lost one fight to Orc already.Orc took the question as an insult. “I don’t need Howard to handle you, Sam.”Orc marched right up to Sam, stopped a foot away, and put his bat on his shoulder like he was ready to swing for a home run. Like a batter ready for the next fastball. Only this was closer to T-ball: Sam’s head was impossible to miss.“Move, Sam,” Orc ordered.“Okay, I’m not doing this again,” Quinn said. “Let him have her, Sam.”“Ain’t no ‘let me,’” Orc said. “I do what I want.”Sam noticed movement behind Orc. There were people coming down the street, twenty or more kids. Orc noticed it too, and glanced behind him.“They aren’t going to save you,” Orc said, and swung the bat hard.Sam ducked. The bat whooshed past his head, and Orc rotated halfway around, carried forward by the momentum.Sam was thrown off balance, but Edilio was ready. He let loose a roar and plowed headfirst into Orc. Edilio was maybe half Orc’s size, but Orc was knocked off his feet. He sprawled out on the concrete.Chaz went after Edilio, trying to pull him off Orc.The crowd of kids who had come running down the street surged forward. There were angry voices and threats, all aimed at Orc.They yelled, Sam noted, but no one exactly jumped into the unequal fight.
Mother Mary wants to draft two more kids,” Astrid told Sam.“Okay. Approved.”“Dahra says we’re running low on kids’ Tylenol and kids’ Advil, she wants to make sure it’s okay to start giving them split adult pills.”Sam spread his hands in a helpless gesture. “What?”“We’re running low on kid pills, Dahra wants to split adult pills.”Sam rocked back in the leather chair designed for a grown man. “Okay. Whatever. Approved.” He took a sip of water from a bottle. The wrapper on the bottle said “Dasani” but it was tap water. The dishes from dinner—horrible homemade split-pea soup that smelled burned, and a quarter cabbage each—had been pushed aside onto the sideboard where in the old days the mayor of Perdido Beach had kept framed pictures of his family. It was one of the better meals Sam had had lately. The fresh cabbage tasted surprisingly good.There was little more than smears on the plates: the era of kids not eating everything was over.Astrid puffed out her cheeks and sighed. “Kids are asking why Lana isn’t around when they need her.”“I can only ask Lana to heal big things. I can’t demand she be around 24/7 to handle every boo-boo.”Astrid looked at the list she had compiled on her laptop. “Actually, I think this involved a stubbed toe that ‘hurted.’”“How much more is on the list?” Sam asked.“Three hundred and five items,” Astrid said. When Sam’s face went pale, she relented. “Okay, it’s actually just thirty-two. Now, don’t you feel relieved it’s not really three hundred?”“This is crazy,” Sam said.“Next up: the Judsons and the McHanrahans are fighting because they share a dog, so both families are feeding her—they still have a big bag of dry dog food—but the Judsons are calling her Sweetie and the McHanrahans are calling her BooBoo.”“You’re kidding.”“I’m not kidding,” Astrid said.“What is that noise?” Sam demanded.Astrid shrugged. “I guess someone has their stereo cranked up.”“This is not going to work, Astrid.”“The music?”“This. This thing where every day I have a hundred stupid questions I have to decide. Like I’m everyone’s parent now. I’m sitting here listening to how little kids are complaining because their older sisters make them take a bath, and stepping into fights over who owns which Build-A-Bear outfit, and now over dog names. Dog names?”“They’re all still just little kids,” Astrid said.“Some of these kids are developing powers that scare me,” Sam grumbled. “But they can’t decide who gets to have which special towel? Or whether to watch The Little Mermaid or Shrek Three?”“No,” Astrid said. “They can’t. They need a parent. That’s you.
Brianna! Is Sam okay?” Astrid cried.“No. Drake tore him up.” She wanted to sound tough, but the sobs came bubbling up and overtook her. “Oh, God, Astrid, he’s hurt so bad.”Astrid gasped and covered her hand with her mouth. Brianna put her arms around Astrid and sobbed into her hair.“Is he going to die?” Astrid asked, voice wobbly.“No, I don’t think so,” Brianna said. She stood back and wiped her tears. “I gave him something for the pain. But he’s messed up, Astrid.
Sam, I know you’re upset over what happened with you and Drake,” Astrid began.“Upset?” Sam echoed the word with an ironic smirk.“But that’s no excuse for you keeping secrets from us.”“Yeah,” Howard said, “Don’t you know only Astrid is allowed to keep secrets?”“Shut up, Howard,” Astrid snapped.“Yeah, we get to lie because we’re the smart ones,” Howard said. “Not like all those idiots out there.”Astrid turned her attention back to Sam. “This is not okay, Sam. The council has the responsibility. Not you alone.”Sam looked like he could not care less about what she was saying. He looked almost beyond reach, indifferent to what was going on around him.“Hey,” Astrid said. “We’re talking to you.”That did it. His jaw clenched. His head snapped up. His eyes blazed. “Don’t push me. That wasn’t you with your skin whipped off and covered in blood. That was me. That was me who went down into that mine shaft to try to fight the gaiaphage.”Astrid blinked. “No one is minimizing what you’ve done, Sam. You’re a hero. But at the same time—”Sam was on his feet. “At the same time? At the same time you were here in town. Edilio had a bullet in his chest. Dekka was torn to pieces. I was trying not to scream from the…You and Albert and Howard, you weren’t there, were you?”“I was busy standing up to Zil, trying to save Hunter’s life,” Astrid yelled.“But it wasn’t you and your big words, was it? It was Orc who stopped Zil. And he was there because I sent him to rescue you. Me!” He stabbed a finger at his own chest, actually making what looked like painful impact. “Me! Me and Brianna and Dekka and Edilio! And poor Duck.
Guys, he’s hurt bad.”The blonde scrambled to him. She tore the wounded boy’s shirt open. A river of blood ran down his chest.“Oh, God, no,” the blonde cried.Lana pushed her aside and laid a hand against the pumping wound. “He’ll live,” Lana said. “I’ll fix him.”“What do you mean, you’ll fix him?” the blonde demanded. “We need stitches, we need a doctor. Look at how he’s bleeding.”Lana said, “What’s your name?”“Astrid, what does it matter? He’s…” She stopped talking then and leaned in close to see. “The bloodflow is slowing.”“Yeah. I noticed that, too,” Lana said dryly. “Relax. He’ll be fine. In fact…” She tilted her head to get a better look at him. “In fact, I’ll bet when he’s not covered in blood, he’s cute. Your boyfriend?”“That’s not what it’s about,” Astrid snapped. Then, in a low voice, like she didn’t want the others to hear, she said, “Kind of.
They closed the door on the cabin. There wasn’t room enough for them to stand, so they fell into each other’s arms on the bunk.Sam kissed her and tried not to think that it was for the last time.He was happy. That was the hell of it. He was finally happy. Right here, right now, in this place, with this girl in his arms, he was happy. Was that why he felt the hammer about to fall on him? No, that was crazy. He was happy. Happiness didn’t mean that tragedy was coming around the corner. Did it?