“This is a general message to the residents of Long Island.”
The first time they heard the message, nobody recognized the voice. But it played every day, all day, for weeks, cycling through every available frequency to be sure that every human on the island could hear it. Terrified refugees, huddled in groups or alone in the wilderness, came to know it by heart; it blared from every radio relentlessly, burning itself into their minds and memories. After the first few weeks it haunted their dreams, until even sleep was no respite from the calm, methodical proclamation of death.
“We did not want to invade, but circumstances forced our hand.”
The voice, they eventually learned, was that of a scientist named McKenna Morgan, and the “we” of her sentence referred to the Partials: unstoppable super-soldiers, created in labs and grown in vats to wage a war the humans couldn’t win on their own. They fought, and they won, and when they came back to the United States to find themselves homeless and hopeless, they turned on their creators and waged a new war, the Partial War, the war that ended the world.
But the war that ended the world was not the last war that world would ever see, for twelve years later the humans and the Partials were both on the verge of extinction—and each species was willing to destroy the other to survive.
“We are looking for a girl named Kira Walker, sixteen years old, five feet ten inches tall, approximately one hundred eighteen pounds. Indian descent, light-skinned, with jet-black hair, though she may have cut or dyed it to help disguise her identity.”
Only a few people on the island knew Kira Walker personally, but everyone knew her by reputation: She was a medic, trained in the hospital to study the plague known as RM. They knew Kira because she had found the cure; she had saved the life of Arwen Sato, the Miracle Baby—the first human infant in twelve long years to live more than three days. Kira was infamous because, in the process of finding the cure, she had led two unprovoked attacks on the Partial army, awakening, they thought, the monster that had lain dormant since the end of the Partial War. She had saved the world, and she had damned it. The first time the message played, most people didn’t know whether to love her or hate her. Their opinions grew less complicated with every human death.
“Bring us this girl and the occupation ends; continue to hide her, and we will execute one of you every day. Please don’t force us to do this any longer than is necessary. This message will cycle through all frequencies and repeat until our instructions have been complied with. Thank you.”
The first day they killed an old man, a schoolteacher from back in the days when there were still children to attend. His name was John Dianatkah, and he kept a hive of bees to make honey candy for his students. Partial soldiers shot him in the back of the head in the middle of East Meadow, the largest human settlement on Long Island, leaving his body in the road as a sign that they were serious. Nobody turned Kira in because, at that time, they were proud and unbroken; the Partials could rattle their sabers all they wanted, but the humans would not bend. Yet still the message played, and the next day they killed a young woman, barely seventeen years old, and the day after that an old lady, and the day after that a middle-aged man.
“Please don’t force us to do this any longer than is necessary.”
A week went by, and seven people died. Two weeks; fourteen people. In the meantime, the Partials weren’t attacking the humans, they weren’t forcing them into labor camps; they simply corralled them in East Meadow and rounded up everyone who tried to escape. Attack a Partial and you were whipped or beaten; cause too much trouble and you might be the next night’s victim. When a human disappeared completely, the rumors spread in hushed whispers: Maybe you’d escaped. Maybe Dr. Morgan had taken you to her bloodstained laboratory. Or maybe they’d simply find you in the street the next night, kneeling in front of a Partial while the endless message blared from speakers all across the city, until you sprawled forward with a bullet where your brain used to be. Every day another execution. Every hour another message, the same message, endless and unstoppable.
“We are looking for a girl named Kira Walker.”
Still, nobody turned her in—not because they were proud, but because they couldn’t. She’d left the island, said some, and others said she was hiding in the woods. Of course we’d give her to you if we had her, but we don’t, can’t you see that? Can’t you understand? Can’t you stop killing us? There are barely any humans left, can’t you find another way? We want to help you, but we can’t.
“Sixteen years old . . . five feet ten inches tall . . . Indian descent . . . jet-black hair.”
By the end of the first month the humans were as scared of one another as they were of the Partials, terrified of the witch hunt that swept through the refugees like a poison wind—you look like Kira, maybe they’ll take you, maybe that will be enough. Teenage girls, women with black hair, anyone who looked like they might be Indian, anyone who looked like they might be hiding something. How do I know you’re not Kira? How do they? Maybe they’ll stop killing us, even if it’s only for a while. And how do we know you’re not hiding her? I don’t want to turn you in, but we’re dying. I don’t want to hurt you, but they’re forcing us.
“Continue to hide her, and we will execute one of you every day.”
The Partials were bred to be stronger than humans, to be faster, to be more resilient and more capable in every way. They were trained as warriors since the day they were pulled from their vats, and they fought like lions until they turned twenty and their built-in expiration date killed them. They wanted Kira Walker because Dr. Morgan knew what the humans didn’t: that Kira was a Partial. A model that they’d never seen before, that they never knew existed. Morgan thought Kira’s DNA could help them cure the expiration. But even if the humans knew, they wouldn’t care. They only wanted to live. A handful of resistance fighters survived in the wilderness, relying on their knowledge of the terrain to keep them alive while they fought a losing war against extinction. Partials outnumbered humans 500,000 to 35,000—more than ten to one—and outclassed them in combat by another order of magnitude. When they decided to kill humans, there was no way for the humans to stop them.
Until the leader of the resistance recovered a nuclear warhead from a sunken navy destroyer.
“We did not want to invade,” said the message, “but circumstances forced our hand.”
The resistance told themselves the same thing as they smuggled the bomb north toward the Partial homeland.
Senator Owen Tovar blew out a long, low breath. “How did Delarosa know there was a nuke in a sunken ship?” He glanced at Haru Sato, the soldier who’d delivered the news, and then looked at the island’s intelligence officer, Mr. Mkele. “More to the point, how did you not know it?”
“I knew there was a sunken fleet,” said Mkele. “I had no idea it had been carrying a nuclear warhead.” Haru had always seen Mkele as a confident, capable man: terrifying when he and Haru were on different sides, fiercely reassuring when they were on the same one. Now, though, the intelligence officer seemed desperate and overwhelmed. Watching Mkele flounder for answers was even more disturbing, in its way, than the horrors that had brought them to this point.
“One of the people in Delarosa’s resistance group knew about it,” said Haru. “I don’t know who. It was some old navy guy.”
“And he’s kept it to himself all these years?” asked Tovar. “What, did he want it to be a surprise?”
Senator Hobb tapped the table. “He probably had the very understandable fear that if he told someone, they’d find it and try to use it. Which, it turns out, is exactly what happened.”
“Delarosa’s claim is that the Partials are overwhelming us,” said Haru. The four men were deep in the tunnels beneath the old JFK International Airport—a ragged ruin now, but one with a wide airfield around it that made encroaching Partials easy to spot. It had become the fugitive Senate’s last, desperate hiding place. “Not just now, but forever—she says that the human race will never be able to rebuild properly while the Partials are still out there. And she’s right, that’s the terrible thing, but that doesn’t mean detonating a nuke is going to make things any better. I would have stopped her, but she’s got a whole army of guerrillas, and most of my unit joined them.” He shook his head. Haru was the youngest of the four men, barely twenty-three years old, and he felt more like a child now than he had in years—than he had since the Break, really. The doom and the chaos were terrible enough, but it was the familiarity that really got to him—the sense that the doom and the chaos had all happened before, twelve years ago when the world ended, and now it was ending again. He had been a child then, and suddenly he was a child again, lost and confused and desperate for someone, for anyone, to step in and make it all better. He didn’t like that feeling at all, and he hated himself for allowing it to enter his mind. He was a father now, the first father in twelve years to have a living, breathing, healthy child, and she and her mother were trapped somewhere in the middle of this mess. He had to pull himself together, for them.
“I liked Delarosa better when she was in jail,” said Hobb. “This is what we get for trusting a terrorist.” He shot a glance at Tovar. “Present company excepted, of course.”
“No, you’re right,” said Tovar. “We’ve made a habit of trusting fanatics, and it’s rarely turned out well for us. I was a pretty savvy terrorist—savvy enough to get my label switched to ‘freedom fighter’ and wind up in charge—but I’m a terrible senator. We like people who stand up and fight, especially when we agree with them, but it’s the next step that really matters. The part after the fighting.” He smiled sadly. “I’ve let everybody down.”
“The Partial invasion was not your fault,” said Mkele.
“The final remnants of the human race will be glad to hear it,” said Tovar. “Unless the Partial invasion’s a big hit, in which case I’ll totally claim the credit.”
“Only if Hobb doesn’t beat you to it,” said Haru.
Senator Hobb spluttered an awkward defense, but Mkele merely glanced at Haru disapprovingly. “We have more important things to do than trade insults.”
“Even true ones,” said Tovar. Mkele and Hobb both glared at him, but he only shrugged. “What, am I the only one admitting my personal failings?”
“There’s a convicted war criminal with a nuclear weapon loose on our island,” said Hobb, “not to mention the army of super-soldiers murdering us like cattle. Can we maybe focus on that instead of personal attacks?”
“She’s not going to use it on the island,” said Haru. “Not even Delarosa’s that bloodthirsty. She’s not out to kill Partials, she’s out to save humans—she’s still going to kill the Partials, obviously, but not at the expense of the few of us who are left.”
“That’s a nice sentiment,” said Mkele, “but a nuclear warhead is a very imprecise weapon. How do we know she’ll use it wisely? Best-case scenario, she takes it to the mainland, blows it somewhere north of the Partials, and lets the fallout radiation finish them off; more likely, she takes it to their home base in White Plains and blows it there, killing all of us in the fallout instead.”
“Which might be the only plan that works,” said Hobb. “For all we know, they’re not even susceptible to radiation poisoning.”
“How close is White Plains?” asked Tovar. “Anybody have a map?”
“Always,” said Mkele, and set his briefcase on the table, undoing the locks with a pair of soft clicks. “Traveling from here to White Plains would take days, because you’d have to go around the Long Island Sound.” He unfolded a paper map and spread it flat on the table before them. “Even if she crosses the sound by boat, which is the route most likely to get her caught, it will take her a couple of days to get there, at minimum. Months, maybe, if she travels carefully enough to stay hidden. As the crow flies, though, it’s not that far. White Plains to East Meadow is . . .” He studied the map, pointing out the two cities and measuring their distance with a well-worn plastic ruler. “Forty miles, give or take.” He looked up. “Do we know what kind of nuke she has? What kind of payload?”
“She said she pulled it from a ship called The Sullivans,” said Haru. “Plural like that, I don’t know why.”
“That’s a destroyer,” said Tovar, “Arleigh Burke class—an older ship, even twelve years ago, but very dependable; the navy used them for years. The Sullivans was named after five brothers who all died in the same battle in World War II.”
“I thought you didn’t know about the nuke,” said Hobb.
“I didn’t,” said Tovar, “but you’re talking to an ex-marine. Try to name a navy ship I don’t know the specs of.”
“Then tell us the specs of this one,” said Mkele. “Would that class of destroyer be armed with nuclear missiles, or would they have just put one in the cargo hold for onboard detonation, like a suicide bomber?”
“Arleigh Burke destroyers would be outfitted with Tomahawks,” said Tovar. “That’s a nuclear cruise missile with a two-, maybe three-hundred-kiloton payload. Those are designed for long-range attacks, but the Partials had enough antimissile defense to shoot one down before it hit home. The reason it’s sitting right off the coast of Long Island, I assume, is that they brought it close to detonate on site; it would have sacrificed the fleet, and most of New York and New Jersey and Connecticut, but it would have destroyed the Partials pretty decisively.”