This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
I sat on the truck without a sound, the other members of my squad consumed in the same guilt driven silence that I was. One of the new boys across from me was whispering frantically and trying to get blood off of his hands by scratching it, but he was only making his hands bleed more, which made him scratch more. Though my gaze rested on his hands, I wasn’t really looking at them. I was looking at the faces of the people I’d killed; the faces that were burned in to the back of my eyelids, likely for the rest of my life. We were all like this after we fought. No matter how many times we killed, we could never really get used to the idea that we were claiming lives that we had no right to take. Why was it murder when a civilian killed a civilian, but it was heroic when a soldier did it? I’d never understand that. What made what I was doing different?
The whispering boy scratched his hands madly.
My eyes didn’t move from his hands, but they still didn’t focus on them either. I never could really focus on anything after fighting. Maybe this is how my father had felt when he was the one fighting the war. The same war had been going on for fifty years now, and we were no closer now to winning than we were when we started. Most of us didn’t even know why it had started in the first place. It didn’t matter; whether it was started by an assassination or a coffee spilled on a new rug, we were given the same orders. After a few minutes, I pulled out my lighter and flipped it open, looking at the flame, then closed it again. Then I opened it, watched the flame, and closed it. Again and again I did this, listening to the click and watching the flickering fire come in and out of life. I’d like to believe that when I died, it would be like this. I opened the lighter and watched the flame. My life would simply go out, like a lighter flame. No pain, no time spent suffering, just...gone. I flicked it shut again, suffocating the flame once more. Yes. That was how I wanted to die when I did.
It was always a matter of when.
“Stop scratching your hands.”
“There’s blood on them.”
“That doesn’t mean you should just sit there scratching them, what’ll it solve?”
“I want to get the blood off.”
Tessa cut off Slade before he could speak to the whispering boy again. “Cole, you can wash it off when we get back behind the wall, alright? It’ll be a lot more effective and a lot faster if you just wait to use a sink and water to get it all off.” Her voice was gentle and soothing. It was amazing a voice like that could belong to a soldier. Something so soft and sweet thrown in to a world of hate and violence, and she’d managed not to break yet.
I hadn’t been quite as lucky.
“O...okay,” Cole said eventually. He stopped scratching.
Cole was fourteen. I may not have known his name exactly, but I knew his age. Age--numbers--were how I recognized people now. If I learned names, it meant being attached. I couldn’t risk getting attached to anyone in this situation. Not when I knew half of them would be dead by next week, and the other half by next month. So, to me, Cole was “fourteen”, Tessa was “sixteen”, and Slade was “nineteen”. I was seventeen, but I referred to myself by my soldier ID number instead; twenty one hundred. Not that anyone else called me that except for myself. They all called me by my name or some variation of it. Abilene. Abby. Abil. Lene. Billy. I didn’t care what they called me.
My mother once told me that Abilene meant “born where the grass grows”. Until I joined the war, I hadn’t known what grass was. To me it was just some imaginary, abstract idea that one could only see in dreams. Something green sprouting and growing from the ground? Instead of the roads and pavement? The idea had seemed impossible to me. Yet, when we’d passed through the wall, it had been one of the first things I’d seen.
I closed my eyes and traced my thumb over my lighter. Maybe some things didn’t have to be seen first to exist. That was how the human mind worked though; if we couldn’t see it, touch it, hear it...it wasn’t real. War had never been real to me before I’d become a part of it. It had seemed to be some concept that only held any meaning to my parents and to other adults. I’d never believed it was real. Of course, the effects it had on my father were very real, that much was clear. There were times when he would-
The truck hit a pothole and stopped, viciously tearing me out of my thoughts.
I snapped back to the present and looked around. We weren’t within the wall yet, so what were we doing stopping? As the truck came to a stop, I immediately pushed open the door and jumped out. “What’s going on?” I demanded to the driver as I approached the driver side window.
“We’re not going back in today.”
“What do you mean we’re not going back in?”
“I mean we’re staying in the outside base tonight. There’s not enough gas to get us to the wall before sunset so we’re just gonna stay here for the night and go back through the wall tomorrow morning after we fuel up.”
I glared. “Can’t we fuel up and go now?”
“You never were a patient girl.”
“Tough. Answer the question.”
The driver chuckled. “It’d take a couple hours to fuel up all the trucks. A couple hours we don’t have.”
I cussed and kicked the tire. “Fine.”
He was chuckling when I walked away. God, men were so frustrating. Everyone was frustrating. When I got back around to the back of the truck, Slade looked at me with a question in his eyes. “We’re staying the night here, because our fuel won’t outlast the daylight. Basically that means we aren’t going back through the wall tonight.” I got in and sat down where I had been, looking off and away from Slade’s eyes. We never really looked each other in the eyes; any of us. The fact that we had all seen each other do the unspeakable took away our dignity and ability to look one another in the eye. I cussed under my breath again and leaned my head against the window as the truck started moving again.
Once more, silence filled the air and hung there like a heavy blanket. I didn’t mind the silence. It helped me think. Or, rather it allowed me not to think. If I focused on the silence and nothing but the silence, I didn’t have to think about anything else, including the fight we’d just been in.
After what felt like hours, yet only seconds at the same time, the truck stopped again. Once more, I got out of the truck, and this time was faced with the image of a large building built in to a hill. Though it only had the one door, it was clearly large. When one was as trained as I was, it was just easy to spot. Someone barked orders for us to unload the weapons and take them in, and I went back to the truck to retrieve mine. Once the familiar weight of my gun strap was settled on my shoulder and my handgun was back in the holster on my hip, I felt immediately more comfortable. We’d all been trained not to do anything without our guns, so going even a minute without mine made me anxious. I walked to the door, watching different soldiers pass me without much interest as I waited to be the last one in.
I was coming out of the daze that always settled on to me after fighting, and when I finally got inside, it was gone entirely. The lights and warmth of the indoors felt safe. Something was cooking, and my stomach growled furiously. It had been a few days since I was in a camp, which meant I hadn’t eaten well, if at all. One meal a day of tasteless sludge wasn’t exactly the most nutritious of diets. My stomach fought me wildly again and twisted painfully at the smell of food. I made my way to the dining hall and looked around.
Some of the people wandering around were from my unit, others from my general fleet, but a lot of them were soldiers I’d never seen before. They must be the Eighth or Ninth Wave. I was in the Seventh Wave. All in all, there were nine Waves. Nine was made up of the best of the best. We sent in Waves One, then Two, then Three, and finally by time Wave Nine was in, they just annihilated what was left of the enemy. Other times, Nine was sent in first if the generals thought the troops were more elite. Either way, no one had ever survived facing a Wave Nine soldier. Sure, they lost people sometimes, but their losses were so different from ours. They would have a kill ratio of one hundred to one in their favor, while my Wave generally had a ratio of fifty to one in our favor. Wave One only had a ratio of one to two. We were better fighters, and we had less losses, but the enemy had more people at their disposal. The biggest fear we had was that we would run out of bullets before they ran out of people to take them.
I took a plate and made my way down the line of food. Once I had retrieved a small bowl of pudding, some meat I couldn’t identify, and some vegetables, I went to the emptiest table I could find in the corner so that I didn’t have to worry about people walking behind me.
My paranoia always acted up when people walked behind me. Trauma did that to a person.
“I’m only in the army to fill the time.”
“You know the rules. If we join the army for fifteen years, we get to live the rest of our lives comfortably. So I’m just gonna fill my fifteen and leave.”
“Isn’t that taking advantage of the system?”
“This is the system that turned me in to a murderer. There is no taking advantage of it.”
I tried to tune out the people near me at the table and started cutting through my meat with my pocket knife. They hadn’t provided any knives, and the meat was tough. There was a noise behind me and I spun around, launching my knife. I hadn’t realized there was someone behind me, and that majorly alarmed me.
A girl looked at me, holding my knife with a raised eyebrow.
“Jumpy, are we?” she asked.
I glared at her.
She looked at my knife and opened her hand. She’d cut her palm. “You have a good knife.” Handing it back to me, she sat down. “This is where my team and I always sit. So you can leave or deal with the company. You don’t strike me as a social type.”
I ignored her and looked at my knife.
I wiped off the blood on my pants, returning to cutting my meat and chewing it slowly. When I stopped eating, I would go to bed. Going to bed meant sleeping, and sleeping meant nightmares. Needless to say, I wasn’t in a huge rush to stop eating and go to bed. A few more people joined the girl, not that I paid any attention to them. I didn’t even bother to see if they were male or female. After about two minutes of eating in peace with the additional four people, one of them tried to talk to me.
“So. You a Seventh Wave girl?”
I ignored this.
“She’s not a talker. Can you blame her? Seven was coming in from a fight when they stopped here.”
“How old are you?” the same male voice from before urged.
I ignored this as well.
“Well, I’m a Ninth Wave soldier,” he informed me.
I didn’t care.
“You know, you should probably show me a little more respect seeing as how I can probably kill you pretty easily.”
I still didn’t care.
He was beginning to bother me now.
I picked up my plate and headed for bed.
* * * * *
I watched the Seven get up and leave. She clearly wasn’t in the mood to talk to Charlie, not that I could blame her. He was too perky half the time. Then again, the saddest people always were, weren’t they? A few people came and took her place, but my eyes were still locked on her as she walked away. When I had sat down next to her, she hadn’t flinched in the slightest. But when Maria walked behind her, she threw a knife. I wondered idly if there was a difference between the two methods of approaching and why she had reacted so differently. Her eyes had confused me. Aside from hate, something else had flickered across her face so quickly that I had almost missed it. I let the thought go and my gaze slid on to the three newcomers. They were Sevens; not that there were markers or anything that signified it, but I knew every single Nine by name, and they were not Nines.
The boy flipped his jet black hair out of his eyes and sighed. “Don’t mind her. She’s always been pretty cold towards people. Behind her back we call her ‘iceberg’, since she keeps muttering about not caring about what we call her.” He offered me his hand from where he had seated himself across from me and the girl disappeared around a corner, out of sight by time I looked up to find her again. I took his hand and he flashed me a smile of white, slightly crooked teeth. “I’m Slade. This is Tessa and Cole.” He gestured.
The girl next to him had almost silvery blonde hair and eyes so pale that they were almost white. She smiled at me shyly. “Hi.” Her voice was quiet and light.
The boy beside her was a stark contrast, with black hair similar to Slade’s but much shorter. Slade’s hair was long and curled at the ends, but Cole’s was straight and neat. He looked down at his bandaged hands but said something under his breath to me; it sounded like a greeting. He was much younger than the other two. Fourteen, maybe? I wasn’t great at guessing ages.
Slade’s dark brown eyes met mine and he smiled again.
“I’m Seth,” I said eventually.
He smiled and nodded.
“This is Maria, Cori, Samuel, and David.” I pointed to them each in turn and paused momentarily. “The girl you referred to as an iceberg. What’s her actual name?”
Slade snorted. “Well, if you asked her, she wouldn’t tell you. She always calls herself ‘twenty one hundred’ because that’s her soldier ID number. On role call they call her Abilene, but we all call her Abby or Lene or, again, Iceberg. We don’t say the third one to her face of course, she scares us. She’s basically inhuman.” He shrugged. “She never talks unless she has to and she doesn’t tell us anything that she isn’t forced to tell us.”
Damn this kid liked to ramble. All I asked was her name.
“Anyway, she’s kinda hot, right? Like in an ‘I-could-rip-your-heart-out-through-your-ass-and-not-even-blink’ kind of way. Dangerous is kinda sexy.” He flashed me another smile. “Don’t you think so?”
I think your rambling is becoming tedious and irritating. “Sure.”
Slade paused and started eating.
Cole peeked up at me from where he was staring at his hands. “You’re a Nine, aren’t you?”
“Yes. My entire team is.”
“That’s really cool. I want to be a Nine.”
My stomach twisted as I looked in to the innocent young face of this boy. His eyes were still so bright, even though they were troubled at the moment. If he went through the training and testing needed to become a Nine, he would lose that light, and he might not find it again. Not many people did. The idea of having that stolen from him made me feel a little sick. You could tell a lot about a person from their eyes. And his said that he was too soft to be a Nine any time soon. This last fight had probably been his first. Yet, I forced a smile. “I hope you attain that some day. We’re running low on Nines recently.”
“That’s because it’s so hard to be one.”
Cole looked at his hands again, but a smile played at the corner of his lips.
I started eating again, but I found myself thinking about the girl, Abilene. Her eyes said she was angry. She would make a good Nine. Because she already had the dead look in her eyes that one could only attain after sacrificing their humanity and taking a life. Some people took years to get that dead look. But she looked too young to have had that much time put in. She was way too young to have that look about her. We all were. And we’d all gotten it in different ways. The dead stare, that is.
How had she gotten it?
I sat on my floor, panting quietly after having reached a hundred sit ups. My abdomen burned and I took a deep breath to try to calm my pulse. A scream tore through the air suddenly and I shot to my feet, grabbing my gun and running toward it, gun drawn.
It hadn’t taken me long at all to find the room where the screaming was coming from. I kicked open the door and looked around.
“Abilene! Calm down! Wake up!”
The girl I’d met earlier, Tessa, was desperately trying to pin down the other girl’s wrists. Slade was trying to catch her flailing feet. I stared at the screaming, thrashing girl in the bed. The way she was screaming made my blood run cold.
“Abilene, please wake up!” Tessa yelled.
Finally, Slade managed to pin her feet down, but not before she’d kicked him a good number of times.
I just stood there staring.
The screaming started to subside and suddenly Abilene’s eyes snapped open, looking around wildly. She panted hard and looked around the room, as if trying to remember where she was. Eventually she realized that she was safe and her eyes focused on Tessa. Anger and shame swept through her eyes and she looked away from the blonde. Tessa released her wrists and Slade released her ankles, and I noticed Cole staring at her in terror from his bed a few feet away from hers. Abilene’s eyes snapped to mine. Rather, to my face. She wasn’t making eye contact. The same emotion that I’d seen flicker across her face in the dining hall flashed in her eyes momentarily.
Anger twisted her features again and she stood up, going in to a bathroom and slamming the door behind her.
Tessa sat down on Abilene’s bed, clearly exhausted. She looked up at me and gave me a tired smile. “Sorry about that. She’s kind of a violent dreamer. Don’t worry, we’ll be gone by tomorrow night, so you won’t have to rush in here again like that. Did you break the door?”
“I think I did.”
She laughed quietly and fell backwards on to the bed. She really was exhausted. “We don’t sleep much,” she explained as she looked up at the ceiling. “Abilene keeps us up a lot. She’s a pain sometimes, but we still try to calm her down and help her when we can.”
I nodded slowly and let my gaze drift back to the bathroom door.
“Abby sure is a weird one,” Slade yawned.
“She’s just scared,” Cole said in a small voice.
That’s what had been in her eyes when I saw her in the dining hall, and when she’d woken up.
Leah Brown: This was an amazing read! I was hooked from the very first chapter, holding my breadth to see what would happen next. The characters are rich and vibrant, and the world Danielle has created is fascinating. If you love YA, you MUST read this book. Such a smart, brilliant debut novel. I loved it!
Ahmad Momenai: it's so amazing to see the story build up, in each chapter a part would be started and made its way towards the main story and even sometimes i would doubt which story was the main story.i have read about half the story and it was worth every moment;i am a book worm and i have read LotR, Harry po...
FateFellShort: I have read this story and have followed the writers on tumblr from the beginning. Its a wonderful story. Beautifully written with a really nice pace, that makes it enjoyable to read more than once. For me, fairy tail has very good characters but what the writers have done is give them more depth...
Kelsey Miller: Page turner set in a gritty future. Loads of flavor and depth that makes the pages fly by until like me you are at the end of the book wanting more!The world is developed to the point it begs more stories set in this harsh reality. More adventures from Daryl and thr crew.
Dru83: This is probably the fourth time I've read this one. I read this a few times on fictionpress as dru83. This is a wonderful story. It still needs a lot of shining up as there are many instances of punctuation issues, grammar issues, and issues with using the wrong word. But all that still can't ta...
Catherine Kopf: Wow! This was a really great story. I really enjoy reading fantasy, so it didn't take long for me to become invested in the book and its characters like Jacob. I really liked your writing style, and it seemed to flow very well. The descriptions that you used for your world were also created n...
ga1984: I really enjoyed it! Characters were deep and plot was pretty complex. A bit on the violent side but it doesnt detract from the story. Very dark but situations make sense. Ends kinda abruptly and later chapters will need some editing work. I'm assuming there's more in the works?
263Adder: Okay so I adore this story. I only knocked one star off plot for historical inaccuracies because I'm a bit of a stickler for that. The ending broke my heart though, considering you already changed history couldn't you (SPOILER) change it a bit more and have them together!!!! I want an alternative...
tyleroakleyfan: thank you for writing this story I loved it. it was great I enjoyed every minute of it I couldn't stop reading you did a fantastic job. Thanks for killing ron he was starting to piss me off. he was being a dick. I love that you made it a gay love story its about time someone did. love it great job.