Jack stopped listening. He’d heard all the arguments before. He’d had them himself.
He looked out the window again. The Great Salt Lake spread out in the distance like a giant blue blanket. The lake was dead, like the Dead Sea. He’d heard it was so salty that nothing could live in it—no fish, just algae and brine shrimp that made the lake stink.
There was that bird again, flying toward them.
It wasn’t a bird.
It was a—something—and it was carrying a person.
“Hey,” Jack shouted, nearly tripping over Aubrey as he pushed his way out into the aisle and toward the soldiers at the front of the bus. “There’s something out there. There’s something—someone—flying.”
Everyone jumped to the windows, blocking his view for a moment.
“It’s coming right at us,” he said.
There was a sudden chatter from a machine gun, behind them, and then the radio squawked. The soldier on the other end was frantic. “Unidentified bogey coming in from the south.”
A second gun started, right in front of the bus—it was the .50 cal machine gun on the roof of the Humvee ahead of them.
They were the terrorists. They had to be.
And then suddenly the bus slammed to the side, rising up for a moment on two wheels, and then crashing back to the pavement. The driver tried to regain control and swerved sharply.
There was a huge dent in the ceiling, and a hand—a claw?—was tearing through the roof of the bus.
The soldiers barked at everyone to get to the floor, and then Jack was nearly knocked down by the shattering pops of their M4s.
He clamped his hands over his ears, but it didn’t do any good. It was so loud he felt like he could barely move.
Someone in the bus—the girl he’d heard before—began firing blasts of white-hot light up through the roof.
The bus slowed and turned sharply, and then Jack picked out the whump-whump-whump of flat tires.
Jack tried to get up enough to see Aubrey, but she was out of sight—she must have been hiding down between the seats. Good.
The ceiling was perforated with holes, and he didn’t see any sign of the thing that had been on the roof.
And then, as if pulled by some unseen force, the three soldiers at the front of the bus slammed into the windshield. It shattered into a million pieces, and they tumbled out onto the road. The driver tried to stop the bus, but it rolled right over the men.
The radio was filled with shouts—frantic, desperate calls for help and barked orders.
The driver was yanked from his chair, his seat belt shearing, and he flew to the pavement. Jack jumped forward, mashing his foot on the brakes and trying to get control of the wheel.
Ahead of him, the two Humvees were stopped, dealing with their own attacks. Someone—a small person dressed all in black—was climbing on the roof of one, trying to open the gun hatch. Another was crouched in the street, throwing something—or shooting something?—at the other Humvee.
There was a sudden whoosh and rush of air, and someone swooped into the bus through the missing windshield. He was dressed in black, like the others, and Jack could see his face—he couldn’t have been any older than Jack. He raised his hands, but was immediately thrown back onto the pavement by Krezi’s bolts of energy and a blast of lightning from the kid.
With a screech, the clawed thing on the roof began tearing through the sheet metal again. It only took a quick swipe for the already-damaged roof to give way, and the Lambda collapsed into the bus.
He looked like Nate, back at the dance. His skin wasn’t skin—it was something else, some kind of metal or stone. His hands were three-fingered hooks.
And he was where Aubrey had been only moments before.
Jack searched for a gun, but there was nothing—they’d all been thrown out with the soldiers.
Laura tackled the beast, smashing him down to the floor with an enormous crash. The guy tried to speak, but his voice was an inhuman rumble. People were shouting for Laura to get out of the way so they could shoot him, but Laura didn’t listen. She threw a punch into his face, connecting with a sickening crunch. Before she could throw another, the thing launched her into the ceiling. Her body tangled against the jagged hole.
The monster stood, and was instantly hit by Krezi’s energy blasts. He stumbled backward, but the attacks only seemed to push him, not hurt him.
He took a step forward, and fell flat on his face.
Aubrey. It must have been her—she’d tripped him.
A soldier shouted at Jack, and he turned to see a whole team of Green Berets in front of the bus.
“Open the door,” one called. Jack searched for a moment before seeing the bent lever. By the time he got it open, the soldiers were spreading out around the bus. Someone stepped inside and started grabbing kids, pulling them from their seats and ordering them onto the street.
The monster was getting up again, but the blasts were targeted on his head now, and he was trying to shield himself with his arms.
Someone grabbed Jack, and pulled him from the driver’s seat.
On the street, it was harder to see what was going on inside the bus. He hoped Aubrey was keeping hidden. The whole convoy was devastated, every vehicle either damaged or burning, and the street was filled with soldiers who were trying to tend to the injured, or beat back the remaining enemies.
The bus shuddered, rocking back and forth, and then a hole erupted from the back. The monster fell out onto the pavement and began running in slow bounds off the road and into the brush.
The soldiers gathered the Lambdas from the bus and formed a defensive perimeter. Within minutes aircraft appeared, flying low over the demolished collection of vehicles. Jack could hear them overhead for quite a while, but they’d missed all the action. There was nothing for them to attack.
Cesar Carbajal was dead. He was the only Lambda to die. And though the soldiers didn’t make an announcement, Jack could hear every word they whispered to one another. Cesar hadn’t been killed by the terrorists—he’d taken a bullet. Sure, it was the terrorists’ fault that the battle started in the first place, but it still felt like a punch in the gut. This war—this thing they’d agreed to do—was deadly. Cesar had no way to defend himself; his power was all mental. He wasn’t even trained for combat.
Aubrey sat across from Jack on the pavement, her knees tucked up to her chest, her arms wrapped around her legs.
“This isn’t like what they talked about,” she said. “It isn’t like the girl at the school.”
“I know,” Jack answered.
“So many,” she said, gesturing weakly to a row of bodies lined up a few car lengths outside the perimeter.
Jack glanced over at the dead bodies. Eight teenagers. Just like him, except driven by—what? He’d never heard any demands from the terrorists. Did they just want to watch the world burn?
Aubrey spoke, her voice barely above a whisper. “In training they said the terrorists worked in groups of three or four. They didn’t talk about big attacks like this. They didn’t talk about battles. The terrorists never come out and fight the army.”
“They must have known who we are—what we’re going to do. They wanted to stop us.”
Jack crossed over to sit next to Aubrey and put his arm around her waist.
“I didn’t think it would be like this,” she said. “I mean, so many . . .”