Across North America, flocks of birds hurl themselves into airplanes, causing at least a dozen to crash. Thousands of people die. Fearing terrorism, the United States government grounds all flights, and millions of travelers are stranded.
Among them are Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David, who are in Arizona when the disaster occurs. On their drive home to San Francisco, along a stretch of empty highway in the middle of the Nevada night, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won't tell them what happened, where they are--or how they've been miraculously healed.
Things become even stranger when Reese returns home. San Francisco feels like a different place with police enforcing curfew, hazmat teams collecting dead birds, and a strange presence that seems to be following her. When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction-and threatens to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret.
Adaptation is a bold contemporary science-fiction thriller from the acclaimed author of Ash.
|Publisher:||Little, Brown Books for Young Readers|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||15 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Malinda Lo
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2012 Malinda Lo
All right reserved.
The birds plummeted to the tarmac, wings loose and limp. They struck the ground with such force that their bodies smashed into dark slicks on the concrete.
“What the—” Reese Holloway pushed herself out of the hard plastic seat facing the floor-to-ceiling windows. Outside, heat waves rippled over the oil-stained runway. She glanced back at David, her forehead wrinkled. “Did you see that?”
David Li looked up from his book. “See what?” His dark brown eyes reflected the hard, bright daylight in tiny dots of white.
Reese tried to swallow the flutter of self-consciousness that rose within her as David met her gaze. She pointed at the windows. “These birds just fell dead from the sky.”
David’s eyebrows rose. “No way.”
David closed the book over his right index finger and stood. “Where?”
His shoulder brushed against her as he joined her at the windows. She took a tiny step away and said, “Over there—by those two workers.” A man in a blue jumpsuit pulled up in a baggage cart while another man, in an orange vest, ran toward him.
“You mean that dark stuff on the ground? Those are birds?”
Blue Jumpsuit was gesticulating at the sky and the remains on the ground, apparently explaining the birds’ fatal descent to Orange Vest.
“That was bizarre,” Reese said. The unforgiving glare of the sun on the neon-orange vest and the glistening lumps on the concrete gave the scene a surreal cast—like overexposed film. “Have you ever seen birds just crash to the ground like that?”
“No,” David said.
Reese watched Blue Jumpsuit pull a plastic bag from a container on the baggage cart. He stuck his hand in the bag and squatted down to pick up the remains as if he were cleaning up after a dog. David went back to his seat, but Reese remained standing until the birds were removed, leaving only a smudge on the pavement: the stamp of their final moments. When she sat down again she felt unsettled, as if the ordinary world had been knocked off-balance and everything was now listing slightly to one side.
Beside her, David had returned to his book, and she saw the title angling across the cover in a retro-futuristic font: The Left Hand of Darkness. She glanced at her watch. Their plane to San Francisco had been delayed, but it was due to take off, finally, in an hour. The waiting had made her twitchy, and her leg bounced with nervous energy. She bent down to pull out her iPod from her backpack, and as she fitted the headphones into her ears she surreptitiously watched David turn a page. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, and the skin of his arm had a golden tone like sunlight during Indian summer. She took a shallow breath and forced herself to look at her iPod, scrolling through her music. But as the song titles rolled past, she wasn’t paying attention.
David was her debate partner. They had both joined the debate team at Kennedy High School their freshman year, but it wasn’t until junior year last fall that their coach, Joe Chapman, suggested they might work well together. And they did. They worked so well together that they qualified for nationals. When Reese’s mom found out, she was ecstatic. She even wanted to fly to Phoenix with them for the tournament, but her case ended up going to court during nationals—she was an assistant district attorney in San Francisco—so only Mr. Chapman had come with them.
Reese was glad, because she would have been even more embarrassed if her mom had been there to watch her lose. Afterward, Reese had called her from the locker-lined hallway behind the auditorium to tell her the bad news. Her mom tried to comfort her. “You can’t win them all, honey.”
Reese pressed her fingers to the bridge of her nose as if that would pinch off the disappointment that was spreading through her. “I know,” she said, schooling her voice to sound distant and detached.
But her mom wasn’t fooled. “I’m sorry,” she said gently, and Reese fought the urge to cry. She had wanted to win, of course, but it was the way they had lost that hurt the most. It had been all her fault. “Do you want to tell me what happened?” her mom asked.
I screwed everything up because—because—
Reese couldn’t even think the words to herself. “It just didn’t go well,” she said. Behind her the door to the auditorium opened, and David came out. Their gazes met briefly, but when he quickly looked away, chagrin rose in her, hot and uncomfortable. She blamed herself, but she knew David never would. Somehow, that made it even worse.
“I know you and David were well prepared,” her mom said, “and sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”
“Yeah,” Reese said, but her mom’s words didn’t register. David had stopped about twenty feet away, turning toward a bulletin board covered with athletic announcements. They were the only two people in the hallway; everyone else was still in the auditorium watching the final round.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. I know how you are, honey.”
Reese clutched the phone with nervous fingers. Was David waiting to talk to her?
“Are you still there, Reese?” her mom asked.
“Yeah. Sorry.” Reese wrenched her gaze away from David and stared down at the floor. A gum wrapper had been tossed onto the tiles, the foil glinting in the fluorescent lights.
“Oh, honey.” Her mom sighed. “I’m sorry, but I have to go. We’re heading back into court.” Her mom was in the middle of a big domestic-violence case. Her favorite kind—Reese knew her mom loved putting nasty husbands behind bars.
“All right,” Reese said. She saw David run a hand through his short black hair, making it stand straight up.
“I’ll call you tonight to confirm your flight info. I love you, honey.”
“I love you too, Mom.” She hung up, and at that moment David pulled out his phone and dialed, turning away as he lifted it to his ear.
He wasn’t waiting for her.
She was both relieved and let down, and the conflicting feelings sent a rush of heat through her body. Pocketing her own phone, she slipped past David and headed toward the lobby to look for their coach. David’s voice echoed down the hall after her: “Hey, Dad. No… we lost.”
Now, in the airport as she sat beside him, the memory of that day—was it only yesterday?—and all its disappointments surged up again, slamming into the off-kilter tension that gripped her after witnessing the demise of those birds. Get a grip on yourself, she thought.
“I’m going to walk around,” Reese said abruptly to David. “Will you watch my stuff?”
David nodded, and she stood, dropping her iPod back into her backpack on the floor. She saw Mr. Chapman threading his way through the seats toward them, carrying two bottles of water. He waved at her, and she waved back as she walked toward the center of the concourse. This trip could not be over soon enough. There were only a few weeks before school ended for the year, and thankfully no more debate practice. All of this weird crap with David would be done with, and she doubted they would be partners again next fall. That’ll be a relief, she thought, ignoring the twinge in her chest that told her she was lying to herself.
Reese passed the podium, where a blue-and-white-uniformed flight attendant was dealing with a line of five or six travelers. A harassed-looking mother herded two toddlers forward while dragging a suitcase and pushing a stroller. Reese was trying to avoid the stroller, her sneakers squeaking across the glossy floor, when she heard someone scream, “Oh my God!”
She turned to see a woman standing up, hands over her mouth and staring at the flat-screen TV hanging from the ceiling. The news was on as usual, and the Asian American anchorwoman had a hand pressed to her ear as if she were listening to a feed. Her face was grim. Reese took a few steps closer until she could read the headline at the bottom of the screen: PLANE CRASH IN NEW JERSEY KILLS ALL PASSENGERS.
The anchorwoman lowered her hand from her ear and said: “We have confirmed reports that an Airbus A320 has crashed outside Newark Airport. The cause of the crash has not yet been determined, but eyewitnesses have reported that the plane collided with a flock of Canada geese during takeoff. While airplanes are designed to withstand isolated bird strikes, apparently this was an entire flock—more than a dozen birds in all.”
A jolt went through Reese. Birds? In her mind’s eye she saw the birds plunge to the tarmac again.
Other travelers began to gather beneath the TV screen while the anchorwoman repeated the bare facts. The plane had burst into flames when its fuel tanks exploded upon impact. One hundred forty-six passengers were presumed dead. Emergency crew on the scene were hoping to salvage some clues from the burning mess.
“This is crazy,” said a middle-aged woman standing near Reese. “Those poor people!”
“What is this about birds?” said a man in a Red Sox cap. “How could birds do this?”
The anchorwoman interrupted her own report, saying, “We have news of a second crash, this time in the Pacific Northwest. A Boeing 747 has crashed onto the coast near Seattle.” The anchorwoman pressed her hand to her ear again. “Information is still coming in. We do not know if there are any survivors of this second plane crash.” Her face stiffened, and she stopped speaking for a moment. Finally she lowered her hand and looked into the camera. “Early reports indicate that this plane was struck by birds.”
Reese gaped at the television as a collective gasp arose from the travelers around her.
“We have Lamont Bell on the line from the Federal Aviation Administration,” the anchorwoman said. “Mr. Bell, what is the chance of two planes being downed by bird strikes within an hour?”
The man’s voice sounded scratchy over the audio transmission, but it was clear that he was unnerved. “It’s not—it’s very unusual. I’ve never in my entire career encountered two plane crashes of such magnitude due to bird strikes.”
“Are you saying that you believe the planes crashed due to a different, unnatural cause?”
“I—no, I’m not saying that. I don’t know what caused the crashes. We shouldn’t speculate.”
“Eyewitness accounts indicate the presence of large flocks of birds. Is it impossible that the plane crashes were due to bird strikes?”
“No, it’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely.”
“Then you do think something else is part of the equation?”
“I don’t know,” Bell said, sounding exasperated. “Look, I don’t want to speculate.”
“Mr. Bell, I’m afraid I have to interrupt you again,” the anchorwoman said. “I’ve just received news that there has been a third crash, this time in Texas. Once again, reports do indicate that bird strikes may have been the cause of the crash. And—” She stopped speaking, turning to look off camera. Someone offscreen handed her a sheet of paper, and when she faced the camera again, she read directly from it. “I’ve been informed that the FAA has grounded all aircraft in the United States while officials assess the threat level posed by these accidents.” She looked into the camera. “I’m afraid we have some bad news for travelers today. I repeat: The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded all aircraft in the United States.”
Reese’s stomach dropped, and the crowd around the TV monitor erupted with questions.
“What do you mean? Is my flight canceled?”
“This is bullshit!”
“What is going on? How could birds possibly do this?”
“It can’t be birds—it must be terrorists.”
“That’s insane. Terrorists can control birds now?”
As the questions piled one on top of another, louder and louder, Reese’s heart began to race. The birds that had smashed onto the runway. Three plane crashes. Three. One is unusual; two is a coincidence; but three… how could it be an accident?
People were bumping into her, craning their necks at the TV, talking over the anchorwoman. Reese shoved her way out of the crowd, her skin crawling as disbelief warred with growing panic inside her. What is going on? She halted in front of a bank of monitors displaying the flight departure times. One by one, those times blinked out and were replaced by a single word, repeated over and over: CANCELED.
Reese couldn’t get through to her mom; the call went straight to voice mail. She checked her watch; it was 3:38 in San Francisco. She knew her mom was probably still in court, but Reese was stiff with anxiety. If terrorists were behind these plane crashes, how safe was her mom in a courthouse? David paced nearby, talking to his parents on his phone in Chinese.
Mr. Chapman lowered himself into the seat beside Reese, frowning, and pushed up his black-framed glasses. “This is a mess,” he said. Behind them, dozens of travelers were clustered around the podium, trying to rebook their plane tickets. CNN was still droning in the background, but Reese had stopped watching after the fourth plane crash in Colorado. She was filled with a kind of paranoid helplessness, and she kept glancing out the windows as if she were waiting for more birds to plunge from the sky.
“What are we going to do?” she asked, sounding more frightened than she intended.
Mr. Chapman gave her a thin smile. She thought he was trying to be reassuring, but he didn’t quite succeed. “We just have to wait. You’re too young to remember 9/11, but at first it was just a bunch of waiting. Waiting to hear from the president, waiting to find out who was behind it.” He shook his head and pushed up his glasses again, a nervous tick that betrayed his own tension. “Hopefully, there will be some news soon.”
David ended his call and walked back to them. “My parents are freaking out.”
“Do you want me to talk to them?” Mr. Chapman offered.
“No, they’ll be okay. They’re just shocked like everyone else. My dad’s company shut down for the day, and he’s driving home now.” David pocketed his phone, then looked behind Reese at the gate area. “Hey, something’s happening.”
Reese twisted around. The cluster of people at the podium had turned back to the TV monitor. She couldn’t see the whole screen from where she was sitting, but as the crowd quieted, the speakers in the ceiling could be heard clearly. A reporter said, “In a moment, President Elizabeth Randall will make a statement from the Oval Office. We’re about to—hang on, I believe we’re going to that feed now.”
Reese jumped up to get a better angle on the TV. President Randall was seated at the desk in the Oval Office and looking directly into the camera through her trademark wire-rim glasses. Not a hair was out of place, though she wore a look of grave concern on her face.
“As you know by now, we’ve been struck by tragedy today in our nation and in Canada and Mexico.” The president’s Midwestern accent was stronger than usual. “I want to reassure you that we are working around the clock to determine the cause of today’s crashes, as well as coordinating with the Canadian and Mexican governments to analyze whether there is a pattern in these tragic accidents. At this time, we have suspended all flights in the United States, and Canada and Mexico have done the same in their territories. As of tonight, we know of seven crashes across North America, and we hope that by grounding all flights, we will avoid further tragedy. I know that many of you are frightened and confused by the conflicting reports coming out in the news about the causes of these crashes, and I urge you to remain calm and refrain from speculation. You can rest assured that I have ordered a thorough and complete investigation into these crashes, and I will make sure that you are informed of our progress as things develop.”
The president paused and a look of maternal solicitude swept over her face. She even tilted her head slightly. “If you’ve been inconvenienced in your travel plans because of the flight ban, I’m sure you understand that this is in the best interests of our nation and your safety. As soon as it is safe to fly again, we will lift the flight ban. In the meantime, please join me in praying for those whose lives have been affected by these tragedies, here and throughout North America.”
The feed from the White House ended, and the news analysts reappeared. Reese sat down heavily, shaken by the president’s words. Seven plane crashes due to bird strikes? It sounded insane.
Mr. Chapman’s face was pale as he said, “I guess it’s a good thing our plane was delayed.”
Reese almost dropped her phone when it suddenly vibrated in her hand. The caller ID read: Catherine Sheridan. Relieved, she scrambled to answer it. “Mom! Did you hear the news?”
“Are you all right?” Her mom sounded both terrified and relieved. “Where are you? You didn’t get on the plane, did you?”
“No, it was still delayed when the flight ban started.” Reese rubbed a sweaty palm over her jeans. “I’m fine. I’m still at the airport.”
“Good. Is your coach still with you?”
“Yes.” Mr. Chapman had walked a few feet away to phone his wife. “And David’s here too.” He was trying to watch the news, though it was hard to hear over the din of travelers attempting to rebook their flights.
“I tried to call you earlier, but I couldn’t get through till now,” her mom said. “Everybody’s going home early; they think it’s a terrorist attack.”
Panic shot through Reese. “Mom, are you still at work? What if they attack government buildings? You need to get out of there.”
“It’s all right, honey. Don’t worry about me. I’m leaving soon. Are you staying at the airport tonight?”
“Yeah. Mr. C wants to wait till tomorrow morning to see what’s going on. The airline said they’d issue ‘alternative transportation options,’ whatever that means, if the flight ban isn’t lifted by then.”
“All right. Just stay with Mr. Chapman and call me the minute anything changes.”
The line at the Wendy’s counter snaked back and forth unevenly across the polished concrete floor of the concourse. Reese guessed there were about twenty-five people ahead of her, which put her right at the edge of the seating area next to the overflowing trash bin. An abandoned Frosty was perched on its side and dripping onto the floor, forming a pool of beige liquid. Reese looked away from the mess, her gaze sweeping up toward the windows set high against the ceiling. The sky outside was dusky blue. She had been stuck in this airport since eleven o’clock that morning—almost nine hours.
Earlier, she had called her best friend, Julian Arens, to tell him she was stuck in Phoenix. He told her that all major airports in the United States were full of stranded passengers, and already some people were concerned the airports might run out of food. If the planes couldn’t fly, they couldn’t bring in supplies either.
“You’re freaking me out,” Reese said, only half joking. “Are you saying I should start hoarding those disgusting airport sandwiches?”
“They’re probably gone by now,” he answered. By the time she went to search out dinner, Julian was right. The deli cases that had once been full of sandwiches and salads were picked clean, and the only food left was the square-shaped burgers at Wendy’s.
The line was moving at about the speed of molasses, so Reese pulled out her phone to pass the time, touching the icon for the Internet. The Hub loaded right away, with feeds popping up one after the other, all about the flight ban. It was mostly people complaining about being trapped in airports, but there was a lot of chatter about possible causes for the plane crashes too. Terrorism wasn’t even the most outlandish one. She saw one feed declaring Aliens did it, earthlings. Colonization is coming! She let out a short laugh. Julian was always trying to convince her that E.T. had already visited Earth multiple times. One night in Dolores Park, while they were hanging out on the swings in the playground, Julian told her about meeting an alien abductee in Golden Gate Park the weekend before.
“He had an implant in his lower back—he totally showed me the scar and everything,” Julian said, gesturing with the stub of his cigarette.
Reese lit one for herself and said, “Yeah, I’m sure that’s what he was showing you.” She tossed the match down to the sand, watching as the flame sputtered out.
“You’re just jealous you didn’t get to see his ass.”
She remembered cracking up, almost choking on the smoke. Julian handed her the water bottle filled with vodka tonic, but she shook her head, wheezing as she laughed.
Her phone buzzed as she was scrolling through the feeds on the Hub; Julian had just texted her.
> Stuff is getting crazy out there.
U have 2 check this out:
She clicked on the link, which took her to a blog post on a website called Bin 42. The headline made her eyebrows rise: Government cover-up of plane crashes continues with media blackout.
If you’ve been on the Hub today, you probably noticed that everyone around the world is freaked out about one thing: these bizarre plane crashes. But you might also have noticed that your feeds about them keep mysteriously disappearing. We’ve uncovered evidence that every 15 minutes, feeds relating to plane crashes, bird strikes, and the causes of such are routinely wiped.
Who has the power to do this? Only one entity: the US government.
Here is what we’ve gathered over the course of the day (and be forewarned: this report may soon be wiped, too, so if you want to keep this info alive, we suggest you mirror it immediately to your own site or download a copy for yourself. Better yet, revert to ancient technology: Print this out on paper!):
Official news and government reports state that only seven crashes have occurred in the US today, in New Jersey, Washington, and Texas. But continuous scanning of news feeds shows that at least 23 other planes have crashed today due to bird strikes within the continental United States alone.
Reports of these crashes are routinely posted online but removed shortly afterward. Caches of these news reports are eventually wiped as well. For a roundup of these reports (many now go to 404 pages), go here: www.bin42.com/34092
Video of plane crash sites has been circulating on file-sharing sites but is also routinely being removed. Don’t be fooled! We have seen these videos and they are not doctored! A roundup of videos (some of which may no longer be online) are here: www.bin42.com/34093
Mainstream news sources are being forced to adhere to a media blackout, so don’t go to the New York Times looking for confirmation—you won’t find it. The only mainstream account we have of any of the other crashes is from the Chicago Tribune; here’s a link to a screencap of that web page before it was taken down: www.bin42.com/34094
What does this mean for you? If you’re safe at home, we advise you to check your emergency supplies and prepare for the worst. If you’re a traveler stranded because of the flight ban, we suggest you find a way to drive yourself home. While there’s no evidence that airports are unsafe (yet), there is also no evidence that the flight ban will be lifted anytime soon. Meanwhile, check back here regularly; we will attempt to keep this site online as long as possible.
Reese clicked on the link to the Chicago Tribune article. She saw a screencap of a story about three plane crashes in the Chicago area, all due to bird strikes. The article was accompanied by a photograph of one of the Chicago crash sites. A plane had plowed a deep furrow through a field of corn, culminating in a smoking black mess. The tail of the plane was still visible; the airline’s logo could be seen through the smoke.
“Hey, the line’s moving,” said a man behind her.
“Oh, sorry.” As she stepped forward she clicked back to the original Bin 42 blog, feeling uneasy. She went to the video roundup page. Most of the links were dead, but one video showed a young female reporter in a mountainous area. Wreckage was strewn behind her. Reese couldn’t hear the audio, but the camera zoomed toward a person in a hazmat suit who was retrieving remains from the crash. Reese could barely see what he was holding in his gloved hands, but it stretched out toward the ground as if it was half liquefied.
Her stomach lurched. What was that? And why was the person dressed as if he were dealing with a biohazard? Her hands were clammy and the phone nearly slipped out of her grasp as she thumbed back to the blog post Julian had sent her.
But this time, she got an error message. It was gone.
“Can I take your order?”
Reese glanced up, startled. She had reached the front of the line, and a dead-eyed girl was waiting behind the counter. The overhead lights made her face look washed out and tired, and her ash-blond hair strayed in lanky strands from beneath her Wendy’s cap.
“You wanna order something?” the girl prodded.
Reese swallowed. “No.” She had lost her appetite.
David was sleeping on the floor in front of the plastic seats, his head resting on a rolled-up jacket, his back to the windows. Mr. Chapman was napping nearby, slouched in one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs with his arms crossed and his feet stretched toward the glass. Night had fallen, turning the windows into a wall of dark mirrors. Reese saw herself reflected as a girl with flyaway dark hair and shadowed eyes in a pale face. Behind her the concourse was littered with travelers trying to sleep under the bright lights, legs propped up on carry-on bags, heads pillowed on lumpy backpacks.
She stopped beside David and looked down at him. One hand was curled beneath his chin, the other draped loosely over his stomach where his Kennedy Swim T-shirt—SHARKS OF THE BAY—had inched up over his toned stomach. He was captain of the swim team and a soccer player in addition to being a debater. An all-around golden boy. A familiar flare of self-consciousness burned through her. Angry at herself, she shoved away her feelings. What had happened between her and David was in the past, and she should just get over it. There was no use in thinking about it anymore; there were more important things to worry about now.
She nudged David’s shoulder with the toe of her beat-up black Chucks. “David.” He grumbled slightly but didn’t wake up. “David,” she said more loudly, and nudged him again.
He rolled over onto his back, shading his eyes from the fluorescent lights as he blinked up at her. “What?” His voice was clogged with sleep. “What’s going on?”
“I have to talk to you.”
“About what?” He pushed himself up, rubbing a hand over his eyes.
“Hang on, let me wake up Mr. Chapman.” She turned to their coach and tapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, Mr. Chapman.”
His eyes snapped open, and he jerked upright. “What? Reese?”
“Mr. C, we have to talk.” She sat down next to Mr. Chapman while David leaned against the glass across from them. In the window, Reese’s Rhapsody of Emily concert T-shirt was reflected in mirror image, and there was something disquieting about reading the words backward.
“What’s on your mind, Reese?” Mr. C asked.
“I’ve been checking the news on the Hub,” she began. She told them about the blog post that Julian had sent her, describing the Chicago Tribune article and the videos she had watched. “I think we should get out of here,” she concluded. “I think we should get a rental car and drive back to San Francisco.”
“The airline said they would start rebooking flights tomorrow,” Mr. Chapman said. “We should just wait.”
Before she could argue, David asked, “What’s on TV right now?” He looked past her at the concourse.
“What? I don’t know.” She turned to glance at the nearest TV monitor, expecting to see the news, but instead she saw a line of men in orange prison uniforms moving across a yard. The scene changed to a close-up on one gray-haired man, his mouth shining wetly as he spoke. Across the bottom of the screen, she read the words: Barred: Behind the Walls of America’s Most Violent Prisons. “It’s a prison documentary,” she said. “They’re on practically all the time.”
“It shouldn’t be on now, not when there’s more money to be made on a disaster.” David held his hand out to her. “Let me see your phone.”
Startled, she said, “That post is gone—”
“Just let me see it,” he insisted.
She unlocked her phone and handed it over. He pulled up the Hub, clicking through her history. “Hey, what are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m looking for a mirrored site. From what you said about Bin 42, I don’t think they’d only post it in one location.” She saw him entering something into her phone, swiping his fingers across the screen. A moment later he held the phone in front of her. It displayed a copy of the Bin 42 page. “Is this what you were reading?”
“Yeah, how’d you find that?”
“Magic,” he said with a grin that shot right through to her belly. She tried to cover it up by rolling her eyes.
“Whatever. Just read that Tribune article.”
“Hang on,” he said. A second later she heard the tinny sound of a video recording playing back on her phone. When he finished, he handed it to Mr. Chapman, who watched it with a deepening frown on his face.
“We should leave, Mr. C,” she said. “Who knows how long we could be stranded in Phoenix. I don’t think the news is telling us everything.” She lowered her voice. “And everybody’s going to be trying to rent a car to get out of here when they figure that out. We need to beat the rush.”
Mr. Chapman’s face was troubled as he handed her phone back to her. “I don’t know whether I buy it, Reese. That site—who runs it? Do you really think the government would go to the trouble of covering all that up? Besides, it’s doing an awful job of it if that’s the plan.”
Normally, Reese didn’t believe half the stuff Julian tried to convince her about, but tonight, Mr. Chapman’s skepticism frustrated her. “I don’t know who runs it. But who would be able to fabricate those videos so quickly? I think we should get out of here. If we rent a car and start driving tonight, we can be back in San Francisco by tomorrow.” The scene on the TV monitor changed again; now it showed a man in handcuffs being led out of a courtroom. She glanced at her watch. It wasn’t even 10:00 PM yet. “You know, David’s right about the TV,” she said uneasily. “The news should be on. Anytime there’s a disaster, they cover it twenty-four/seven.”
They all turned to watch the prison documentary. The news network’s logo was plainly visible in the corner. An inmate with bizarrely red eyes spoke to the camera, his face bearing a creepy, self-satisfied smile, and Reese shuddered.
Mr. Chapman said, “I suppose… it wouldn’t hurt to check at the rental-car counter to see how much it would cost.”
“Great,” Reese said, surging to her feet. “The rental-car center is open twenty-four hours; I checked. Let’s go.”
The rental-car center was packed with people who had exactly the same idea.
“So much for getting a jump on things,” Reese said as they made their way to the back of the very long line. They passed a snack counter along the way, and the refrigerator case was empty except for a few crooked signs that read TUNA SALAD or HAM AND TURKEY. Reese’s stomach growled, and she wished she had bought that Wendy’s burger.
By the time they made it out of the airport, driving one of the last available rentals—a Suzuki sedan with a long dent in the driver’s side door—it was nearly morning, and Reese’s hunger had settled into a gnawing hollowness that made her both tired and cranky.
Mr. Chapman eased the sedan into the line of cars waiting to get onto the I-10 as the horizon turned gray, then pink. David, sitting in the front passenger seat, scanned through the radio stations one by one, but none of them was reporting any news—not even traffic, which was moving at a crawl.
It took an hour to go seven miles. As they inched their way onto the I-10, Mr. Chapman said, “David, look at that map they gave us and find me another way to San Francisco. If it’s this bad around Phoenix, I don’t want to take this all the way to LA. It’s just going to be worse there.”
Reese slouched in the backseat, checking her phone every few minutes for reception. She hadn’t been able to get a call through to her mom, and the stress that had been tightening her neck all night was starting to make her head pound. Outside on the freeway, it was practically a parking lot. A Toyota nearby contained a man and a woman and what appeared to be mounds of supplies: canned goods, toilet paper, blankets. A white VW that kept trying to cut them off was packed with five passengers, and the trunk was tied down over piles of suitcases. There were way too many people on the freeway for it to only be rush-hour traffic, and Reese couldn’t shake the feeling that she was missing something. What was driving these people out of their houses at the crack of dawn?
“Hey, we can take the next exit to 17 North,” David said, breaking into the silence. “It’ll take us to 93 North, and at Kingman we can switch to I-40, which goes west to 58, then meets up with 5 North to San Francisco. It even skips Las Vegas.”
“Great,” Mr. Chapman said. “I can’t wait to get out of this and get some coffee.”
The sound of honking erupted, and a battered blue pickup barreled down the shoulder of the road, causing more than one driver to scream out their windows at the truck. As the truck passed, Reese saw a man standing in the truck bed holding a giant sign. It read NEWS—AM 1438.
“Hey, try that,” Reese said, leaning between the two front seats. “AM 1438.”
David switched to AM and cranked the dial until they found a scratchy signal that faded in and out. A man’s voice was speaking: “… secure compounds inland. Reports of military convoys heading toward the heartland… President Randall… wait for confirmation. However, classified documents leaked onto the Hub show that the government is prepared to crack down on dissenters.”
Mr. Chapman frowned. “Who is this?” He moved his hand toward the radio.
“Wait a sec,” Reese cried, trying to make sense of the jumbled phrases.
The man’s voice continued: “Citizens are urged to prepare for disruptions in food supplies due to interstate lockdowns and the air traffic ban… terrorism but speculation is rampant about causes. So-called rogue states would not have the coord… too much for one little nation—”
The static roared, and Mr. Chapman turned the volume down. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s just get home.”
Arizona, Reese soon discovered, was one giant sprawl of desert, at least on either side of the highway. In the distance, mountains lent a jagged edge to the horizon, but they were so far away that they seemed like a mirage. The reality, here, was flat dirt: a light brown broken by occasional bushes that clung obstinately to their patches of ground and were permanently bent by the dry wind.
On the road, as far as the eye could see, was traffic. As the day wore on, Reese saw more and more cars packed full of gear: tents strapped to the roof, blankets and pillows piled high in backseats. She increasingly felt as if they had joined a tide of refugees—only she didn’t know what they were fleeing from. At a Texaco just outside Phoenix, a man in a rumpled suit eyed her as she grabbed the last box of Hostess doughnuts, as if he wanted to take it from her. She hurried to meet up with Mr. Chapman and David at the cash register, hunching her shoulders defensively. It was hard not to be affected by the sense of paranoia that seemed to infect their fellow travelers. Even the gas station attendants who took their money had developed a kind of squinty-eyed anxiety. If she could only get some real information, Reese thought, she wouldn’t be so on edge.
But AM 1438 had long since faded to constant static, the only FM station that came in was playing old country music, and she still couldn’t get online on her phone. At least she had managed to talk to her mom for a minute before the connection broke, but there hadn’t been time to do more than say that they had left Phoenix. Now all Reese had was the view out the window, and it didn’t tell her anything except she was glad she didn’t live in a desert.
They reached Kingman at noon after a long morning of stop-and-start driving. They intended to take the exit onto I-40, heading west toward California, but a few miles before they reached the interchange, traffic slowed even more. “What the hell is going on?” Mr. Chapman said in frustration. He had drunk three cups of awful black coffee that morning, and Reese was beginning to wonder if she or David should take over the driving. Mr. Chapman was jittery and nervous from the caffeine and sugar, and hadn’t slept any more than the two of them.
Half a mile before they reached the exit, Reese saw what was holding things up: a roadblock. A string of state police cars was parked right across the ramp to the I-40, their red and blue lights flashing beneath the hot midday sun. State troopers in khaki uniforms waved them past. Mr. Chapman rolled down his window as they neared the roadblock, and heat blasted into the car. “What’s going on?” he called. “We have to get onto 40 West to get back to California.”
One of the troopers took a step closer toward them, looking down through his sunglasses. “You’ll have to drive up to Las Vegas and find an alternate route. Interstate 40 is closed here.”
“It’s closed,” the trooper repeated. “You’ll have to drive north to Las Vegas.”
Mr. Chapman stared at him, wrinkling his forehead.
“Move on, sir, you’re blocking traffic,” the trooper said.
“Are you serious?” Mr. Chapman asked. “That’s a—a four-hour detour.”
“Then you’d better get started.” The trooper’s hand moved to the weapon at his hip.
For a moment Mr. Chapman didn’t move, and Reese’s mouth went dry. What could you do when faced with a state trooper who had a gun? Mr. Chapman rolled up the window and drove on, cursing beneath his breath. “Sorry,” he muttered. “This is crazy.”
They reached the outskirts of Las Vegas in late afternoon. Traffic picked up as they approached the city, and Reese hoped it meant that the worst was behind them. The map they had gotten at the rental-car counter didn’t extend as far as Las Vegas, so at a Chevron off the freeway, Mr. Chapman climbed out to refill the tank and buy a map. He left the nozzle in the tank as he walked toward the mini-mart, and Reese unbuckled her seat belt and stretched out her legs in the backseat.
David was studying his phone, and she asked, “Any reception?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know what’s up. Circuits are overloaded or something? And my battery’s dying anyway.”
Reese took out her own phone and saw the battery indicator was at 50 percent. “Crap, mine too. We should have charged them last night when we were in line.” Her phone charger was in her carry-on in the trunk, but without an adapter to plug into the car, it was useless. “I’m going to turn mine off for now.” She looked up as Mr. Chapman returned from the mini-mart, waving a map triumphantly. He headed back to the pump, tucking the map in his back pocket. “Do you think we should stay in Vegas tonight?” she asked. She was tired. The nervous energy that had kept her alert all day was fading now that they had arrived in Las Vegas, and her lack of sleep was catching up with her.
“I guess it’s up to Mr. C,” David said. “I can help drive. Do you have your license?”
“Yeah.” Reese heard a stranger’s voice outside the window, and she twisted around to see a burly man in an army-green vest, his muscles bulging out of a black T-shirt, gesturing at Mr. Chapman. He was backing away from the gas pump, hands raised, face white. The man in the khaki vest was pointing a gun at him.
The shock of recognizing the weapon was like having a bucket of ice water dumped over her head.
The man shouted: “Give me your keys, now!”
Reese scrambled away from the window, her heart slamming into her throat.
Chapman was visibly shaking. “They’re—they’re in the car,” he said, but the man didn’t even glance inside the sedan.
He pulled the trigger.
The gunshot was so loud that everything Reese heard afterward seemed dull, as if it were coming at her from underwater. David was saying, “Shit, shit, shit.”
Mr. Chapman was on the ground. He had no face anymore.
She couldn’t drag her gaze away. It was nothing like the movies. The lifeless weight of Mr. Chapman’s body, the utter stillness of it, could never be replicated on film. Her stomach heaved.
The gunman turned to look inside the car. Reese saw a snake tattoo writhing up the man’s thick, sweat-soaked neck. Fear crashed through her in a frigid rush. She yelled, “David!”
“Get out of the car!” the man screamed at them, pointing the gun at the window.
“David, lock the doors!”
David scrambled into the driver’s seat, lunging for the door lock. The locks engaged with a thunk seconds before the man reached for the passenger’s side door handle. He snarled when the door wouldn’t open.
David fumbled with the keys that were still in the ignition. The engine roared to life. The man raised the gun again, pointing it at the handle. David floored the gas pedal, and Reese was thrown back hard against the seat as the car jerked forward. They heard a loud clank as the gas nozzle was yanked out of the tank, the hose snapping. There was a second gunshot, and Reese instinctually ducked down in the seat. The car bounced over a bump in the road so high she was sure David had just driven over a curb. She heard a horn blasting as the car turned sharply, throwing her onto the floor. The tires screeched. She heard another gunshot, popping like a firecracker—and then a giant boom.
“What the hell was that?” Reese was crouched on the floor of the car, the hair on her arms standing up as if she had stuck her finger in an electrical socket. She felt as if she was about to throw up.
“Jesus Christ,” David breathed, sounding stunned.
“The freaking gas station blew up!”
Heart pounding, Reese pushed herself up to peer out the rear window. She saw the dangling end of a gasoline hose spitting fire. The pump where they had been parked was engulfed in flame, and fire licked across the oil-soaked concrete. People were running away from the inferno, abandoning their cars. She could no longer see Mr. Chapman’s body or the man who had shot him.
The tires squealed as David wrenched the car onto the road, throwing Reese to one side again. Adrenaline surged through her as she clung to the top of the backseat, unable to tear her eyes away from the explosion.
The Chevron sign disappeared behind a plume of black smoke as a woman ran straight out into the road, her mouth open in a scream. A blue sedan slammed on its brakes to avoid hitting her, its tires burning black marks onto the pavement. Car alarms shrieked to life, a cacophony of sirens and honking horns.
Reese lost sight of the gas station as David turned the car abruptly, nearly tossing her onto the floor. “Watch it!” she cried, but he didn’t respond. She twisted around just in time to see him jerk the steering wheel to the left, barely avoiding another car. “What are you doing? David!”
He raced through a light just as it clicked red, and car horns blared at them. Reese climbed through the gap between the front seats, bumping into David’s arm as she awkwardly maneuvered herself into the passenger seat. Her hands shook as she fumbled the seat belt into place, just in time for him to slam on the brakes at the next red light. The seat belt cut into her chest and right shoulder as the car jerked to a stop. The sound of their frantic breathing filled the car.
They had entered a suburban neighborhood with cookie-cutter houses visible behind fences on either side of the road. But all Reese could see was their coach falling backward onto the gasoline-soaked pavement. The burst of blood as the bullet tore into his eye. “Oh my God,” Reese said. “We have to go back. Mr. Chapman—”
“He’s dead,” David said. Reese saw a vein snake down his temple as he clenched his jaw. The light turned green, and David accelerated through the intersection. “Nobody survives that.”
“We can’t just leave him there!”
“We should call 911. Is your phone working?”
She dug out the phone from her pocket and turned it on. So much for conserving the battery. There was only one bar of reception, and it was flickering. “I don’t think so.”
“Try anyway!” he snapped. An angry retort was on the tip of her tongue when she saw the slick trace of sweat on his cheek and realized he was just as freaked out as she was. She took a deep breath, trying to force down the panic churning inside herself. She dialed 911. David continued to drive as she waited for the call to connect. She heard the drumbeat of her own heart as she held the phone to her ear. Outside, there was no sign of the highway, only unremarkable houses, signs that meant nothing to her, and empty streets.
Her phone beeped. “Call cannot be completed as dialed,” said a computerized voice. “Please try again.” She tried again, staring down at the device as the telephone icon fruitlessly spun in a circle.
“It’s not working,” Reese said. “Give me your phone.” He tugged it out and handed it to her with clammy fingers. But she had no luck with his either.
The next time David pulled to a stop, she looked up. They were at a red light, and they were the only car in sight.
“Where is everybody?” she asked. “Why is this place so deserted?” All day they had been slowed down by traffic. The stillness here was unnatural.
“I don’t know,” David said, sounding strained.
Reese looked down at the two phones. There wasn’t even a single bar on either of them. “There’s no reception. We have to go back.”
David did not respond, and when the light turned green, he continued straight ahead.
“Did you hear me?” Reese asked.
“Then why aren’t you turning around?”
His fingers tightened over the steering wheel. “Because I don’t know where we are,” he admitted.
“But you drove—”
“I don’t remember which direction we came from,” he said through gritted teeth. “I’ve been driving around trying to figure it out, but some of the streets are closed, and everything here looks exactly the same.” He paused. “I’m sorry.”
She gazed out the windshield at the nondescript houses. They passed a strip mall with an empty parking lot. The windows of a convenience store were smashed, bits of glass spread all over the ground. Inside the building, she could see empty shelves; it had been entirely cleaned out. Nearby, a sign for I-215 came into view, pointing to the right.
“Turn there,” Reese said.
Because this whole neighborhood is creeping me out, she thought. But she said, “Maybe if we get on a highway we’ll be able to figure out the way back.”
David turned right onto a wide street. They passed quiet office buildings; another strip mall; another gas station. Its windows were also broken, and the gas pump hoses trailed onto the stained concrete. The area was eerily quiet—as if it had been evacuated. The entrance to I-215 came at a deserted intersection where red traffic signals blinked slowly.
David clenched his fingers over the steering wheel. “I think we came from…”
“That way,” Reese said, pointing to the on-ramp for 215 East.
“Yeah,” he agreed, and accelerated onto the interstate. The eastbound side was bordered on the south by a high wall, blocking off the neighborhood they had driven through. The three lanes were as empty as the streets they had just come from, but across the low concrete divider the westbound portion of the highway was packed with cars moving at a crawl. They were full of passengers, just like the ones outside Phoenix. Some cars were stuffed to the brim with suitcases and bedding as well. It is an evacuation, she thought.
Ahead of them, they saw a green sign for I-515 and two highways, 93 and 95.
“Weren’t we on one of those? US 93?” David asked.
“I think so. We should take it south to go back to the gas station.”
But as they approached the exit, they saw that the southbound ramp was blocked off with movable concrete barriers and orange cones.
“New plan?” David said.
“Maybe we can turn around farther north.”
David headed for the 93 North exit, speeding up the elevated concrete ramp that swung around to the interstate. As their car swept up the curve, they could see the maze of the highway interchange beneath them to the left.
Reese gasped. “Look!”
On the southbound side was a long convoy of military trucks. Behind the trucks were tanks, their gun turrets all pointed south.
“Where do you think they’re going?” she asked, watching the trucks uneasily.
“It can’t be anywhere good,” David muttered. “Not with that many weapons.”
Reese twisted in her seat to look out the back window and saw a plume of black smoke in the distance. She wondered if it was the fire from the gas station. The tanks were all heading that direction. “Do you think we should turn around somewhere?” she asked.
“We’ll get stuck in that—whatever it is,” David said tersely, gesturing at the convoy.
“But what about Mr. Chapman? We have to go back and—and identify him.”
A bead of sweat worked its way down David’s right temple. His hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Keep trying the phones. We have to get through sometime.”
Reese gritted her teeth. It felt wrong to leave Mr. Chapman there. But turning back meant spending more time in Las Vegas with its crazy carjackers and blockaded roads and army tanks. She definitely did not want to be in this city anymore. Every nerve in her body was telling her to run as far away and as fast as she could. “All right,” she said finally. “I’ll keep trying, and if I can’t get through, we’ll find a landline the next time we stop.”
The freeway was lined on both sides by tall concrete walls that blocked the city from view. Beyond them Reese could only see flat rooftops and a few scraggly trees. There were a few other cars heading north, but otherwise the multiple lanes of the highway were wide open. On the southbound side, the military convoy continued for at least ten minutes—Reese kept glancing over at the tanks as she tried to call 911—but after the convoy ended the road was deserted, as if it had been blocked off somewhere up north.
And then Reese noticed something else that was unusual. All the exits on the northbound side were closed off, though the on-ramps remained open. It was as if drivers were being purposely directed away from the southern parts of the city.
“We can’t get off the freeway,” David said, echoing her thoughts. “Are you having any luck with the phones?”
She took a shaking breath. “No.”
When the concrete walls ended, Las Vegas emerged as a city of drab industrial buildings interspersed with towering hotels. Billboards popped up on the side of the highway, advertising another Hollywood remake of Batman. They passed multistory parking structures, all empty. In the distance, casino lights glittered red and gold.
It wasn’t until they left the city behind, warehouses giving way to brown desert dotted with dark green brush, that the freeway exits opened up. It was after 5:00 PM now, and Reese had been checking their phones regularly, but reception never went higher than a single bar. As they departed Las Vegas, even that single bar disappeared. When the sun began to descend toward a range of mountains in the west, Reese said, “Maybe we should find a place to stop for the night.” The thought of resting suddenly made her aware of how exhausted she was.
“How much money do you have?” David asked. He sounded as tired as she felt. “I don’t know if I have enough. I don’t have a credit card.”
“I don’t either.” She reached into the backseat to grab her backpack. She pulled out her wallet and counted her bills. “I have thirty-five dollars. That’s not much.”
David slipped out his own wallet from his jeans pocket and handed it to her. “Here. See how much I’ve got.”
She unfolded the soft, brown leather. “You’re rich. You’ve got forty-three bucks.”
He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. “Seventy-eight dollars. What can we do with that?”
She glanced at the gas tank. It was approaching a quarter full. “We’re going to need more gas.”
“You want to keep going?”
“What else are we going to do? I don’t think we can afford a motel room.” She stared out at the barren landscape. It was like another world: abandoned and desolate, but with the sun sending long shadows across the ground, it was also eerily beautiful. “Maybe we can find a town somewhere with a pay phone.”
“There was a sign for gas coming up. Ash Springs. We could ask for directions there.”
“I don’t know.” Reese frowned out the window at the desert. “What if the people there are freaks with shotguns? This looks like NRA country.”
David choked with laughter, and the unexpected sound of it cracked the tension that had held them tight since they fled the gas station. “It’s definitely not San Francisco,” he said. “No liberal organic hipsters in sight.”
An involuntary smile tugged at Reese’s mouth. “And you’re probably the only Asian person in a hundred-mile radius.”
“Never underestimate the Chinese. We’re everywhere.”
Reese laughed out loud and looked over at David. He gave her a quick grin, and Reese noticed that his mouth was slightly crooked when he smiled, the right side angling up more than the left.
One of the phones in her lap beeped, and she scrambled to pick it up as David asked excitedly, “Are you getting a call?”
Her brief moment of laughter was swallowed by sharp disappointment. “No. My phone battery just died.”
At least she was too tired to be freaked out about it.
As they approached Ash Springs, trees sprang up on the side of the road, pushing back the desert. When the town came into view, it was nothing more than a trailer park followed by a Shell station and a flimsy-looking two-story building. A couple of cars were parked in front.
David pulled up to one of the four gas pumps and turned off the car. Reese opened her door, and the smell of the desert wafted inside: brush and dirt, soured slightly by the smell of gasoline. She and David got out, their doors slamming shut in two sharp cracks. The sun was setting.
“We have to pay first,” David said, reading the instructions on the pump.
“Maybe we should both go in,” Reese suggested. She didn’t like the idea of splitting up.
She walked around the car and noticed with a pang that the gas cap was still hanging down from the tank. Mr. Chapman had never had a chance to screw it shut. She did so now, feeling a bit queasy. When she looked up, she saw David wince. “Let’s go,” she said, and headed inside.
Behind the counter, a bored-looking guy in a beat-up Pearl Jam T-shirt was turning the pages of a magazine. He glanced up when they entered but did not seem particularly interested in them. They wandered down the two short aisles, searching for maps. David found a road atlas that cost $16.95.
“It’s too much,” Reese whispered. “We have to buy gas.” Her stomach growled. “And some food.”
He flipped the atlas open to the page on Nevada and scrutinized the tiny lines and letters. “We’re on 93 North, right?”
“Yeah.” Reese peered over his arm at the map. “Look, there’s Ash Springs,” she said.
With his finger, he traced a line that jutted west from 93 North. “We can take this—318 to 375, then to 6 and 95 North.”
“North? Don’t we have to go west?”
“Ninety-five will get us to Reno, and then we can get onto 80 West. That goes straight to Oakland.”
She took the atlas from him and followed the white lines he pointed out. “Okay,” she agreed, memorizing the road numbers. “You want me to drive for a while? You could get some sleep.” David had the dazed expression of someone who had been trying to stay alert for too long.
Excerpted from Adaptation by Malinda Lo Copyright © 2012 by Malinda Lo. Excerpted by permission.
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