Cassie’s ghost sits with her on the porch swing in Marble Falls, waiting through the fading light for Ben and Sammy to come home.
“It’s weird,” says Cassie at last, reaching up to tuck a piece of blonde hair behind her ear. She’s still wearing the bloody fatigues that Ringer last saw her in - she’s still wearing Ringer’s jacket, the one Ringer gave her after the acid rain, the one with the green death capsule in the pocket.
“What is?” asks Ringer without much interest. She’s been seeing ghosts since the Third Wave, and they rarely have any new insight to share - they seem to spend most of their time re-hashing her many failures. Her father screams at her not to leave him; Teacup spits blood and begs to know why Ringer shot her. Ringer has killed thousands - literally thousands, in that last confrontation at Camp Haven - and most of them were children and teenagers. What’s one more dead body on the pile?
“Talking to you.” Cassie smiles, shaking her head. She looks tired - everyone has looked tired since the Others came - but she has a kind of glow, the same glow she had when she stepped out of Wonderland and looked at Ringer as if seeing her for the first time. I’m sorry, Marika. About everything. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.
“We haven’t been talking.”
“I know. That’s what makes it weird.” Cassie pushes the loose hair behind her ear again. The breeze has been teasing strands from her ponytail, tangling them around her face, almost as if she’s a person. Almost as if she’s really here. “I know everything you’re thinking. I know everything you would say to everything I could say.”
“That’s because you’re a hallucination,” says Ringer.
“See? I knew you would say that.” Cassie turns her smile on Ringer, causing a chill down her spine. It’s the same expression, the same fucking smile she was wearing when she emerged from Wonderland. It’s so beautiful, she had said then, so beautiful.... Oh God, Marika.
“But that isn’t really why,” continues Cassie.
“No?” Ringer doesn’t look at her; she watches the path, the river, waiting for a glimpse of Ben limping home with the spoils from his scavenging trip. “Why is it?”
“You know what I’m going to say,” Cassie points out. “That’s why these conversations with you are weird. It’s like the whole thing happens in our heads and there’s no point in talking at all.”
“This is happening in my head.”
“Yeah, because that’s where I live now.” Cassie kicks her feet idly, looking out over the river as well. “You should know by now - better than anyone except for me - that nothing ever really dies. And we were linked. Wonderland let me see into you, and the 12th System let you see into me, and from there - ”
“Into the seven billion.”
“Yes.” Cassie smiles again. Tired. Sad. Glowing. “I was humanity. And I’m a part of you now. That makes you humanity, Marika.”
We are the girl with the broken back sprawled in an empty room, waiting for the end to come.
It’s true. Cassie was with her at the end, waiting in the dark with the kill switch clutched in a desperate, sweaty palm. And she was with Cassie, falling off the edge of the world, pressing a green capsule between her lips and praying she wasn’t too late.
“Here they come,” says Cassie, wistfully.
With her enhanced eyesight, Ringer can see more than just the two figures approaching along the riverside path, limned in dusky golden sunlight; she can see the crow’s feet at the corners of Ben’s eyes, the freckles standing out against Sam’s sunburnt face. A bolt of intense, piercing love rips through her, and she isn’t sure if it’s hers or Cassie’s or if there’s even any point in trying to decide where one ends and the other begins.
Sammy’s here, Cassie had said when she emerged from Wonderland. And Ben, he’s here, too. They’re all here. The seven billion, part of her forever, now. She left Wonderland but Wonderland never left her. We are humanity. We are one.
We are humanity, Ringer thinks to herself, watching Cassie Sullivan’s baby brother return home with a well-used rifle slung over his shoulder. In us the rage, in us the grief, in us the fear. In us the faith, the hope, the love. We are humanity. Our name is Cassiopeia.