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If she’s the real deal, then awesome, the laws of science have been twisted even further away from what they were intended to be. Bully for the laws of science. And if she’s not the real deal…

If she’s not the real deal, I’m pretty sure she’s going to get us all killed.

—From Charming Not Sincere, the blog of Rebecca Atherton, August 3, 2041. Unpublished.

SHAUN: Twenty-eight

There was no handy text-based adventure game to guide us back to the Brainpan, which meant I had to drive, since I was the one who’d driven us there the first time. I didn’t appreciate being separated from George. I’ve never been clingy—codependent, sure, according to every psychologist I’ve ever talked to, but not clingy. That didn’t mean I appreciated having her out of arm’s reach now that she was alive again.

The need to have her where I could touch her would fade, given time. I was sure of it. Or at least I hoped I was sure of it, and not just lying to myself.

You’ve had a lot of practice lying to yourself, commented Georgia. She didn’t sound angry. Just resigned.

“Quiet,” I mumbled.

Maggie, who was sitting in the passenger seat, gave me a sidelong look but didn’t say anything. I appreciated that. I had absolutely no idea what I would have said in return.

In the back of the van, Mahir and Becks—mostly Mahir—were quizzing George, trying to feel out the limits of what she knew. She fielded most of their questions without hesitation. I stopped breathing a little bit every time they asked her something and she didn’t answer right away, waiting for the sound of Becks taking the safety off her gun, but George recovered every time. If there were questions she wasn’t going to get right, they weren’t the kind of questions the two of them would think to ask.

I didn’t care what answers were hidden in the three percent of herself she’d lost by dying and coming back to life again. She’d already given me all the answers I needed.

Maggie surreptitiously hit the button to seal the doors as we drove through the neighborhood leading to the Brainpan. Her worried glances out the window confirmed the reason why. Even after visiting and surviving once, the decay of the buildings disturbed her.

“It’ll be okay, Maggie,” I said. “I doubt anyone lives here except the crazy people we’re on our way to visit. And sure, they may decide to shoot us and store our bodies in the freezer or something, but at least that’s a normal thing, right?”

She muttered something in sour-sounding Spanish before saying, “It was never normal before I started traveling with you.”

“See? It’s like I always say. Travel is broadening.”

Maggie showed me a finger.

I clucked my tongue. “Really? You’re going to flip me off? I mean, jeez, Maggie. In the last twenty-four hours, I’ve broken into the CDC—”

“Again,” called Becks from the backseat. “Don’t forget Portland.”

“—okay, point, broken into the CDC again, which, PS, kind of blew up while I was still there, seen my sister come back from the dead, and had a lot of coffee. It’s going to take more than a middle finger to upset me.”

Maggie raised both hands, backs to me, and showed me two fingers.

I nodded agreeably. “Much better. Hey, look! There’s the serial killer van!” It seemed a little odd to use a burned-out pre-Rising van as a landmark, but it made a certain amount of sense. In a neighborhood as decrepit as this one, you couldn’t exactly use paint colors or house numbers to navigate, and saying “turn at the house that looks like it was painted to blend in with viscera” would probably inspire even less confidence than “turn at the serial killer van.”

“Goodie,” said Maggie.

“You don’t sound excited.”

“That’s because I would rather be home, with my dogs, writing  p**n ,” she said.

I glanced over at her. “Soon you will be.”

She didn’t have anything to say to that.

The van bumped and jounced down the driveway to the Brainpan. I parked outside the garage and killed the engine, waiting.

George poked her head up between the seats. “Is there a reason we’re just sitting here?”

“Yes.”

“And that reason would be…?”

“The house is full of crazy people who would love an excuse to shoot us in one or more of our extremities—probably more—so we’re going to wait in the car until they tell us we’re allowed to go inside.” Said aloud, it sounded even more ridiculous than it really was. That wasn’t enough to make me move.

“Crazy people like that one?” asked George, pointing toward my window.

I turned.

The Fox was perched in one of the half-dead trees still clinging to the soil around the edges of the yard. She’d somehow managed to become almost unnoticeable, despite her tricolored hair and rainbow leg warmers. She raised one hand in a jaunty wave when she saw us looking her way. Then she jumped easily down to the cracked dirt of what used to be lawn, sauntering toward the van.

I had the driver’s-side window rolled down by the time she reached us. My hands were resting on the dashboard, clearly visible.

“Hi!” she said, peering past me to George. There was a large gun in her hands. I was reasonably sure it hadn’t been there when she jumped out of the tree, and I knew I hadn’t seen her draw it. My conviction that this woman was not just crazy, but very, very dangerous, grew. “What’s your name? You weren’t here before.”

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