With no real idea where we were going, and nothing I could do to help, I contented myself with pulling up the site archive on the local server and reading as we drove down the length of Washington State and into Oregon. This was a slower, more careful read than my earlier looting for information; I could take the time to really absorb what I was looking at, rather than just clicking the next report as quickly as possible. There was even a link to the site’s financials. I was somehow unsurprised to see that Shaun had maintained ownership of my files, and was using them to finance a large percentage of the site’s overhead. I was one of the higher-profile journalist deaths since the Rising. That made me fascinating, and made my previously unpublished op-ed pieces lucrative, even when they’d been written to parallel events that happened years before. That’s the human race. Always willing to slow down and look at the train wreck.
Becks kept watch from the passenger seat while Shaun drove. The route he chose involved a disturbing number of frontage roads and narrow trails that were basically glorified footpaths. He drove them like they were familiar, and after everything that he and the others had been through since I died, they probably were. I stopped reading and leaned back in my seat, closing my eyes for just a moment, missing the familiar ache I used to get whenever I forced myself to look at a brightly lit computer screen for too long. I never thought I’d miss having retinal KA, but now it was just one more thing about my life that I was never going to get back.
This was my fault. I was the one who pressured Shaun into agreeing to follow the Ryman campaign, and together we’d strong-armed Buffy into going along with us. If I’d just been willing to work my way up through the ranks the way everyone else did, taking it one step at a time instead of rocketing straight to the top—
Then someone else would have died in my place, and in Buffy’s place, and someone else’s brother would be the one making this drive. This was all going to happen eventually. The only thing that made us special was the thing that has distinguished one journalist from another since the first reporter found a way to distinguish gossip from the real headline story: We were the ones on the scene when everything went down. We weren’t better. We weren’t worse. We were just the ones standing in the blast radius.
Everything that happened from there was inevitable.
That didn’t absolve us of blame—there’s always blame when the wrong stories get told and the wrong secrets get out—but even if we weren’t innocent now, we were then. We really believed in what we were doing. It wasn’t our fault that we were wrong.
I drifted off reading Alaric’s analysis of the political situation after Ryman’s election—situation normal, all f**ked up, with some interesting developments in the regulation of larger mammals and a few changes to the rules for determining hazard zones, but nothing earth-shaking—and woke to see the first rays of false dawn painting the edge of the sky in shades of pollution pink and caution tape gold. Becks was driving. Shaun was asleep in the passenger seat, his head lolling back and his mouth hanging slightly open. He looked exhausted.
Becks must have heard me stirring. She glanced at the rearview mirror, her reflected eyes meeting mine, and raised one eyebrow. That was all she needed to do; the message couldn’t have been easier to understand if she’d posted it on the front page of our news site.
I nodded. I understood, and I wasn’t going to hurt him. Not if I had any choice in the matter.
My mouth felt like the ass-end of a Tuesday morning. I cleared my throat and asked, “Where are we?”
“Oregon. We’re almost there.”
I paused, trying to convince myself I’d heard wrong. It didn’t work. Finally, I demanded, “What?”
Shaun didn’t flinch. Becks replied, “Shady Cove, Oregon. Our friend Dr. Abbey has a lab there. Right now, anyway. She’ll probably move it soon. Possibly after she demands that we let her dissect you.”
“In Shady Cove.”
“But there’s nothing in Shady Cove.” Shady Cove, Oregon, was on the list of cities abandoned after the Rising, when the economic cost of rebuilding was determined too great to balance out the benefits. We’d take it back someday, when the great march of progress demanded we leave the dead with no country of their own. Until then, Shady Cove would stand empty, just like Santa Cruz, California, and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and Warsaw, Indiana, and a hundred other towns and cities around the world.
“That’s why she has her lab there,” said Becks curtly, before leaning over and snapping the radio on. Further conversation was rendered moot by the sound of a pre-Rising pop star informing us, loudly and with enthusiasm, that she was a rock star.
Shaun jerked upright, eyes open, hand going to the pistol at his belt. “Wha—”
“Settle, Mason. We can’t all be as polite as the wakeup call at Maggie’s fancy-ass hotel,” said Becks, turning the radio down again now that its purpose had been achieved. “We’re almost there. I need you on watch.”
“Right.” Shaun ground the heels of his hands against his eyes, wiping the sleep away. This time he finished the process of drawing the pistol from his belt, flicking off the safety. Once he was done, he twisted in his seat, shooting his old, familiar, who-gives-a-fuck? grin in my direction. “Sleep well?”
“Like a rock,” I said. I almost said “like the dead,” but realized he might not take that well. Like it or not, Shaun was going to be a little sensitive about that sort of thing for a while. Possibly forever.
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