“I don’t care.” Alaric stood, stepping forward so that he and Mahir were almost nose to nose. Mahir was easily four inches taller. At the moment, that didn’t seem to matter. “Alisa is the last family I have left. I’m not letting them abandon her in a hazard zone.”
“And as your immediate superior, I’m not letting you throw your life away running into a hazard zone.”
“Does he really think that’s going to work?” asked Becks.
“Would you have done it for his sister?” Alaric thrust out his arm, pointing at me. “If it were George in that hazard zone, would you have stopped him? Or would you have been putting on your protective gear and saying it was an honor to die trying to save her?”
“Hey, guys, let’s settle down, okay?” Maggie cast a nervous look in my direction as she stood and tried to push her way between them. “Inciting Shaun to kill us all isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time.”
“I don’t know,” said Dr. Abbey. “It might take care of a few problems. It would definitely cut down on the grocery bills.”
She’s really not fond of helping, is she? asked George.
“No, she’s not,” I replied, and stood. Becks, who was now the only one still sitting, gave me a worried look, like she wasn’t sure whether I was about to try defusing the situation or start punching people. I couldn’t blame her. Before Memphis, I wouldn’t have been sure either, and it wasn’t like I’d been exactly stable since then.
But the one thing I learned in Memphis—the one thing I was sure of now, even if I hadn’t been sure of it before—was that my team was the only thing I had, and if I didn’t want to lose them, I needed to take care of them. Somehow.
“Okay, everybody,” I said. “Settle down.”
“Shaun—” Alaric began.
“You’re part of everybody. So shut up. Mahir? We’re not abandoning Alaric’s sister. We wouldn’t abandon yours, we’re not abandoning his.”
“I don’t have a sister,” said Mahir.
“Yeah, well, join the club. Alaric?” I took a step toward him, letting my anger show in my eyes for a fraction of a second. Alaric paled. I might not be willing to lose my team, but that didn’t mean I was willing to let certain things go. “Calm down. We’ll figure this out. And don’t you ever, ever use George against any of us, ever again. Do I make myself clear?”
Alaric nodded, pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. “Extremely.”
“Good. Thanks for trying to calm things down, Maggie.”
She didn’t say anything. But she smiled wanly, and I knew the comment was appreciated.
Good job, said George.
“Thanks,” I replied. I looked to Dr. Abbey and asked, “Why are you telling us this? It’s like Becks said—you would have just left a note on the refrigerator, if all you wanted to do was make us aware that things are shitty. Everyone knows things are shitty. This isn’t news.”
“Not that it’s stopping ‘everything in Florida is shitty’ from dominating the news cycles right now,” said Becks. “What impresses me is the way it’s dominating them without most people actually knowing anything.”
“Welcome to the modern media world,” said Alaric.
Dr. Abbey had been waiting while we got the last of the nervous chatter out of the way. Not saying a word—not yet—she pressed a button on her remote. The video froze and vanished, replaced by an atlas-style road map. It could have been anywhere in the world, if not for the label identifying the thickest line as the border between Florida and Alabama. A small red star popped up on the Florida side of the line.
“The Ferry Pass Refugee Center,” said Dr. Abbey serenely. She’d been setting us up for this moment. I would have been impressed, if I hadn’t wanted to punch her. “The middle school has been turned into a holding area for people who were evacuated from the primary outbreak zones before evacuations ceased.”
“You know where Alisa is?” Alaric’s voice was suddenly small. We’d been getting updates from his sister since she was transferred to the camp, but she’d never been able to tell us where that camp was located. Alaric thought it was because things were too hectic, and the rest of us were willing to let him keep thinking that until we had something better to tell him. Because in my experience, when people are kept isolated “for their own safety” and not told where they are, those people are probably never going to be seen or heard from again.
“Camps were established in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama after Tropical Storm Fiona hit. People were assigned to them supposedly at random, although the Florida camps received a higher than average percentage of the poor, children without surviving parents, and journalists who’d been arrested inside the quarantine zone. The Georgia camps were evacuated last week. They’re evacuating the Alabama camps tomorrow.”
“And the Florida camps?” asked Mahir.
“Are considered a lower priority, due to the chance that they’ve already been contaminated. Luck of the draw, I suppose.” Her tone was blackly amused, like it was that or start breaking things. “One more tragedy for a summer already packed chock-full of tragedies.”
“They can’t do this,” said Becks.
“It’s already done. The only question is whether they’re going to get caught, and so far, the answer’s been ‘no.’ Things are chaotic. No one knows exactly what’s going on, and the people carrying out the orders aren’t the ones giving them. As long as no one ever gives the order that says ‘let those people die, they don’t matter,’ nothing illegal is being done.” A small, bitter smile twisted the edges of Dr. Abbey’s lips. “Trust me. I’m a scientist. We know all about the art of skirting ethics.”
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