Alaric would be staying with Dr. Abbey; that hadn’t changed. He was our best technician. If it became necessary for the lab to move while we were still on the road, he’d be too useful for Dr. Abbey to just ditch, and he’d be able to keep the rest of us aware of its location. Besides, I didn’t trust him in the field when his sister’s safety was on the line. He was likely to do something impulsive and get himself hurt, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to force myself to stay on the road instead of running straight back to Dr. Abbey and her advanced medical facilities. Especially since by “advanced,” I meant “better than a first aid kit.” We were still off the grid. If one of us got messed up, the hospital wasn’t going to be an option.
Maggie and Mahir, meanwhile, were going to head farther up the coast, leaving the wilds of Oregon for the dubious safety of Seattle. Maggie’s plan was to go back on the grid as soon as possible, reclaiming her position as heir to the Garcia family fortune, and presenting Mahir as her latest boy toy. “People like their circuses when the news gets bad,” she’d said, a perverse twinkle in her eyes. “I’m a Fictional, remember? I’m going to tell them a story so flashy they won’t even think to ask where I’ve been.” Alaric wasn’t thrilled about the “boy toy” part, but it was solid. They would use her celebrity as a cover while they made contact with the Seattle underground, and located the man everyone called “the Monkey.” He could cook new IDs for my whole team, IDs that were good enough to let us disappear forever, if things came to that.
Most of us, anyway. Maggie came to see me on the fifth day after we began planning our departure. I was clearing my things out of the van. I’d been sleeping there most nights, preferring the illusory privacy of its familiar walls to the dubious comforts of the dormlike sleeping arrangements inside the Forestry Center. The garage wasn’t secure, but the van was, once the doors were locked.
She knocked once on the open rear door, and then just stood there, waiting.
I looked up. “Yeah?”
“You know we’re not getting me an ID from the Monkey, don’t you?” Her expression was a mixture of resignation and resolve. She looked like a heroine from one of the horror movies she loved so much, and in that moment, I really understood what Dave—one of the many teammates I’d buried since this whole thing started—and Alaric saw in her. She was beautiful.
And she was right. “Yeah, I do.” I put down the toolbox I was holding, moving to take a seat on the bumper. “You can’t disappear.”
“If it weren’t for the fact that my bio-tracker is still registering with my parents, I wouldn’t even be able to stay underground for this long.” Maggie touched the skin above her collarbone. Her parents had implanted a subdermal bio-tracker beneath the bone when she was still in diapers. It didn’t come with a “trace” function—Maggie’s misguided teenage years before she discovered journalism were proof that they’d been telling her the truth about that—but it enabled them to sleep soundly at night, serene in the knowledge that their only child was still alive.
“We could have it removed.”
“If anything would switch this thing from transmitting my vitals to actively giving them a location, that would do it.” Maggie sat down next to me. “It’s too risky.”
I looked at her levelly. “It’s too risky, and you don’t really want to disappear, do you?”
“It’s not that! It’s just… it’s…” She took a breath, stopping herself before she could go any further. Finally, reluctantly, she nodded. “You’re right. I don’t want to disappear. I don’t want to do that to my parents, and I miss my house. I miss my dogs. I miss my Fictionals. They have to be so worried. I’ve never done this to them before, not once. Alaric and I talked about this. He’s not happy, but… it’s what has to happen.”
Tell her you understand, said George.
“I understand,” I said, and even if I had to be prompted into the words, I meant them. Maggie had already given up a lot to stay with us this long, more than any of my team members except for maybe Mahir. Alaric’s family would have been in Florida no matter where he worked. Becks hadn’t spoken to her family in years. She was a lot like Georgia that way; both of them found the news and ran for it with open arms, not caring what got left behind in the process. But Maggie wasn’t like that. Maggie was different.
Maggie was looking at me hopefully, like she could barely bring herself to believe I was really saying the words she was hearing. “I know I’m letting you down.”
“You’re not.” I’m not a huggy person. I used to be more physically affectionate—not excessively so, but enough that I didn’t seem standoffish. That was George’s job. I took the hugs that were aimed at her. I haven’t felt like hugging people very often since she died. I still leaned over and put my arm around Maggie’s shoulders, giving her a brief squeeze. The situation seemed to call for it.
“Really?” she whispered.
“Really. Your parents would tear down the world trying to find you if you stayed gone too long. That’s cool. That’s sort of awesome, if you think about it. Becks’s family hates her. Alaric’s family is dead. Mahir’s family is in England, and they probably think he’s insane. And the Masons…” I stopped, the sentence coming to a halt.
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