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“It’s not your fault,” said Maggie, filling the space with the words she assumed I needed to hear. “They were broken a long time before you came to live with them. It’s not your fault you couldn’t fix them.”

“The flat-drop.”

“What?”

“The flat-drop!” I turned to face her, grabbing her shoulders in my excitement. “We sent them a copy of our files when we were on the run from Memphis. I mean, we were going to die, so someone needed to have the data, right? Only I told Alaric he could encrypt the f**k out of them if he wanted to, and since the Masons haven’t suddenly started ‘discovering’ lots of corruption inside the CDC, I guess he must have used a pretty damn good encryption.”

“You’re not making any sense,” said Maggie, eyes wide.

“No, see, this is perfect! I was worried about how Becks and I were going to get into the hazard zone without getting caught, but the Masons practically invented breaking into hazard zones! They’re pioneers in the field!” I laughed, mainly from relief. “All we have to do is show up on their doorstep and offer to crack those files in exchange for a low-risk route into Florida, and they’ll jump at it. They’ll have to.”

“What if they don’t?”

“Then I’ll shoot their kneecaps out.” I didn’t realize I meant it until the words were said. The Masons raised me. The Masons gave me the greatest gift anyone has ever given me: George. But they were never really my parents, because they never wanted to be, and if they were what stood between me and what I needed to do, then they needed to be moved.

“Um,” said Maggie. She pulled away from me and stood. “Well, okay, if that’s what works. Really, though. Thank you for understanding.”

“Thank you for being willing to go to Seattle with Mahir,” I replied. “You heading back inside?”

“Yeah. Will you be out here long?”

“Not too long.”

“If you’re not inside by dinner, I’ll send someone to get you.” She walked away, her long brown braid swaying with every step. It was hard to believe that she was planning to use “bored heiress” as her cover during the trip up the coast. It was harder to believe that the news media would probably buy it.

“You need to be careful what you say around people, ass**le,” said George. I hadn’t felt the van settle when she sat down, because she wasn’t really there. I couldn’t keep myself from feeling vaguely disappointed all the same. “Look at me when I’m talking to you.”

“Sorry.” I turned to face my dead sister, offering her a small smile. “Hi, George. How’re you tonight?”

“Worried,” she said. “You need to be careful. Everyone’s already on edge without you going around talking about shooting people.”

“I haven’t hit anyone since we got here.”

“That doesn’t mean they’re not waiting for you to start.” Her expression dared me to argue. I couldn’t, and so I just looked at her instead.

Maybe the fact that George sometimes appears to me is a symptom of the fact that I’m sliding farther and farther down the funhouse chute into insanity, but at moments like these, I can’t force myself to care. When she died—when I shot her—I thought that was it; I would never see her again, except in pictures, and in my dreams. Only it turns out that’s not true, thanks to my slipping grasp on reality. See? There are upsides to going crazy.

She still looked almost exactly like she did on that last day in Sacramento, pale-skinned from her near-pathological avoidance of sunlight, with dark brown hair cut in a short, efficient style she sometimes maintained with a pair of craft scissors. She was frowning. Since that was the expression she wore most often when she was alive, that was right, too. Really, if it hadn’t been for the clear brown of her irises, she would have been indistinguishable from herself. If I could just convince my hallucination to put on a pair of sunglasses, the illusion would be perfect.

George frowned. “Shaun. Are you listening to me?”

“I am. I swear, I am.” I reached one hand toward her face, stopping just short of the point where my fingertips would have failed to brush her skin. “I always listen to you.”

“You just ignore what I have to say about half the time, is that it?” George sighed. I let my hand drop. As long as I didn’t try to touch her, I didn’t have to think of her as what she was. Dead. “Shaun—”

“It’s good to see you.”

“It’s bad that you can see me. You need to talk to Dr. Abbey. Maybe she can put you on antipsychotics or something until this is all over.”

“I’ll go psychotic if I go on antipsychotics, which sort of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?” I was trying to make it sound like a joke. We both knew I wasn’t kidding. The one time I’d tried to block her out, I’d nearly committed suicide. “I can’t take the silence, George. You know that.”

“You asked once if I was going to haunt you forever, remember?”

“That was before Florida.” I held up my left hand, showing her the faint scarring on my biceps. “That was before we found out that I’m immune to Kellis-Amberlee. That was before a lot of things.”

“You know you’re immune because we—”

“I know.” I sighed, letting my hand drop. “Things are all f**ked up. I was supposed to be the one who died. I’m not equipped to deal with this shit.”

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