“You’re wrong.” Her voice was firm enough to surprise me. She met my eyes without flinching, and repeated, “You’re wrong. Dr. Wynne wasn’t kidding when he said that whoever’s behind this would have been able to get away with everything if you’d been the one who died. You know that, right? I would have believed Tate when he started ranting about how he was behind everything, just him, from the start. I would have been so eager for a black and white solution, for a villain I didn’t have to feel any conflict about… I would have believed him.”
“I believed him,” I whispered.
“Not all the way. If you’d believed him all the way—if you’d believed him the way I would have believed him—you would have done what we both know I would have done. You would have written your reports, held my funeral, gone home, and killed yourself.” She smiled faintly. “Probably by overdosing on everything in our field kit before blowing the top of your head off. You never were one for leaving things to chance.”
“What would you have done?”
“Slit my wrists in the bathtub,” she said matter-of-factly. “Even if I amplified before I bled out, the bathroom security sensors would never have let me out into the house. I would have been bleached to death. The Masons would have had to pay if they wanted to clear the outbreak off their home owner’s insurance, and you and I could have sat in the afterlife and laughed at them until we both cried.”
Now it was my turn to smile. “That sounds like something you’d do,” I agreed.
“But I didn’t get the chance.” She leaned over. This time, she was the one to reach for me, and when her fingertips grazed my skin, I felt it. Tactile hallucinations aren’t a good sign of mental health, but sometimes I feel like they’re the only things letting me keep body and soul together. “You got it. And you were stronger than I would have been. You’re stronger than you think you are. All you’ve ever needed to do was let yourself see it.”
“I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.”
“Not too much longer, I’d wager,” said Mahir, from behind me. His normally crisp accent was blurred around the edges, like he was too tired to worry about being understood by the Americans. “How’s it coming?”
“About as well as can be expected,” I said, stealing one last look at Georgia before I turned, casting an easy smile in his direction. I didn’t need to look back to know that George was gone. She generally disappeared as soon as I took my eyes off her. I was seeing her more often with every day that passed, and that was wonderful, because I missed her so much, and it was terrible, because it meant I was running out of time.
We can cure cancer. We can cure the common cold. But no one, anywhere, ever, has found a reliable cure for crazy.
“Maggie spoke with you?”
I nodded. “She wanted to make sure I knew she wouldn’t be coming back from Seattle.”
“And you were all right with that?” Mahir walked toward me, stopping when he was still a few feet clear of the van. Maggie was a much more touchy-feely kind of person than he was. I appreciated that. One hug per day was pretty much my limit.
“No,” I admitted. “I don’t want her to go. The rest of us… You’re going to be able to put your own name back on when you get home, but the rest of us, we’re done. We’ll be lucky if we don’t wind up hiding in Canada being chased by zombie moose for the rest of our lives.”
“There’s always the chance we’ll successfully manage to bring down the United States government somehow, and that will negate the need to flee to Canada,” said Mahir helpfully.
I gave him a startled look. He smirked, fighting unsuccessfully to keep himself from smiling. Somehow, that was even funnier than what he’d said. I started laughing. So did he. We were both still laughing five minutes later, when Becks came out to the garage with a can of soda in one hand and a perplexed look on her face.
“Did I miss something?” she asked.
“We’re going to topple the US government!” I informed her.
Becks appeared to think about that for a moment. Then she shrugged, cracking the tab on her soda at the same time, and replied, “Okay. Works for me.”
Mahir and I burst out laughing again. Becks waited patiently for us to stop, taking occasional sips from her soda. Finally, I wiped my eyes with the heel of my hand, and said, still snickering, “Okay. Okay, I think we’re done now. Did you see Maggie?”
“I did. She said something about you and me heading to Berkeley to kill your parents?”
“That’s not quite what I said, but I guess it’s close enough. We’re going to Berkeley to ask the Masons if they’ll tell us how to find a clear route into the Florida hazard zone.”
“And what will you be giving them in return?” asked Mahir.
I sighed. “You know, I really kind of miss the days when I could just e-mail a memo to the team, and everybody would know what was going on, and I wouldn’t have to repeat things seventeen times.”
Not that you ever remembered to send the memos, said George.
“Because you did that so often,” said Becks, saving me from the need to respond to someone no one else could hear. Again.
“I could have done it, if I’d wanted to,” I countered. “That made the endless repetition a choice, and hence way less irritating. I’m going to tell them how to unlock the flat-drop of all our files. The one I had Alaric send while we were running from Memphis.”
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