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“And when they post our research far and wide? What happens then?” Mahir didn’t sound annoyed, just curious. Even so, I was relieved when Becks crunched her empty soda can in her fist and chucked it into the trash can against the wall, where it landed with a rattling clunk.

“If the Masons post the things we’ve been withholding, they’ll be the target of the firestorm that follows,” she said. She sounded utterly calm. Her calm continued as she added, “Which means we can’t let them do it.”

“Hey!” I frowned at her. “I thought you were supposed to be on my side here.”

“I’m on the side that doesn’t get us slaughtered, Mason. Think about this for thirty seconds, why don’t you? We give them the key to the files. They unlock them, and go all kid in a candy store over the contents, since hey, their stupid son just gave them the scoop of the century. They toss it all online. And people everywhere stop shooting zombies because they think their loved ones might get ‘better.’ ”

I grimaced. “Not good.”

“Not good at all. And then the government will lean on the Masons to tell them where to find us, so we can be used to ‘prove’ that it was all a hoax.”

“Lovely,” said Mahir.

Becks shrugged. “If you’re going to think like a paranoid, you need to really commit to thinking like a paranoid.”

Mahir looked at her quizzically. “What makes you so good at it?”

“I’m from Connecticut,” said Becks. “It’s not a bad idea—going to the Masons may be the fastest way to get ourselves access to a reasonably safe way through some pretty bad territory, and since I’m not leaving the van without dipping myself in DDT, I’d like it if we could make the trip in reasonable safety. But you’re going to need another carrot to dangle in front of your freaky parents. Telling them how to get at our data isn’t the way.”

Yes, actually, said George, very quietly. It’s exactly the way.

“What are you—” I began, and froze. “Oh, no. No, you can’t be serious.”

You know I’m serious. It’s the best shot you’ve got.

“I won’t.”

You will.

Mahir and Becks had gotten good at knowing when I wasn’t actually talking to them. They watched me with varying degrees of impatience, waiting until I stopped protesting before Mahir broke in, asking, “What does Georgia say we should do?”

“You know, addressing my crazy by name doesn’t exactly help me stay sane,” I said.

“Nothing can help you stay sane at this point, Mason,” said Becks. “That ship has sailed. Now what does she say?”

I took a deep breath. “She wants me to sign her unpublished files over to the Masons. The stuff they were willing to take me to court over.” I stopped, waiting for them to protest. Neither of them said a word. I scowled. “Well?”

“It’s not a bad idea,” said Mahir slowly. “I mean, it’s true that her unpublished op-ed pieces were reasonably lucrative when we were able to publish regularly, but her news articles have been timing out at a fairly high rate. We’ve had our exclusive. If what’s left can be used to benefit us—”

“You’re f**king with me, right?” I stood, glaring at them, barely aware that my hands were balled into fists. I could hear George at the back of my head, telling me sternly to calm down, but I didn’t pay any attention. That was nice, in its way. I so rarely felt like I could ignore her anymore. “Those files are her private thoughts. They’re the last privacy she has left in this world. And you want me to just sign it over to those… those… those people?”

“Yes,” said Mahir, sounding utterly calm. “That’s exactly what we want. And I’d wager it’s what Georgia wants as well, or you’d not be so angry about it. You’d be laughing it off.”

“We’ve been using her private thoughts for our gain since she died,” said Becks. “I’ve been okay with that, because you’re okay with it. But, Shaun, you’re the one who really knows what she would have wanted. You’re the one who really knows her. If she were alive, would she be saying no, no way, not going to happen? Or would she be suggesting we stop f**king around and get our asses to Berkeley with the transfer papers already?”

George didn’t say anything. George didn’t need to say anything. I forced my fingers to unclench, waiting until I could feel my palms again before I looked away from Becks and Mahir, and said, “I’ll get the transfer papers drawn up before we leave. That way, all we have to do is hand them over and get the hell out of town.”

Thank you, murmured George. I felt the shadow of a hand brush my cheek, and shivered. I don’t believe in ghosts. Never have, never will. George is a figment of my overactive imagination, nothing more, and nothing less. But moments like that, when she touches me with other people in the room…

At moments like that, I genuinely believe that I’m haunted.

“You’re doing the right thing,” said Mahir. I glanced up, meeting his eyes without meaning to. He smiled. Just a little. Enough for me to see that he meant it. “You’re a crazy bastard, Shaun Mason, and I think sometimes you’re not going to be happy until you’ve managed to get every last one of us killed, but you’re a good man, all the same.”

“Remind me to have that inscribed on my urn,” I said, and Becks laughed, and things felt like they might be okay again. We had a direction. I didn’t like it; I didn’t have to. All I had to do was follow it, and let it lead me to whatever the next step on this increasingly insane journey would prove to be.


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