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But I don’t think we will.

Shaun is starting to crack. He’s covering it well, but I can see the fractures. During the outbreak yesterday, there were points where he just froze. It was like he wasn’t even a part of the situation anymore. I don’t know if he knows he’s doing it, and I’m scared. I’m scared he’s going to get one of us killed, and he’s never going to forgive himself. I’m scared he’s going to get even worse, and we’re going to let him, because we love him, and because we loved Georgia.

And I’m still going to follow him to Florida. God. My mother was right. I really am an idiot.

—From Charming Not Sincere, the blog of Rebecca Atherton, July 25, 2041. Unpublished.

She remained calm and reasonable throughout the encounter. She was able to ask coherent questions and give coherent answers. She remained controlled during the walk back to her room, and was able to return to her bed and feign normal sleep successfully enough to convince the orderly who came to relieve me. Stress fractures are still possible, but I believe we should continue as planned. I think this one is stable.

—Taken from a message sent by Dr. Gregory Lake, July 25, 2041. Recipient unknown.


The morning dawned bright and clean, with a clear blue sky that afforded absolutely no cloud cover. Any spy satellites that happened to pick up on our anomalous route—not many people take the back roads anymore, and fewer still do it in a way that allows them to skip all security checkpoints—would have a perfect line of sight.

“If we get picked up by the DEA on suspicion of being Canadian marijuana smugglers, I’m going to be pissed,” I muttered.

Becks looked up from her tablet, fingers still tracing an intricate dance across the screen. It was sort of unnerving that she could do that by nothing but the memory of where her apps were installed. I need a keyboard, or I lose my place in seconds. “What’s that?”

“Nothing.” I kept my eyes on the road.


I didn’t answer. We’d get into a fight if I did, and then Becks would have to pretend she didn’t mind sitting there listening while I argued with myself. Back at the lab, she’d been able to leave the room when that started. Now that we were on the road again, she had nowhere to run. And neither did I.

The reality of what we were doing was starting to sink in. Dr. Abbey had insisted we get some sleep after the lab cleanup was finished—although not before she’d drawn enough blood from me to keep her surviving lab monkeys busy for a couple of weeks. “Some of us have to work while you take your little road trip,” she’d said, like this was some sort of exciting pleasure cruise. Just me and Becks and the ghost of George, sailing gaily down the highway to meet our certain doom.

Not that we were actually on the highway unless we absolutely had to be. Dr. Abbey had installed a new module on our GPS, one programmed with all the underground and questionably secure stops between Shady Cove and Berkeley. Once that was done, Alaric and Mahir worked together to reprogram our mapping software, convincing it the roads we should take were the ones the system flagged as “least desirable.” So we left Shady Cove not via the convenient and well-maintained Highway 62, but on a narrow pre-Rising street called Rogue River Drive.

We’d been on the road for almost four hours, playing chicken with major highways the entire time. Alaric and Mahir’s mapping software sent us down a motley collection of frontage roads, residential streets, and half-forgotten rural back roads, all of them combining to trace roughly the same directional footprints as first Highway 62, and then Highway 5, the big backbone of the West Coast. As long as we stuck to the directions and didn’t get cocky, we’d be able to stay mostly off the radar. As for the rest of the time…

“We’re going to need to stop for gas in fifty miles or so,” said Becks, attention focusing on her tablet. She tapped the screen twice; out of the corner of my eye, I saw the graphics flash and divide, changing to some new configuration. “Do we have any viable gas stations?”

“Let me check the map.” I took one hand off the wheel and pushed a button at the front of our clip-on GPS device, saying, “Secure gas.”

“Recalculating route,” replied the GPS. The module had the same pleasant Canadian voice as Dr. Abbey’s main computer. “Please state security requirements.”

“Uh, we’d like to not die, if that’s okay with you,” I said.

“Recalculating route.”

“Notice how she says that no matter what we ask for?” I slanted a glance at Becks. “Half the time she doesn’t even change her mind about where we’re going.”

“Maybe she’s just f**king with you.”

“The thought had crossed my mind.”

“The nearest secure gas station is approximately twenty-seven miles from your current location,” announced the GPS. “Do you wish to continue?”

Becks looked up. “Define ‘secure.’ ”

“The station is located in a designated hazard zone, and has been officially abandoned for the past eighteen years. Security systems are running at acceptable levels. The last known transmission was received three days ago, and indicated the availability of fuel, food, and ammunition.”

“Works for me,” I said. “Let’s go.”

“Recalculating route,” said the GPS, and went silent, a new set of street names flashing on the tiny screen.


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