“Sometimes. Rebecca? What can I get you?”
“It all looks fantastic, Ms. Mason. I’d like some of everything, if that isn’t too much trouble.”
“Nonsense. Why would I have cooked if I didn’t want you to eat?” Mom made a flapping gesture with her free hand, indicating one of the empty seats. “Michael, sit down. Shaun’s big pronouncement can wait until you have something in you.”
“Yes, dear,” he said, and sat. He winked at me, clearly trying to look conspiratorial, like we were the same because Mom was making us both eat. I ignored it, spearing a slice of “ham” with my fork rather than trying to come up with a less violent response. Anything I said would have ended with my screaming at someone—or maybe just screaming. The room, the hour, the false domesticity, it was rubbing at my nerves even more than I’d been afraid it would.
I may be a haunted house, but that doesn’t mean I was emotionally equipped to sit in someone else’s haunting, eating breakfast and pretending everything was normal.
It took about ten minutes to eat our breakfasts. While we ate, silence reigned, broken only by the clank of silverware against ceramic and the occasional sound of someone chewing a bit too loud. I kept catching glimpses of George. She was sitting in one of the otherwise empty seats, no plate in front of her, watching mournfully as the rest of us ate. She disappeared if I looked at her directly, and I was glad. If I’d been forced to sit in this house, with these people, looking at her ghost, I think I would have finally gone all the way insane.
At last, Dad pushed his plate away, patting his lips with his napkin, and turned a calm gaze on me. Becks was all but ignored; she’d had her opportunity to be a part of this little drama, to either side with the Masons or establish herself as a third party, and she’d chosen to stick with me. That meant she was basically a nonentity as far as he was concerned.
“Well, Shaun?” he asked. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“We need your help,” I said again, not sure where else to start.
“With what, dear?” asked Mom, tilting her head inquisitively to the side. Light glinted off her diamond earring. My mother never slept in diamond earrings. That was a miniaturized camera. It had to be. She was recording us.
That wasn’t unexpected. “Becks and I need to get to Florida without being stopped by the border patrols,” I said, not bothering to sugarcoat the words. “I know you know people who can get you past the hazard lines. I need to know them, too.”
“Why don’t you go looking for your own contacts?” asked Dad. “You’ve never asked us to do your research for you before.”
“Because there isn’t time, and because any contacts I could find that easily wouldn’t be as good as the ones you’ve been working on for years.” I shrugged. “I’m smart enough to know a plan is only as good as the tools you use to carry it out.”
“How were you planning to deal with the mosquitoes?” asked Mom. “Florida’s a death sentence right now.”
“Bug spray,” said Becks. “Mosquito netting. The things they’ve been using to stay alive in regions with malaria problems for generations.”
“Kellis-Amberlee is a bit nastier than malaria, young lady,” said Dad.
“Guess that ‘Miss Atherton’ routine couldn’t last, huh?” I took another slice of fake ham. “We have a plan for handling the bugs. What we don’t have is a way to get to Florida without getting arrested.”
“What you’re asking for, Shaun… this isn’t some little trinket. This is the name of a trusted ally, one who might never work with us again after we sell you his or her identity.” Mom’s eyes narrowed, that familiar calculating gleam lighting them from within. “What are you prepared to give us in exchange?”
A momentary silence fell over the room, the Masons staring at me in startled surprise, Becks sitting by my side, and all of us waiting to see what would happen next. Then, finally, Dad began to smile. For the first time since we’d arrived, it actually looked sincere.
“Well, why didn’t you say so? Let’s go upstairs. You kids are going to need a map.”
Dr. Abbey is edgy, which is making everyone in the lab edgy, which is making me edgy. I never realized how much space my coworkers occupied until they were gone. I keep expecting to find Mahir at one of the terminals, or have Maggie chase me out of the bathroom, or run into Shaun arguing with the air like he doesn’t give a f**k who sees him being bat-shit crazy. It doesn’t help that Dr. Abbey lost almost a third of her people in the security failure—and it doesn’t make sense that the security failed. It’s like the protocols all reset at the same time, and that sort of thing doesn’t happen by mistake.
If someone here is letting the dead things out to play, then someone is feeding information back to whoever’s driving this crazy train to hell. If someone here is against us, then the people responsible for all this know exactly where we are and what we’re doing.
God, I’m scared.
—From The Kwong Way of Things, the blog of Alaric Kwong, July 27, 2041. Unpublished.
Michael’s gone to pick up Phillip from his school. My office has been shut down for the day, and I managed to get to the Andronico’s before they closed the doors. We should have enough canned food to see us through the next week—maybe more than that, if it’s necessary. We have a high fence. We have good doors. We’re going to be fine.
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