“You don’t know that,” said Mom. She seemed to be getting herself back under control. That probably wasn’t good. “They may just take you in for questioning.”
“The mosquitoes got loose while we were in the Memphis CDC, Ms. Mason.” Becks’s voice was as calm as it was unexpected. Mom’s head whipped around to stare at her. “If it hadn’t been for the storm—if it hadn’t been for bad timing—they would have been confined to Cuba. They would never have reached the coast without the wind to help them.”
“So?” demanded Mom.
“Stacy.” Dad’s voice was soft, thoughtful; the same sort of tone that George used to get when something occurred to her in the middle of the night. She’d wake me up and whisper in my ear in that soft, contemplative voice, telling me stories I only half heard, but that would be posted on our site within the week.
“What?” Mom turned back toward him, and consequentially, toward me.
“The weather maps do show that the mosquitoes originated in Cuba. They’re on record as a mutation. Some sort of horrible trick of natural selection.”
“You don’t believe that, do you, Mr. Mason?” asked Becks. “Doesn’t it seem a little pat? Twenty years of no insect vectors, and then one comes along at the right time to bury a news cycle no one wants to deal with? If it hadn’t been for the storm, we’d be hearing a lot of different stories right now. The Cuban tragedy would be dominating the news for the next year, and no one would ever hear about a break-in at a CDC facility, or about the corruption leading to the death of Dr. Kelly Connolly, granddaughter of the man who broke the news about the Rising.”
“But Tropical Storm Fiona had other ideas,” I said, taking up her argument. “Whoever let those mosquitoes loose wasn’t counting on a big ol’ wind sweeping in and carrying their nasty little pets to American soil. So the cycle got buried, and so did a lot of innocent people. It was a mistake. It still did its job. You never heard about any of that, did you?”
“No.” Dad stepped up behind me, and stepped around me, moving to stand beside Mom. Becks shifted her position, widening her stance as she adjusted to include him in her line of fire. “We never heard any of those things.”
“So either I’ve gone entirely out of my mind—which isn’t out of the question, I guess, since I talk to myself and everything; but if I’m crazy, I’ve managed to take my team with me—or someone is really out to get us. And whoever it is, they were willing to gamble with the Kellis-Amberlee virus in order to keep us out of the headlines.” I took a breath. “Lots of kids died in Florida, Mom. Lots of little kids. And not because they ran into dogs that hadn’t been chained up properly. Not because their parents did anything wrong. They got bit by mosquitoes, and it killed them, and it wasn’t fair. Just like what happened to Phillip wasn’t fair.”
“I told you not to talk about him,” she said. This time, the anger in her voice wasn’t there, and the tears were beginning to overflow her lower lids, starting their slow tracks down her cheeks. She looked old, and tired, and like the woman I’d only ever seen in pictures taken before I was even born. She looked like someone who could have loved me.
“Please. We’re trying to get to Florida because the family of one of our team members was there when the storm hit. His parents died. His little sister’s still alive. We promised him we’d get her out.”
Dad shook his head. “That’s not going to happen, son.”
What? demanded George.
“What?” I asked, half a heartbeat later.
“They’ve had our house under surveillance for weeks. Even if we’d wanted to hide your presence, we couldn’t have done it for long. They’ll be here any minute now.” He turned to his wife, my adopted mother, the first of the world’s true Irwins. “Stacy. It’s up to you.”
She hesitated. Then, finally, she nodded. Turning back to me, she said, “It’s not like Phillip at all, Shaun, because we couldn’t save him.” She turned her gun around, offering it to me butt-first. “Make it look realistic, and get the hell out of here.”
“You have maybe three minutes. Four, if you’re willing to leave the van and take mine instead—but you won’t do that, will you?” A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Michael, take Rebecca to the garage and get her set up with one of the portable jammers, will you?”
“Yes, dear,” he said. Then he paused, looking back at me, and said, “I’m proud of you, son. We didn’t do right by you or by your—by Georgia—but I’m proud of you, all the same. I think I have the right to that much.”
“Yeah, Dad. You do.”
“Thank you.” He motioned for Becks to follow him. “Come along, young lady.”
Becks glanced at me, eyes wide. I nodded, hoping the gesture would be reassuring, and not sure what I’d do if it wasn’t. “It’s okay, Becks,” I said. “I’ll be right there.”
“Just go. I promise, I’ll be right there.”
Still looking uncertain, she followed him out of the room. Their footsteps drifted back down the hall; then the door connecting the kitchen to the garage slammed, and even that was gone. I returned my attention to my mother.
“You sure?” I asked.
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