“No.” She laughed a little, still holding her gun out to me. “But hell, when have I been sure about anything? I think the last time I was absolutely sure of something was in July of 2014. I was sure that was going to be the summer when I finally learned how to swim.”
“Mom…” I stopped, realizing I had no idea what else I could say to this woman. We were family and we were strangers. She was my mother and my teacher and the one person I had never been able to please, no matter how hard I tried or how much I played the clown. I took the gun from her hand. “What are you going to tell them?”
“That you realized we’d called the authorities, and ran.” Her eyes were clear and calm. “Or maybe I won’t tell them anything. The choice is yours.”
It took me a moment to realize that she was saying I could shoot her: She was unarmed, and I had her gun. They wouldn’t be able to use the ballistics to trace me, or to conclusively prove I’d pulled the trigger while she was still alive. I shook my head. “Tell them whatever you have to in order to get them off your back, and then find a way to get to Florida. Alaric’s sister is named Alisa Kwong. She’s in the Ferry Pass Refugee Center. Get her out.”
I stepped forward, leaning in to kiss her forehead the way she used to kiss mine when there was an appropriate photo opportunity. Until that moment, I hadn’t really realized that I was taller than her now. “Do what you couldn’t do for us, Mom,” I said. “Love her. Until Alaric can come back for her, just love her.”
She nodded. “I’ll try,” she said. “That’s all that I can promise.”
“That’s fine.” I smiled at her. She smiled back. She was still smiling when I slammed the gun into her temple. I wasn’t trying to knock her out—the human head is thicker than most movies want you to believe, and knocking someone out without killing them is a precise science—just catch her off guard. I managed that. She staggered backward with a shout, the skin split and bleeding above her eye. That was going to be one hell of a shiner.
She didn’t grab for the gun. She didn’t swear at me. She just clapped a hand over the wound and pointed to the door, saying, “Go. We’ll take care of things from here.”
I went. As I ran through the kitchen, I threw Mom’s gun into the sink. It was still half-full of soapy dishwater. The gun sank into the bubbles. I broke into a run.
Dad and Becks were in the garage with the door standing open. The sky was starting to lighten, hints of sunrise creeping up around the edges. “Come on,” I said, gesturing for Becks to follow me. “Dad—”
“The scanner says they’re eight blocks out. Miss Atherton has the jammer. Now go.” He adjusted his glasses with one hand. His shoulder was bleeding copiously. There was no telling what Becks had used to make the wound. Mom’s toolbox provided a wealth of possibilities.
He saw me looking and smiled. I smiled back and kept going, heading for the van. Becks ran behind me, a boxy object cradled under one arm that I recognized as one of Mom’s highly prized, highly illegal jammers. If we were caught with it, we’d be looking at a nice long stay in prison… assuming we lived long enough to get there, which seemed less than likely. But Becks was laughing when we reached the van, adrenaline and exhaustion bubbling over, and I joined in, and we threw ourselves inside just as soon as we could get the locks to disengage.
I didn’t even bother to fasten my seat belt before I started the engine and slammed my foot down on the gas. Becks put the jammer on the dashboard, connecting it to the stereo’s USB power outlet before turning it on. A soft white-noise whine filled the cab, more psychological than anything else; it was there so we would know the equipment was working.
The sound of sirens was just beginning to split the Berkeley air when we turned the corner, gathering speed all the while, and we were gone.
You really can’t go home again.
Sometimes, that’s a good thing.
Sometimes, when you try, you find out that home isn’t there anymore… but that it wasn’t only in your head before. Home actually existed. Home wasn’t just a dream.
Sometimes, that’s the best thing of all.
—From Adaptive Immunities, the blog of Shaun Mason, July 28, 2041. Unpublished.
Seattle is gray, damp, and far too proud of being surrounded on all sides by trees which never lose their leaves and hence, never stop providing cover for whatever might be lurking behind them. The natives are as friendly as any Americans, and tend to become extremely helpful when I produce my passport. “I’m an Indian citizen” carries a lot of weight here.
I’m worried about Maggie. We have yet to bribe our way in to see the Monkey, and she’s not doing well with all this secrecy and illicit trafficking. I would have said Alaric was the weak link in our particular chain, with his sister as a possible hostage to his good behavior, but I am beginning to fear our dear Magdalene might be just as easily swayed with the promise of a return to her “real life”…
—From Fish and Clips, the blog of Mahir Gowda, July 28, 2041. Unpublished.
I was left mostly to my own devices after the alarm. That was a good thing; my headache got steadily worse once Gregory’s painkillers wore off. I wasn’t willing to ask the orderlies for anything else, and I couldn’t exactly ring for my buddy the EIS mole. So I spent most of what felt like a day in bed, huddled under the covers and trying to shove my head far enough beneath the pillow to block out the room’s ambient light.
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