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“What do you mean, ‘maybe’?” I asked.

“Like Dr. Abbey said, an insect vector for Kellis-Amberlee didn’t just happen. They’re probably the product of some lab like hers, full of scientists who think ‘I wanted to see what would happen’ is a perfectly valid justification for doing anything they want.”

“Yeah, and?”

George looked up again, brushing the hair out of her eyes with a quick, economical wave of one hand. This time, she looked almost annoyed. “Shaun. You know this. There’s nothing I can tell you that you don’t already know. Why are you pretending you need me to say it?”

“Because I’m not pretending.” I shrugged, trying to keep my attention focused on the road. I didn’t want to get so wrapped up in arguing with her that I needed to pull over; not only would that potentially attract attention, but it would annoy the hell out of Becks if she woke up before we started moving again. “Maybe you can’t tell me things I don’t know, but I need you to be the one who says them. That lets me believe in them.”

“You are a strange, sick little man, Shaun Mason.” George sighed. “The mosquitoes were made. Man’s creation, just like Kellis-Amberlee. If you were going to build killer bugs to spread the zombie plague, wouldn’t you put in a little planned obsolescence?”

Despite the fact that George could only use words I knew the meaning of, I had to pause while I tried to remember what “obsolescence” meant. Sometimes it’s annoying having hallucinations that make me feel dumb. “You mean they’d be built to break down?”

“Now you’re thinking. I have to wonder whether the mosquitoes are fertile. If someone built them as a biological weapon, why would they have given them the capacity to breed? All that’s going to do is increase the chances of them hurting the people you’re trying to protect.”

“So how did they wind up in Cuba?”

“Weapons test. Cuba did too well during the Rising. It was almost insulting to certain people. I’m sure they would have loved the opportunity to run a little fear-inducing trial on soil close enough to ours that they could look horrified and appalled when someone implied we might have had something to do with it.”

“George…”

“I’m not being nihilistic, Shaun. I’m being right, and you know it.”

“Yeah.” I glanced out the window at the high concrete fence dividing the tiny back road we were on from the safe concrete river of I-5. “I just wish I’d stop reminding myself.”

George was gone when I looked back. I shook my head, trying to clear the malaise brought on by her last statement, and turned the radio on, scanning channels until I found something with a catchy beat and simplistic lyrics. Then I switched to NPR.

National Public Radio is a dinosaur in the modern age of podcasts and Internet radio stations, but that’s part of what makes it useful, because when you turn on NPR, you’re getting the thoughts and opinions of the part of the population that has not yet moved into a purely virtual format. Things still move a little slower there. Not predigitally slow—I’ve read the history books, I know how long a single story used to dominate the cycle—but slow enough that you can learn a thing or two, if you’re willing to listen.

Two experts were arguing about ways to save the Everglades. One wanted to send in CDC teams in full-on moon suits to rescue as many noninfected animals as possible, and then dump enough DDT into the water table to sterilize the ecosystem for a hundred years. “We can breed them in preserves and exhibits until we confirm that the Everglades are safe, and then return them to their original environment,” was the gist of his argument, wedded to a firm belief that instinct would override generations of zoo-bound living and lead to an immediate, complete return to the wild as soon as the money ran out and somebody in accounting decided it was time to let the animals go.

The other expert claimed this would result not only in the permanent loss of a major piece of America’s biological diversity, but render most of Florida uninhabitable whether we got rid of the mosquitoes or not, since pesticide would inevitably get into the human water supply. He was in favor of releasing thousands of insectivores into the impacted areas and letting them take care of things the natural way. And by “insectivores,” he meant “bats.” He wanted to gather as many bats as possible and dump them on the Everglades, where they could do their batty thing and eat all the mosquitoes. Because the people of Florida would, of course, be totally cool with this.

At no point did either of them mention the idea that the mosquitoes had been made, rather than being a natural worst-case scenario. All their solutions started from the premise that the mosquitoes just happened, much like the storm that brought them to our shores. Somehow, that only made me more certain that George was right. Somebody made these mosquitoes, and somebody was going to have a way to deal with them. They were just waiting for the time to be right, just like they’d waited for the time to be right before letting the bugs out of the box in the first place.

Becks climbed back into her seat right about the time the speakers got really involved in yelling at each other. Yawning and rumpling her hair with one hand, she squinted at the radio. “Do I wanna know?”

“I can’t get a good wireless signal out here,” I said. “So we’re listening to the radio.”

“Listening to the radio talk about what?”

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