Becks frowned, still clearly half asleep. “Bats?”
“Yeah. You know, flap flap, squeak squeak, works for Dracula? Bats. Because we need a vampire problem to go with our zombie problem.” I opened the cooler we had wedged between the seats, pulling out a can of Coke. “Here. You look like you could use the caffeine.”
“Oh, thank God. I thought I was going to have to deal with this without chemical assistance.” Becks popped the tab before downing half the soda in one long slug. She didn’t seem to realize what she was drinking until she lowered the can and blinked at the label. “Shaun… this is a Coke.”
“You gave me one of your Cokes.”
“Why did you…?”
“Because you needed it.” I glanced her way, smiling just a little—just enough to show her I meant it. “If the Masons can let us go and agree to get Alisa out of Florida, I can be selfless enough to give you a can of Coke.”
Becks’s expression sobered. “Do you really think they’ll go after her?”
“I do, yeah.” The experts on NPR were still arguing. I leaned forward and turned the radio down. “I don’t think they’ve changed completely. I mean, knowing Mom, she’s probably already convinced herself I cheated by bringing up Phillip, and that she and Dad let us go out of the goodness of their hearts, not because it was the right thing to do. But rescuing a little girl from a refugee camp in an interdicted hazard zone? That’s the kind of ratings you can’t buy. It’s just gravy that they have that whole martial law thing going on over there, which gives Dad an excuse to trot out a bunch of old chatter about personal responsibility and freedom of the press.”
“So they’re going to do it for the ratings.” Becks’s mouth twisted into a disapproving line. She took another large gulp of Coke, presumably to stop herself from saying anything she’d regret later.
It didn’t matter. There was nothing she could say that I hadn’t heard before. Some of it I had heard from George. Some of it I had said myself. “There are worse reasons, and the fact that they’re always in the public eye means that if they get her back to Berkeley, they can’t mistreat her. They can be themselves, which is bad enough, but Alisa’s older than George and I were when they took us in. She’ll be fine until Alaric can get there and take her away from them.”
“You’re willing to count on that?”
“I don’t think we have much of a choice. We can’t head for Florida. We’d never make it past the barricades. We need to get to the rest of the team and regroup.”
“How long before we reach Seattle?”
“We’re about twenty miles out. I figure I’ll try calling Mahir right before we hit the city limits—if he picks up, we can go straight to where he is, and not need to keep the connection open.”
“And if he doesn’t?” Becks asked, taking a smaller sip of her soda.
“I have no idea. I’m sort of making all this up as I go along, you know.”
You’re doing an excellent job.
“Thank you,” I said automatically, and winced.
Becks politely ignored my slip. “I know you are. I don’t envy you the lead on this story.”
“Hey, it’s worked so far. What are you going to do when we meet the Monkey? You could be anyone. What’s your new identity going to be?”
“I think I’ll be an Internet journalist.” She smiled. “I understand they don’t need much in the way of training. Or brains. How about you?”
“I’m going to ask for anything that lets me disappear.” I kept my eyes on the road. “This is going to end soon, Becks. It’s gone too far to last much longer. Too many people have died. So if I get through this story alive… I just want to be left alone.”
“You want to be alone with George,” said Becks.
“I don’t… Shaun, I…” Becks paused, taking a breath. “You know I love you, right? As a friend. I may have loved you as something more once, but that’s over now. You know that.”
“So it’s as a friend, and as a colleague, that I ask… are you sure? You’re not holding on that tightly as it is. Going off to be alone with the voices in your head—”
“It’s not just voices anymore. I see her sometimes.” That stopped her. I continued. “She was sitting in that seat not long before you woke up. We were talking. If I get deep enough into the conversation, if I forget long enough, sometimes I can even feel her. I’m going to wind up alone with the voices in my head. The only question is whether or not I get the rest of you hurt in the process. Mahir was Georgia’s second. You’re mine. You know how badly I could f**k everything up if I refused to let go. So let me plan to let go. It might help me hold on a little longer.”
Becks sighed. “You’re asking me to help you turn into a crazy hermit living in the mountains somewhere.”
“Yeah. I am.”
“As long as you realize it.” She slumped in her seat, giving the jamming device a light smack with the heel of her hand. “How does this damn thing work, anyway?”
“You want the technical answer, or the honest answer?” I paused. “Actually, those are the same answer.”
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