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“I have no f**king clue. Buffy was always real impressed with it, I know that; she wanted to build one for us, but other stuff kept getting in the way, and then we were working for a presidential hopeful, so it didn’t seem like a good political move.” And then she was dead, and she wasn’t going to be building anything for anybody. Things would have gone so differently if she’d lived. She would have seen what was happening and turned on the conspiracy that had turned her against us, and all this might already be over. George might still be alive. And I might not be looking forward to going all the way insane.

“It was nice of the Masons to give it to us.”

“Yeah, it was. I figure we’ll kill it with a hammer as soon as it’s served its purpose.” Becks shot me a scandalized look. I shook my head. “You really think they don’t have some sort of a tracking beacon in this thing? Buffy built alarms into the van security system that would have gone off if it were broadcasting—she had to reprogram them not to go off when Maggie got too close, since her parents have her rigged up with ‘do not abduct’ heiress crap. So I figure they’re just waiting until we stop moving long enough that they can assume we’re not in the vehicle anymore, and then they’re going to start pinging our position.”

Becks stared at me. “If they’re planning to use the thing to track us, why did you let me take it?”

“Because it was the only thing that would get us out of Berkeley. Even if the Masons just called the local cops on us, they’d be turning on every tracking chip they could think of as soon as we ran. And I somehow doubt they just called the local cops—or called them at all.”


“It took too long for them to get there. There’s a police station less than eight blocks away. My parents were turning us in for the ratings, remember? They called the CDC. It’s the only thing that makes sense.” It explained both the delay in their arrival, and why the Masons listened when I said they were making a mistake. The CDC is still the government, and after what happened during the Ryman campaign, trusting them might not have come as easy as it once did.

“Right.” Becks sighed and slumped in her seat. Then she leaned forward and turned the radio back up, signaling that she was done talking for the moment. I smiled a little, catching her meaning, and returned my focus to the road.

Things are almost over, murmured George.

“I know,” I said, and kept driving.

The outskirts of Seattle loomed up with surprising speed; the relative obscurity of the roads we’d been taking meant that there was minimal traffic. I dug a burner ear cuff out of my pocket, snapping it on. A tap triggered the connection. “This is Shaun Mason activating security profile Pardy. Something’s wrong with Brenda, we’re out of Mister Pibb, and hunting season’s here. Now let’s go to Hollywood.”

“Your taste in passwords is crap,” commented Becks.

I made a shushing motion. Mahir picked up after two rings, asking, “Oh, thank God. Shaun? Is that you?”

“If it weren’t, somebody would have just gotten really, really lucky trying to turn this thing on. Where are you guys?”

Mahir’s voice turned instantly suspicious. “Why?”

“Because we’ve just reached Seattle, and we’d like to come join you. Especially if wherever you are has a bathroom. Is there a bathroom? Please tell me there’s a bathroom. We’ve been driving for like, twenty hours, and I need to piss like you wouldn’t believe.”

“TMI, Shaun,” said Becks.

“How did you get out of Berkeley?”

“Wait, what?” Now it was my turn to get suspicious. “What are you talking about?”

“Several local Berkeley bloggers posted yesterday morning about a surprise CDC hazard team drill being run in a residential neighborhood—and their target was your family home. The Masons have even posted about it. They said they were glad to cooperate with anything that might improve safety procedures and response times.” He paused before adding, grimly, “We thought they might have turned you in.”

I sighed. “They kind of did. They just changed their minds before things could go all the way horribly wrong. How did they look?”

“Your mum had a black eye—”

“Yeah, I gave her that.”

“—and a broken arm. Your dad just had some taped-up fingers.”

“What?” I demanded. “I didn’t do that. Neither did Becks. The black eye was so it would be believable when they said we got away.”

“Apparently, it wasn’t believable enough for the CDC. Snap your transmitter to the GPS, I’ll send you the address for our hotel. Wipe it as soon as you get here.”

“Done. See you soon, Mahir.”

“One hopes,” he said.

I removed the cuff from my ear and handed it to Becks. “Here—connect this to the GPS. Mahir’s going to send us directions on how to get to the hotel he and Maggie are staying at. Keep the jammer going. The Masons made the news.”

“What?” Becks glanced at me in confusion as she connected the ear cuff to the GPS. The GPS unit beeped and began to display its “loading” screen.

“Mom has a broken arm. Dad has some broken fingers. Think they tripped and fell after we left the house?” I gripped the wheel harder than necessary, resisting the urge to slam my foot down on the gas and race my anger away. “The f**king CDC, Becks. My parents called the f**king CDC and said we’d be waiting for them, gift-wrapped and unsuspecting, and when we weren’t there, the f**king CDC showed their disappointment.”


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