“I’ll remember you.” Georgia’s hand on my shoulder was gentle. I started to turn toward her. “Shhh. Don’t open your eyes. Just come with me.” She tugged me to the bed, pushing on my shoulder until I sat. “Now you’re going to get some rest.”
“Don’t argue. You don’t do well on sleep dep. You never have. Now, go to sleep. You have hours to kill before the sun goes down.”
She was right. I knew she was right, just like I knew she wasn’t there; she was the part of my mind that gave a damn about keeping the rest of me alive. I still took an unimaginable amount of comfort from the feeling of her hand on my shoulder as I fell backward on the bed, eyes still closed, gear still on, and let myself drift off into sleep.
My dreams were full of screaming. I saw my team die half a dozen times, in half a dozen ways. Oddly, that helped, because every time I saw one of them get killed, I saw something else that wouldn’t work for getting us into the building alive. We were going to need to be careful, and quick, and never hesitate.
The light in the room was dimmer when I finally opened my eyes. George was gone, but that didn’t matter; she’d be back, and soon. She always came back.
I went to the bathroom, splashed some water on my face, and then began the final preparations to depart. I was loading my pockets with clips when a speaker hidden somewhere in the room chimed, and the voice of the Agora said, “Mr. Mason, I apologize for the interruption, but Mr. Gowda has been trying to reach you for the past fifteen minutes. I didn’t want to wake you. Will you accept the call?”
“If I don’t, he’ll probably wind up coming down here to yell at me,” I said, still working. “Hell, I’m surprised he hasn’t already. I’ll take it.”
“Thank you.” The Agora went silent, followed by another chime.
“Shaun?” It was Mahir this time, sounding worried. Business as usual, in other words.
“Hey, Mahir. What’s up? Aren’t you like, three doors down? This takes ‘lazy’ to a new level, don’t you think? Then again, I just spent the whole day asleep, so who am I to talk?” I couldn’t fit any more clips in my pockets. That was a bummer. I picked up my tablet, clipping it to my belt. There was one nice thing about this particular suicide mission: We’d downloaded floor plans for all the major CDC installations as part of our research weeks ago, right before we followed Kelly into the Memphis office and got her killed. Seattle was a major enough office that we had pretty good blueprints. It didn’t show any secret tunnels, but it had the public areas. At least we wouldn’t be lost while we were rushing off to our deaths.
There was a time when that thought would have made me uneasy, rather than reassuring me. It’s amazing what has become comforting since the start of the Ryman campaign.
“Alaric tried to get in touch with me.”
My head snapped up. No one respects radio silence like a Newsie. It’s practically one of their sacred creeds, right alongside “protecting your sources” and “off the record.” “Did he say why?”
“No, and that’s why I’m concerned. The message he left was basically ‘you know this matters, or I wouldn’t be doing it,’ over and over. I already tried dialing one of his burn phones.”
“There’s no response. I’ve left a message and sent an e-mail to one of Dr. Abbey’s encrypted addresses, but—”
“Do you want to stay here and keep trying to reach him while Becks and I go to the CDC?”
“What? No.” Mahir actually sounded offended. “I didn’t come this far to be left sitting on the stands when things are finally getting interesting. I do intend to return to my career once I’m no longer a wanted fugitive, and the more I can learn, the better my prospects will be.”
“You’re a natural-born snoop, Mahir,” I said, and picked up my pack. “You ready to blow this taco stand?”
“Have you ever even seen a taco stand?”
“Sure. There was one right next to campus. Are you ready to go, Mahir?”
He sighed, attempts at levity dismissed in an instant. “Yes. Much as I’m afraid of what’s to come, I rather do believe I am.”
“Good. Meet me in the hall.”
“Shall do.” There was no dial tone, but something about shape of the silence filling the room told me that he’d hung up. I slung my pack over my shoulder and turned to head for the door. I didn’t look back. There was nothing there to see.
Becks’s room was between Mahir’s and mine. I had barely finished knocking when her door swung open. “Yes, Mason?” she asked.
“You ready to go?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be. I’ve been waiting on you.” She was dressed almost exactly like I was: a charcoal-gray T-shirt, camouflage pants, combat boots, and way too many weapons to be on her way to a tea party. Her hair was slicked back in a tight, no-nonsense ponytail. This wasn’t an expedition intended to be filmed and sold by the download. This was serious work.
She raised an eyebrow at my assessing look.
“No. Just thinking how much it sucks that we can’t post any of this.”
Her grin was sudden, the flash of white teeth there and gone almost before it had fully registered. “Someday this story is going to make us legends.”
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