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“Yeah, I know.” Becks started to let go of my arm. I grabbed her hand. “Come on, you two. Let’s get the f**k out of here.”

Neither of them argued. We started moving again, traveling at a pace that was just short of a run as we followed a dead woman’s instructions to freedom. Kelly was true to her word; she kept security busy in Dr. Wynne’s lab. The sound of gunfire started as we were making our way into the evacuation grid, only to be cut off when the hidden door swung shut behind us. The secure tunnels were silent and dark, just like before.

We didn’t see a soul during our escape. I still barely bthed until the outside door swung open to let us out on the far edge of the parking lot, half-hidden from the building by a short fence made of steel strips. It took me a moment to realize what it was for: If the facility had been taken by the infected, the metal would hide us from view and might give us the time to either run like hell or go back underground to wait for rescue. It was a nifty idea. Too bad “escape” didn’t mean anything but getting the hell off the grounds before we were spotted.

I waited for gunshots as we ran to Maggie’s van, crouched to minimize our visible profiles, with guns in our hands and ready to fire. They never came. Security was still inside, searching for Kelly’s phantom guests. No one had checked the logs showing the evacuation tunnels, possibly because they hadn’t compared notes with Portland, possibly because they didn’t think we’d get that far. My heart hammered against my ribs, George making soothing, incoherent noises at the back of my head to try and keep me calm. It did, barely. I didn’t really start breathing until we were safe inside the van with the doors closed against the outside. Then I was slamming the key into the ignition, and we were racing away into the brittle golden light of morning, leaving the CDC—and Kelly Connolly, who was naive, but never bad—behind.

We’ve left too many people behind. And somehow, the running never seems to end.

The sweetest summer gift of all

Is knowing spring gives way to fall

And when the winds of winter call,

We’ll answer as we must.

Persephone chose to descend

Into the night that has no end,

In Hades’ hands she goes to spend

Her nights amidst the dust.

For Hades holds his loved ones dear,

Away from life, away from fear,

And so when death is drawing near,

In Hades’ hands we trust.

—From Dandelion Mine, the blog of Magdalene Grace Garcia, June 23, 2041

Twenty-one

I kept my foot slammed down on the gas as we blazed along a frontage road, taking one of the morobscure w

ays out of town. Mahir rode in the passenger seat with a smartphone in his hand, entering alterations to our route every few minutes as he received updates from the GPS satellites. Every change had to be registered with the Highway Commission, but our credentials were in order, and unless there was a stop order out on our vehicle, registering our route was less dangerous than dealing with the smackdown if we got caught crossing state lines without the proper paperwork in place.

Our weird little hopscotch of twists and turns wasn’t the fastest way to get where we were going, even if I don’t think we ever dropped under eighty miles per hour, but it was definitely the most confusing. I wouldn’t have been able to track us—not without an actual tracking device planted somewhere on the van, and if the CDC was that deep into our shit, we were already dead. Hacking the highway registry wouldn’t give them any of the vehicles known to be registered to our site or its employees, and I seriously doubted they had a full catalog of vehicles registered to Garcia Pharmaceuticals.

Becks rode in the rear with a rifle clutched in her hands, waiting for the moment when an unmarked car would come roaring up behind us and she’d have to start shooting. Maybe we were being paranoid, but I seriously doubted it. The CDC has had a lot of power for a long damn time now. Our deaths wouldn’t register on anybody’s radar, except for maybe Maggie’s, and there wouldn’t be too much even she could do about it. Her parents had money, political pull, and a lot of patience. That didn’t mean she’d be able to convince them to take on the CDC, even if she could convince them that the research we’d collected was the real deal.

I allowed the shuddering van to drop back to a more reasonable sixty miles per hour after we passed the halfway point between Memphis and Little Rock. There was still no visible pursuit. “Becks? How’s the road looking?”

“Clear.” I could see her in the rearview mirror. All her attention was focused on the road, shoulders tense as she waited for the moment when the ambush would be sprung. “Not a soul since we passed that tour bus.”

“With your driving, the poor bastards probably thought we were running from an outbreak,” said Mahir. There was a smothered chuckle in his tone. I knew that edge of hysteria better than I wanted to, although I hadn’t heard it that clearly in a long time. It went away after you’d spent enough time in the field. Hysteria takes too much energy to be maintained forever. “They likely turned around as soon as they found a wide enough spot in the road.”

“As long as their turn didn’t take them in our direction, I don’t care where they went.” Becks managed to sound like she was muttering even while pitching her voice to be heard at the front of the van. It’s a trick from the basic Irwin handbook: The lower and more urgent your tone, the more exciting and dangerous the situation will seem to the people at home. It’s just a matter of learning to whisper as loudly as some people shout, to make sure the cameras can pick you up. I knew exactly what she was doing. I was still impressed. She was damn good at it.

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