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“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.”

Packing the rest of the equipment took less than ten minutes. Maggie spent the time in the living room, feeding treats to the bulldogs and telling them how good they were. They were happy to receive the attention, if a little confused by all the fuss that she was making; people came and went all the time, after all, and she didn’t normally make such a big deal out of it. To their canine minds, this excursion didn’t look any different from the hundreds of others she’d taken. Maybe it was better that way.

While she was dealing with the dogs, I went upstairs to the guest room and changed into my body armor. I slathered Avon Skin-So-Soft over every inch of skin I had, even the skin that would be covered by three layers of Kevlar and leather. I was going to be as soft as a baby’s ass, and more important, I wasn’t going to get infected if I had any choice in the matter.

I paused in the doorway before heading back down to join the others, looking at the guest room. The bed was made, the nightstand was empty, and there was nothing to indicate that I’d ever been there at all.

“Will we ever stop just passing through?” I asked aloud.

George didn’t answer, and so I went back downstairs.

Maggie had joined the others in the kitchen while I was getting changed. She offered me a nod, wiping her eyes with the back of one hand before turning to walk up to the back door. “House,” she said, clearly, “please contact Officer Weinstein. Tell him it’s time for the matter we discussed earlier.”

“All right, Magdalene,” said the house. Its tone was blandly pleasant as always.

“Thank you, house.” Maggie looked over her shoulder to me. “I warned Alex we might need to go, and that we’d need it to be as quiet as possible. He’s been waiting for my word.”

“And the house will let us out?” asked Becks.

“If the security crew outside says that we’re opening the isolation lock, even for a few minutes, the house won’t have a choice. My security logs are only uploaded if there’s an unapproved breach, so unless the infected take the house, no one will know for sure that we’re gone.” Maggie wiped her eyes again. “I hate this.”

“I know,” I said, quietly.

The house speaker crackled as someone switched to manual, and a man’s voice came through, asking, “Ms. Garcia? Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

Maggie smiled unsteadily at a point just above the door—probably the location of a hidden security camera. “No. But I’m sure it’s what I have to do. Please let us out, Alex.”

“Your father—”

“Sig your checks, but you work for me, remember? That was always the deal. Now please, just give us ten minutes to get out of here, and you can lock the place down again.”

He sighed heavily. “If anything happens to you, your father will have all our asses. You understand that, right?”

“I do.”

“Just checking. You have ten minutes. Now please, try not to make me regret this.”

The speaker crackled again as he hung up his end, and the house said, sounding almost perplexed, “The isolation order has been rescinded. Thank you for your patience. You are now free to leave the premises if you so choose.”

“Grab your gear, folks,” I said, picking up a duffel bag with one hand and my helmet with the other. “We need to get rolling.”

“On it,” said Alaric, grabbing the wireless booster.

Becks didn’t say anything. She just picked up a box filled with dry cereal and cans of soda and kicked the garage door open.

The van was inside, which was good. The bike was outside, which was not good. Working in tight tandem, the five of us were able to load the van in just under five minutes, cramming boxes and bags into every inch of available space. I didn’t question the amount of stuff that we were bringing. Since the odds of us coming back were pretty damn slim, we needed to take everything that was even potentially useful and assume that it was easier to throw shit away than it would be to find it once we were on the road.

We were halfway through the packing process when Alaric realized there wasn’t going to be room for everyone. “Wait,” he said. “We need to leave some of this. We’re filling the backseat.”

“It’s all good.” I raised my helmet. “I’m taking the bike.”

“But—”

“We need someone riding point. And besides,” I said and grinned, “you know I’m going to get the best footage.”

He gave me an uncertain look. “You’re going to be exposed.”

“We’ve all basically bathed in insect repellent—if they bite me, I probably deserve it. Now come on, finish packing the van. We have a pretty narrow time frame here, and we need to get out before it closes.”

Becks lobbed a duffel bag at him. He caught it with an oof, and gave me a wounded look before turning to resume packing the van. I didn’t really care if he thought I was being an idiot. Maybe I was. I was also being a realist.

When the last box was wedged into place and the last bag was stowed, the four of them got into the van, rolling the windows all the way up. I put on my helmet, sealing it tightly before nodding to activate the intercom. “How’s our connection?” I asked.

“Loud and clear,” Mahir replied.

“Great. Now le roll.”

The garage door rolled smoothly upward in answer to some unseen signal from Maggie, and the night air came flooding in, chilling me even through my leathers. It wasn’t the temperature so much as the uncertainty that the air represented: the risk of a kind of infection we’d never been afraid of before. Kellis-Amberlee was a known quantity; it was, for lack of a better phrase, a safe virus, something that could kill you, but which we understood. The thought of a new vector made it all terrifying again.

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