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Authors: Shaunta Grimes

Viral Nation (26 page)

BOOK: Viral Nation
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“But—”

Leanne shook her head. “I really don’t know.”

It didn’t make sense. It was like Bennett wanted Clover to be alone on her missions. Why wasn’t he here, debriefing her himself? Clover was certain that he had questions about West, but he’d sent Leanne to talk to her instead.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Leanne said. “I’m your friend.”

“Really?” Everything in Clover wanted to believe that.

“Really.”

“You’re supposed to ask about my brother, aren’t you?”

Leanne shrugged one shoulder, just a little. “Is there anything you want to tell Mr. Bennett about him?”

“No. Why did you quote Roosevelt earlier?” Clover asked. She
knew she should be careful. Cautious. But the words tumbled out. “‘Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.’ Why did you say that?”

“It’s true, don’t you think?”

“That’s not why.”

Leanne sat still and looked at Clover for a long moment before she pushed her chair back and stood up. “I’ll see you soon, Clover. Take care of yourself.”

 

Clover was a wreck by the time she made it back to
the Dinosaur the next day. Every time she fell asleep, she dreamed about a representative from Foster City coming to collect her. She got up twice, sure there had actually been a knock, but was wrong both times. Was he bluffing? Maybe Bennett had threatened her with Foster City to throw her off. If that was it, he’d done a good job.

Add Leanne’s strange behavior and Isaiah’s warning about roadwork the day before to her lack of sleep and worry about Foster City, and by the time she left the barracks with the syringes hidden under the cardboard bottom of her pack, she was so wound up she was afraid she might not be able to make it home. Why hadn’t she asked Jude to come back today and walk with her to the Dinosaur? She stopped for a minute and looked around, hoping maybe that somehow just wishing it was true would make it so.

It didn’t.

She would have loved to run, and for Mango to be there running with her. The rhythm would make everything better. But Mango wasn’t there, and she couldn’t risk jostling the syringes, so she walked downtown, following the Truckee River as it cut through the imposing buildings. It seemed to her that every single person she passed stared at her. Like they had X-ray vision and could see through her pack to the stolen suppressant syringes.

Everything in Clover screamed at her to get rid of them. Dump them in the river. Everything in her, that is, except the part that was certain her brother was lying in that huge, empty casino dying.

If someone was following her, they were looking for her to lead them to West. Or maybe Bridget. Clover was certain the rest of the kids probably hadn’t even occurred to Bennett or Kingston or the guard. In fact, she doubted that anyone outside the Dinosaur thought about those kids at all, except for their house parents, who most likely hoped they were never found.

She couldn’t lead the guard to them. She couldn’t stand here by the river for the rest of her life, either. She climbed up out of the river walk and onto First Street, where a few people were milling around. She looked over them, trying to decide if any were paying particular attention to her.

No one stood out. She turned toward the service road that would take her to the Dinosaur. No one back here at all. She let her guard down when she had less than a mile left to walk. And then she saw him. A young man, maybe two or three years older than West, wearing brown pants and a white shirt.
Brown for the dirt slingers.
He was too clean to be a farmer and his hair was cropped short, like the guards wore theirs, not longer to keep the sun off his neck like West’s. Plus, no farmers would be walking around downtown this early in the day.

Clover veered between two buildings and over a couple of blocks to Virginia Street. A few minutes later, she passed a plate glass window and saw the fake farmer’s reflection, doing a really bad job of secretly trailing her. She did the only thing she could think of. She turned fully to face him, planted her feet wide, and screamed.

The fake farmer stopped, looked back over his shoulder like there might be someone else she was screeching about, then backed up when dozens of people turned their attention to her, moving in closer.

“Please, help me!”

Someone took her by the arm. “What? What’s wrong?”

Clover pulled away. If the fake farmer wasn’t really chasing her, she was about to get him into serious trouble. A middle-aged man who probably had daughters her age tried to put his arm around her and she puddled to the ground, taking care not to land on her pack as she slithered out of his grasp. “No, don’t touch me.”

There weren’t too many people out, not at this time of day. Most were working. A woman knelt next to her and said, “Are you sick?”

The fake farmer stood in the shadows of the alley, watching. She lifted one arm and pointed at him. “That man was chasing me.”

The man who’d tried to comfort her spun around, and the fake farmer looked alarmed. He backed up more deeply into the alley.

“Hey, get back here!” The graying man chased after her stalker, and several others followed.

“You okay?” a woman asked her. “You don’t look so well.”

She didn’t feel so well either. She needed to get out of here, right now, so she could get to the Dinosaur while her stalker was otherwise occupied.

“Stay with her, Donna,” another woman said. “I’ll call for an ambulance.”

Oh, boy. She stood up again. “Wait, no, I’m okay, really.”

“Maybe some water? Get her some water.”

The second woman went into the building behind them. The people who’d chased after her stalker were gone, leaving her alone with Donna. She didn’t see the fake farmer in his too-clean dirt slinger uniform anywhere, and she didn’t see anyone else standing around waiting for her to lead them to West and Bridget. It was just her and Donna.

She kept a death grip on the straps of her pack with her other hand, in case someone thought to take it from her. “I think I’m okay now. Really.”

“Where are you going? I’ll walk you home at least.” Donna didn’t look happy about that, even though she offered readily.

Clover did her best to look recovered. “Just a block or so up. I’m fine now, really.”

She needed to go before someone else picked up the fake farmer’s slack. She wasn’t sure what to do about Donna and the other woman, who came toward them with a glass of water, so she just walked away without looking back. They asked each other what they should do, but neither of them tried to stop her.

By the time she reached the Dinosaur she was half convinced that she’d just managed to scare some poor farmer friend of West’s half to death. Or get him arrested for something he didn’t do.

She was sure she’d upset all the people on the street, who were used to men who stalked young girls being dealt with before they got to the point of chasing them in the street.

“You look terrible,” Jude said when he met her in the hallway on the fifteenth floor.

“Thanks a lot. Where’s West?”

Jude rubbed the bridge of his nose. “In his room.”

“Oh, God.” Clover finally realized that it was Jude who really didn’t look well. “Oh, God, he’s sick, isn’t he?”

“No.”

Clover barely heard him. She took off running toward the room she shared with West, fumbling with her pack as she did, trying to get to the syringes.

Jude wasn’t lying. West looked fine. Well, he looked a little pale and exhausted, but he didn’t have any sores or anything. He didn’t look sick.

It was Bridget who lay on one of the beds, moaning as she folded in on herself as if she could contain whatever pain she felt. Sweaty sheets tangled around her legs and torso, and her hair was plastered to her flushed face.

The pressure cooker of fear in Clover’s chest released as the fear for her brother eased, even as it was replaced by fear for Bridget. The whole mess of emotions came out as anger she knew was misplaced but couldn’t hold in. “Does she have a fever? Why aren’t you guys taking care of her?”

“We’re doing the best we can,” West said.

Clover knelt by Bridget and looked her over. No sores. A hard spasm wracked through the other girl, and she moaned when it passed and said, “Oh, God, that hurts,” without really gaining consciousness.

“West?” She put a hand on his shoulder. Bridget was sick. Really sick. And West, who’d had his last shot nearly half a day after Bridget had hers, wasn’t far behind. For a second, she almost saw the virus crawling through him, worming its way through his veins. Stealing him from her.

A hard shiver passed over West, and he said, “I’ve been better, we both have, but we’ll be okay. She doesn’t have any sores. Maybe this isn’t the virus.”

A crush of emotions hit Clover with no warning. Her face crumbled, even though she tried to keep from showing West how upset she was. Tears streamed down her face, and despite her best efforts, she rocked from foot to foot with enough sudden vigor that Mango let loose a short, startled bark.

“Try to breathe,” West said. “Please, don’t do this now. Everything will be okay. I promise.”

For the first time in her life, West couldn’t make everything okay. But she could. This time she could. She had, already. West wouldn’t get sick. Bridget would get better. As quickly as she’d become overwhelmed, she drew a breath and was in control again.

She pulled the package of syringes from her pack.

West looked at her like she’d pulled out a live rattlesnake,
instead of the stuff that would save him and Bridget. “Where did you get that?”

Clover backed up when West came closer to her. She had averted a full-on meltdown, but she still felt like she might fall apart if West touched her. Jude caught her from behind but let her go when she struggled.

“What did you do, Clover?” West asked again.

“We left it for me to find on the other side of the portal.”

“You could have been killed.”

“They’re syringes with needles,” she said. She showed West and Jude the syringe with its thick, sharp needle, not designed for insertion in his port. That thing would have gone all the way into their brains.

“You helped her do this?” West asked Jude, who looked about as equally close to being sick as West did.

“She needs you,” Jude said, quietly. “We had to do something.”

“You could have been arrested,” West said, his voice raw and painful. “Do you know what they’d do to you for stealing suppressant?”

“Yes,” Clover said. Of course she knew. She had the same executioner father that he did.

“I don’t want it.”

“Don’t you want Bridget to have it?”

West clamped his mouth closed and looked at the sick girl on the bed. Finally, he inhaled deeply and said, slowly, “Only if she gets sores. The article said there would be withdrawal. That’s all this is.”

“You don’t know that,” Clover said.

“You shouldn’t have done this. Stealing suppressant is…it’s…”

West collapsed, sliding almost gracefully to the floor. Jude
moved quickly, positioning himself over West’s limp body, holding up an arm. “Come on, Clover. Do this before he wakes up.”

Somehow, Clover managed to pull the plastic tip off one of the needles. She didn’t really know what she was doing, but she’d learned at a first-aid class in the library to push up the plunger until a thick drop of suppressant oozed from the hole in the needle.

She plunged the needle into her brother’s bicep before she lost her nerve. His skin was tougher than she expected it to be, and she had to push hard to get it in. He came to then, and Jude had to practically sit on his chest to keep him still. It took what seemed like an eternity to depress the plunger all the way. After she pulled the needle out, she rubbed the spot with her fingers to make the medicine work through faster.

“Jesus, Clover,” West moaned. His face was damp with sweat, and he couldn’t get out from under Jude, even though he should have been able to easily push the smaller boy away.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, then wondered if West could see through her glass face to the truth behind that lie. She couldn’t lose him.

While Jude helped West into the other bed, Clover dosed Bridget as well. The girl didn’t move, and only a soft, low moan escaped when Clover pulled back her sheet and pushed the thick needle into her upper thigh.

“Make sure you get it all in,” West said quietly behind her. “If you’re going to do it, might as well make sure you do it right.”

Clover turned her head, still depressing the plunger, and looked at her brother. “Do you have any sores?”

“No. But I don’t feel very well.”

West fell asleep, and Bridget never really woke up. Clover covered them both, resting the back of her hand on their damp, hot foreheads, even though there was nothing she could do about their fevers.

She finally left them and went into the adjoining room, where Jude sat on one of the beds waiting for her. She sat on the other bed and told him about Leanne giving her a presidential quote and about her maybe-stalker. She hesitated before telling him about Isaiah talking to her about roadwork in front of their house, because it felt like she should talk to West about that first. In the end she let it all come out.

BOOK: Viral Nation
13.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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