(21) Inquest Before Breakfast

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When faced with a choice between cuddling a cute girl, broaching the question of joining the Anport Rescues, and investigating the strongest lead we have that there's something suspicious going on here, I'm relieved to find that I can still choose the latter option without losing my head. Such an investigation will also require Patrick and I to put our heads together properly, which means we're both faced with extracting ourselves from our respective beds without waking our bedmates. That's a steeper ask for Patrick than me, but he still manages to beat me to freedom. He's slipperier than I think we give him credit for.

Patrick brings his sleeping bag to a spot beneath the window and hops back into it before sitting down. I confirm that I locked the door last night, then copy him and lean in for a better view as he pulls up the phone.

Vix's home screen background is a photo of a young woman and a young man with a strong family resemblance posing together, tongues out and arms around each other's necks. A pang rings sharp in my chest. They look like siblings, and it hurts in every way. Nothing better to remind me about Brooklyn or the rest of my family, asleep somewhere in Venberg county, two states over. Then a second stab usurps even that one as Patrick scrolls left to clear the icons from the screen. That's when I realize the woman in the photo is Vix.

Patrick clicks the message icon at the bottom of the screen, and Vix's texts leap up blessedly to wipe out the photo. I was expecting all thirty-six unread texts to be from Oreo, but that assumption is proven false with a glance down the screen. I take stock of the time stamps. They've all been reduced to day-month format now, but it's October twenty-third, and a lot has happened on Vix's phone in the last few days.

I motion for Patrick to scroll down until we find the obvious break between texts received before and after Red Thursday. Vix did what Calico J did, and texted several dozen names and numbers in search of other people. It takes Patrick a while to scroll past them all, then back again. The first name I recognize is Triptych. That's one of the Anport Rescues that Ember mentioned yesterday. She's the one Vix reached first, and a quick investigation reveals that she pointed Vix to Oreo instead. The exchange is otherwise mundane.

After Triptych's number, Vix texts her mother, then two more names I don't recognize. Neither ever replied. Patrick returns to the texting mainscreen and scrolls to the next message thread up from there. My heart stops dead.

Seven

"That one."

Patrick gives me a questioning look. I can't explain this without the journal, so I retrieve it and flip it open as I drop back beside him. Patrick's hands sink to his lap as he reads the page I show him: the half-coherent one that mentions Seven's name no fewer than eight times. Without a word, he returns to the phone and opens the text exchange.

In the journal, Vix alluded to Seven being her little brother, but the text thread confirms it. Besides having more than six thousand messages, it dates back to well before Red Thursday, and the way the two speak to one another is sibling banter at its finest. Before Red Thursday, that is. After, they take on a mutual-survival tone. We find the moment Vix told her brother about finding the Anport Rescues, then coordination about obtaining a car. Their trepidation is already evident. I spot all the same concerns I had with Oreo's early communications: the lack of clear information, multiple allusions to screening, and a refusal to say what for. I check the timestamps. This was three weeks ago.

Patrick points me to a text from Seven.

How many people did they say they have?

I read it before my brain catches up with me, and nearly choke at the reply.

27

That has to be a typo. Seventeen, maybe; they were down to fifteen when they lost Vix, which leaves room for her and her brother's losses. We need to cross-check this against Oreo's texts. I point Patrick there, but he's one step ahead of me. He just searches 27 in the messaging app as a whole, turning up a list of texts containing the number. The corroborating one from Oreo is third on the list.

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