(34) We Call Redding Over

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The letters translate. Kind of. There are three that have a dubious association, and one that could easily be either of two English letters, so we make multiple versions of the name in Morse code and line them all up on a paper. The Redding shakes the building as it probes around the corners of this lab. I'm sure we're breathing some kind of virus at the moment, but I'd take that over instant drowning. We can only hope Ditzy was right: that seven weeks have been enough to render this place at least somewhat safe.

Even the red patches on my neck—and down my back now—ache furiously. Patrick must have it ten times worse, but he works with clear eyes and a clenched jaw, the picture of determination now that all our lives are on the line. When we've got as many versions of the name as we think we're going to get, we all look at one another. In the silence, the shake of the building is underpinned by another sound that's somehow even more ominous. The clench in my gut intensifies. I think that's more than just the Redding in the building now.

"So, are we doing this?" says Calico J.

"Yeah," I say. We station ourselves around the table, each with one fist poised. I take a deep breath. "Ready?"

Everyone nods.

"Okay. Three, two, one, go."

Our fists beat in rhythm, beat and swipe, swipe and beat. Already, though, I can tell something's wrong. I meet Patrick's eye. I'm not imagining things. The Redding hasn't even started to respond. It either can't hear us, or it isn't listening.

Or this isn't going to work.

It needs to work. It can't not work. We must be doing something wrong.

"We need to go outside," says Patrick, his voice trembling.

I know he's right. I don't want him to be, but we've sealed off the Redding from this place, and it "listens" through the water. You can't wake a Sleeper by saying its name in the next city over. It has to hear it, and some part of its brain has to react, to respond, to recognize. This is a cosmic game of Red Rover, in the end. Which means we have to form our line, then step out onto the battlefield and sing: sing our intention and our target's name, and only then, maybe, will this end.

Red Rover, Red Rover, we call Redding over.

Calico J gives a shaky smile. "If this goes wrong, I just want you guys to know... I'm really glad I met you."

Patrick clamps him in a hug. Calico J hugs him back. That's the trigger we all needed, and we glom together, taking comfort in each other's closeness for a long moment before we break apart. Words don't capture any of that.

Ditzy takes a deep breath and regathers her flail. "Shall we?"

"Now or never."

"Actually..." She pauses. "One last thing. Just in case we don't make it out tonight."

I see it coming. I see it, and I meet her halfway around the table; we collide with one another, and this time I don't care. Neither of us care. Ditzy kisses me and I kiss her back. She's wearing raspberry-lemon lipstick because of course she is; she's perfect and gorgeous and put-together even in the apocalypse, and even when it takes her all the effort she can spare. I grip her shirt; she threads her fingers through my hair. A second, deeper kiss follows the first. The whole world disappears for a moment as me and the girl I love both stop pretending to be people we aren't, and just enjoy this moment. Then it's over. We break apart, and the end of the world returns.

Calico J looks from one of us to the other. "Took you long enough."

Patrick chokes on a laugh and starts wheezing.

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