6 - The Lying Heart (II-III)

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He sucked down a breath. "She's different. She's not—"

"Fully human," Mikie cut. "But she's still Maria. The fact she didn't flip out on you today and clamp down on your neck should be proof enough that there's still a good part of her stuck in there somewhere. And I think we need to trust that. At least see where she can lead us. If not to Mom directly, maybe to other survivors, other camps. There could be more people out there than just us and the ones who've split off."

Garrett sighed. The fissures were always difficult for the camp to handle. They appeared like clockwork, the group separating about every three years since they started searching for survivors. The first was simply over wanting to stay in one place, farm and work the land, live off what they could while West went onwards. They'd lost twelve people in that first wave. The second had been two years ago, where Shawn hadn't agreed with their ways of living. He wanted to go hunting—kill Virals instead of avoid them like they did. That fissure wasn't as quick, as clean. If the trend continued, they were due for another one soon.

"And what do you think camp will say when they all find out what we're up to?" It felt like he was chewing sandpaper. He didn't like it, not the form of it, not how he seemed to put the camp before Mikie, before his sister, before everything. But that's what he had to do. It's what he'd have to do if anything happened to West. He'd have to step up, and so he had to have the good of the camp in mind. "You think they'll just let you go off on this adventure?"

Mikie scowled, fussing with he dust jacket of her book. Its cover was worn, well loved. A Darker Shade. He knew the story well, and he knew it was her favorite escape.

"You're our best runner, Mikie. How many people do you expect to sit here and let you leave? How many do you expect to convince not to follow us?"

She refused to meet his eyes at that, and he knew he'd struck a nerve. He also knew he was right.

"If anyone finds out—"

"They won't. We won't tell anyone." She shook her head. "We lay low, two days. We figure out where Maria wants to take us, and then we leave. Without a trace. We disappear. That way there's no fissure. There's no one scrambling for supplies before winter, and then West doesn't have to panic about us because he has no way to follow or find us." She sighed. "You don't have to go, you know. But I need to see if what Maria's trying to tell us is true. I need to know if my mom's still out there—if she's survived this long or if I need to put a bullet in her brain."

He shifted. He could stay. His choices were right in front of him. On the one hand he'd be living more of the same, but he'd also be covering up what he knew about Mikie's plan. And he wasn't sure he do that, remain at camp and let her and Andy explore the world alone. He didn't know that he trusted either sister alone with Maria. He wasn't sure if anyone would be fast enough to stop her if she turned on them. But having an extra set of eyes certainly wouldn't hurt. And on the other hand, if he went, he wasn't sure what they'd find. Maria could be trapping them. Or she could be right. They could find Mrs. Jameson. She could be working on a cure. They could irradiate the virus, return Maria to normal, even. And the weight of that, the sweetness of that possibility was all too tempting.

He almost swallowed the words but spit them out instead. "I'm in."

Mikie stared at him, hard. "You're sure?"

He nodded. It was a catalyst, the moment where he had to choose between ignoring the abnormalities and letting his life remain the same or to take the risk and the adventure and let his life change because of it. He could pinpoint the moment in any film. And it dawned on him after he said "Yes" that this was one of those moments. He was standing in that moment, and the world shifted a little bit—becoming bigger, brighter—with his answer.

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