Chapter 19

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The air inside the bus was warm and stuffy, with a slight undertone of chemical cleaner and vomit. Gina wished they hadn't banned cars in the city, not that she would've been old enough to drive one anyway. But it was nice to fantasize about not being forced to ride the bus anymore.

„Do you know what you're gonna be on Halloween?" she asked Helen, to distract herself from her nausea.

They were slowly rolling towards the outskirts of town, where Sally Virdon had bought a small house - or rented it, Gina wasn't quite sure. She once had heard Mrs. Virdon mutter about ANSA denying her Mr. Virdon's pension as long as the Daedalus mission was still underway, because as long as they were searching for him, he wasn't presumed dead. So maybe she didn't have enough money to buy a house.

On the other hand, Mrs. Virdon was a scientist. They did have a good income, didn't they?

„An astronaut!" Helen declared, jolting Gina out of her ruminations.

She sighed. That answer had been so predictable. Ever since Helen had been old enough to reject the cute dragon costume, she had insisted on going trick-or-treating as an astronaut, which upset both her brother and her mother, though probably for different reasons. It was unlikely that Gina would be able to convince Helen to try a different costume for a change, but they still had two weeks to work on that problem.

„Why not go as a scientist?" Gina asked as they climbed out of the bus. „Scientists are totally part of a spaceship crew."

Helen thought about that for a moment. „But I wanna be an astronaut," she said finally. „I want to go find daddy! With Chris!"

Gina had never known Mr. Virdon in real life, but from the pictures and videos that Chris had shown her, he seemed to have been a very nice man. Still, some days she wanted to scream if she heard his name, or „daddy," one more time.

„Okay, we need to see if your costume still fits, then," she said, resigned. It was no use trying to talk Helen out of it - if the Virdon siblings shared one trait, it was their stubbornness.

She pushed open the front door, her thoughts already on the homework she still had to do - she could as well get a good part of it done here, until Chris came home from his private lesson with Hasslein, and took over - and on what she'd make Helen for dinner. Mrs. Virdon only came home after Gina had left, and Gina never knew if Chris thought of making Helen more than one of his disgusting peanutbutter-and-cheese sandwiches.

„Mommy!" Helen let out a delighted squeal and raced into the kitchen.

Mrs. Virdon bent down to pick her up. „Hello, doodles!"

There was a lot of hugging and kissing, and „Mommy I'm gonna be an astronaut on Halloween!", and Gina was already halfway out of the door, when Mrs. Virdon called after her. „Gina, wait! Just a second, please!"

Gina froze, her hand already on the doorknob. After her first moment of shock, she had decided that meeting Chris' mom at such an unusual time was ominous enough to justify a hasty retreat, but apparently, she hadn't retreated hastily enough.

She turned around to Mrs. Virdon, who had put Helen on the ground again, and tried to smile. „Actually, I have test tomorrow, and I haven't really prepared for it yet..."

„I won't keep you for long, promise." Mrs. Virdon smiled at her, completely nice and harmless, and Gina gulped and closed the door, and reluctantly returned to the kitchen.

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