Chapter 7

“Okay, brain – let’s get down to business.”

When I really need to think hard, I have a conversation with my brain. I think I got the idea from Homer Simpson, although my brain-versations tend to be somewhat more productive than his.

“Here’s the deal: in the last 36 hours, our life has totally blown itself apart. Everything’s a disaster. I don’t know where to begin describing all the crap that’s happened since Friday morning.”

Brain stayed quiet. He’s a pretty good listener (most of the time).

“Tell you what – why don’t we start with what just happened and work our way backward.”

I nodded and started pacing, one hand on my hip, the other on my chin. The best pose for thinking.

“Mom has just notified me that our home is no longer safe. In her own words, ‘we have to leave.’ But I don’t want to leave.”

Why don’t you want to leave?

“Lots of reasons. I like this house. I like Franklin. I like Eddie. I really like Cierra.”

Brain smiled.

“Ha ha. But seriously, I’m comfortable here. Life is going well, I fit in at the high school, and I don’t think we should allow a bunch of thugs to determine our future for us.”

That all sounds nice, but what about our safety? Do you think it’s smart to remain here?

“That depends. Will our enemies attack us again? Probably. I have no reason to assume they’ll stop.”

Why not?

“Well… I don’t think they’ve accomplished their goal.”

I agree. Unfortunately, none of our conjecture means anything until we discover what their goal actually is.

“And that’s at the heart of this entire problem, brain: the question of why these guys are after us. In fact, I have a lot of why questions, but no one seems to have answers.”

No one?

“…Well, various people must have some answers. They’re just not willing to tell me.”

The strange man at the school – the one we met after the explosions. He promised us more information.

“Yes, he did. 6:00am Monday morning. I definitely haven’t forgotten that.”

Let’s just hope he’s not lying to us.

“Lying to us?”

Well, ‘lying’ isn’t really the correct word. Hopefully he’s not misleading us. Hopefully he’s on our side.

“What makes you say that?”

Oh, c’mon. Are we really that trusting? Green blasts – just like the ones that have almost killed us twice – explode through the school, followed by the emergence of this strange man. He recognizes us on sight even though we don’t recognize him, and then he proceeds to tell us to meet him at 6:00am Monday morning. No one will be at the school that early. We’ll be alone, with him, in a deserted building where green explosions have been occurring. Doesn’t that seem suspicious?

“Well when you put it like that…”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t go. I just want us to think twice about going to meet some stranger by ourselves at an empty building. Just trying to inject some common sense into the situation.

“Thanks. You’re so kind. And I wasn’t planning on going alone. I’d take Eddie with.”

Great, since he’d be SO useful in a fight.

“Hey! Don’t rag on Eddie. He’s my best friend.”

But not a particularly strong or brave or physically intimidating friend.

“It’s not his fault he’s short and skinny. Blame his parents – they’re tiny too.”

I’m not blaming anyone, I was merely commenting on–

“Yeah, I know. After all, I do control you.”

Sometimes brain forgets that.

“Anyway, you’re leading us way off topic. Back to the matter at hand: our life, and what to do about it.”

We were talking about our enemies and their goal. What do you think their goal is?

“Good question, brain. First, let’s discuss what their goal isn’t. I don’t think they want to kill us. After all, if they wanted that, the car chase would have been an easy place to make it happen.”

Yes, but what about the hospital?

“What about it?”

They certainly weren’t going easy on us there. Based on that experience, I don’t think they’re going out of their way to keep us alive.

“Maybe. But I’ve got a better explanation.”

Do tell.

“I doubt they knew we were there.”

Yeah?

“Yeah! How could they have known? Our trip to the hospital wasn’t planned. We didn’t tell anyone we were going.”

You told Eddie.

“No, actually, I didn’t. Nice try, though. I just told him that mom was freaking out and he needed to go home. I didn’t tell him we were going anywhere.”

Oh.

“Why are you so obsessed with Eddie? Quit changing the subject!”

…Sorry.

“Anyway, there’s no way our enemies could have known we’d be at the hospital that night. No way.”

Could they have followed us?

“No, mom would have noticed. She’s borderline paranoid lately.”

And what about their tracking sensors – the ones your mom described?

“She said they only responded to keywords. I guess there’s a chance they could have noticed something, but it seems unlikely since she didn’t say anything during our trip to the hospital. If she did trip a sensor, it wouldn’t have happened until after she met with dad.”

Hmmm. For once, I think you may be right.

“Of course I’m right! But you know where this conclusion leads us…”

I do. If these attackers weren’t trying to kill us at the hospital, they must have been after someone else.

“Someone else indeed.”

Your dad.

“Our dad, technically speaking. But yeah – that’s the logical explanation.”

So why him? Why would these strange attackers be after your – er, our old man?

“I don’t know, brain. I honestly have no idea. That’s what I’m hoping to learn at 6:00am Monday morning.”

Okay, we’ll remember that as big question #1: why are these guys after dad?

“And don’t forget it! Now for my other question: assuming they are only after dad, why not just kill the rest of us?”

I can think of several explanations. If they keep us alive, it gives them something to use against dad. It gives them leverage.

“Good point.”

How about this – maybe you have information about your dad and they want it.

“Hmm, also possible.”

Either way, we can’t know why they’re after us and mom and the siblings without knowing why they went after dad in the first place. Everything hinges on that.

“I agree. Way to get to the heart of the matter.”

You probably think I’m crazy for talking to my own brain, but hey – it really does help me sort things out. Now I knew the main question at hand: to figure out the connection between dad and our pursuers. Once I had that, everything else would fall into place.

…I hoped.

“Okay, brain – this is good, but it’s not enough. We have a couple other things to consider before we’re allowed to leave the room.”

I think I know what’s coming.

“The poisoning.”

Yeah, about that. I’ve got nothing.

“Me either, but it definitely gives the situation some urgency. I don’t think we can afford to sit around and wait for things to fall into place. We need to be more proactive than that.”

What do you propose?

“One of several options.”

A sudden spattering of knocks rang across my bedroom door, followed by a soft voice.

“Teal?”

It was mom.

I slowly opened the door.

“Hey, mom.”

“Hey. I heard talking up here. Were you on the phone?”

“No, just talking to myself. It helps me think.”

“Oh. Sorry to interrupt.”

“It’s okay. Did you need something?”

“Actually, I wanted to run something by you.”

“What?”

She sighed heavily – generally not a good sign.

“Let’s sit down,” she said, closing the door and walking to my bed.

This sudden need to sit – also not good. Had something new gone wrong?

“I’ve made an important decision,” she said as I sat down beside her. “Like I said earlier, I don’t think our home is safe. If we remain here, we’ll almost certainly be attacked again.”

Oh crap. She was going to make us leave.

“Mom, I–”

“Wait. Let me finish.”

She waited until I exhaled.

“I’m going to take Jackson and Emmary to a safe location, Teal. Somewhere far away from here; somewhere closer to the hospital where your father is staying.”

“Wait – just Jackson and Emmary?”

“That’s what I need to ask you. After everything that’s happened in the last 36 hours, I want to say how impressed I am by your maturity and bravery.”

Whoa. I wasn’t expecting that.

“The way you handled things at the hospital last night – as well as in the van this morning – were amazing. I’m very proud of you, Teal.”

As much as I didn’t want it, a strange combination of burning and prickly uncomfortableness – the one that prefaces crying – seized my throat.

I hate that feeling.

“After considering our situation,” she continued, “I think you should be allowed to decide where you stay. I’d obviously love nothing more than to have you with me and the other children, but I don’t think it’s fair to make that decision for you.”

This was unbelievable. I laughed awkwardly as my right eye let a tear slide out.

“Wow,” I said, quickly wiping away the rogue tear. “Who are you and what have you done with my mom?”

Mom laughed; it was strained, but it was a laugh. It sounded nice.

“Oh, Teal – I know I’m too overbearing sometimes. I know I should let you have more freedom. I don’t mean to be so tough on you.”

“You’re not too tough on me.”

“Sure I am. In my more lucid moments I realize how controlling I can be, how I sometimes forget how hard it is to be in high school. I really appreciate what a good kid you are. I mean it.”

Great. Now my left eye was dripping too.

“Thanks, mom. I… thanks.”

She hugged me and kissed my forehead, and then the floodgates opened. How embarrassing.

But man – it felt good to hear that. To know that my mom cared about me, cared about what I did. I don’t know that she’d ever said something like that to me.

Ever.

Time slipped past, the seconds coalescing into minutes, and for the first time in 36 hours my life actually seemed okay.

Eventually mom stirred and I realized I had nearly drifted asleep; she gave me one last squeeze then stood up and walked to the door.

I rubbed my eyes and glanced at the clock. It was almost 10:00 am.

“Teal,” she said as she opened the door, “I’ll be downstairs with the little ones. Once you’ve made your decision, please let me know. I’m hoping to leave with the children later tonight, probably around 5:00 or 6:00. If you decide to come with us you’ll need time to pack.”

I yawned and nodded.

“Okay, mom. I’ll let you know what I decide.”

She smiled and left, closing the door behind her. In the stillness that followed, I realized two things.

One: as much as she sometimes drove me insane, my mom was alright.

And two: I was really, really tired.

Figuring a quick nap could help clear my troubled mind, I lay down on my bed, closed my eyes, and slipped asleep.


From: HIRC
To: zYken
Subj: gArrison

Plan @ 75%. gArrison fmly “escape” CONFIRMED.<break>

Sxsfl tracking CONFIRMED.<break>

Home locashn CONFIRMED.<break>

Prceding as ordred. Partl seizure plnnd for 10.30. Chld 1 to be lft behind as pr ordrs.<break>

ETA @ HQ ~11.00.<break>

Requst nver use humn phons again. H8 txtng.<break>

<end>



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