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©2020 Alanna Peterson. All rights reserved.

Chapter Thirty-One

Monday June 22

Cyrus woke up disoriented. At first he thought he was back home in the room he'd always shared with his brother, but the familiar sounds of Naveed’s deep, steady breathing were replaced by lighter and faster ones. He remembered where he was as soon as he turned over and saw Andi on the couch, a pillow over her head. Great, he must have been snoring.

 

He tried to go back to sleep—his body ached, his throat was sore, and he knew he needed more rest—but was unable to get comfortable. In the night, the things he didn’t want to face had a way of returning. Guilt seeped in as he thought about his brother. Naveed could have been here too, feasting with them, sleeping under blankets, if only Cyrus had done something differently, if he’d said the right thing back in the woods.

 

But Naveed wasn’t here, and Cyrus couldn't talk to anyone about it. He was just as worried about Naveed as Andi was, but he couldn't stand listening to her fret over his brother. He hated admitting that, but it was true. 

 

Cyrus knew that his pudginess, his geekiness, made him invisible to Andi. But maybe he could change that. Maybe he could be the hero, for once. 

 

He had an opportunity now. If he could come up with a surefire way to expose SILO, they'd have to shut it down, and their “prisoners”—including Andi’s father—would be released. Then everyone would be more likely to listen to the truth and realize that his family was innocent. 

 

He’d liked Andi’s idea to do an interview with Real Change. One of their recent articles, a piece about food waste, had been critical of Nutrexo's policies. But he could already see Nutrexo fighting back by casting doubt on the paper's credibility. Plus, it only came out once a week. By the time their story was published, it might be too late. And he didn’t want to just tell people who were willing to buy newspapers from the homeless. He wanted to tell everyone.

 

Cyrus sat up in bed, struck by a new idea. Being careful not to wake the others, he crept over to the computer.

 

Using the secure browser he’d installed in order to obscure his true IP address, he created a new account on the developer forum where he and Dev sometimes hung out, in case the FBI was tracing his usual login. Then he searched for Dev, and was pleased to see that his friend was logged on, even though it wasn’t yet 8 a.m.

 

He requested a private chat, and seconds later Dev accepted. 

 

zombie555: 

Hello old friend 

it’s me, the one who brought u cherry turnovers last week

 

devcha89:

Well hello

Hey it’s good to see you but can we move this conversation somewhere else? 

 

zombie555:

Uh ok

 

devcha89:

I set up a username for you:

Co-op hippie attack weapon + favorite dish to bake + # times you beat me at chess.

Passphrase: same one we used for PNWQ

 

Dev sent him a link to an encrypted chat site, and Cyrus logged in, impressed—but not surprised—that Dev had come up with such an ingenious way of checking his identity. He was glad Dev wasn't taking security lightly. 

 

deltacube008:

So it IS you!

Cy I'm so glad you're alive, but you are in some deep shit right now

 

wormpie1:

Yes, I am aware of that.

 

deltacube008:

So I have to know, WTF IS GOING ON????

Oh, and are you ok?

 

wormpie1:

Thanks for asking. I’m swell. 

as for the other question, it’s a loooooooooong story.

 

deltacube008:

Hey is Naveed with you?

 

wormpie1:

No I’m with Roya and Andi but we got separated from Naveed. Why? 

 

deltacube008:

Shit. This has been the weirdest night ever.

 

wormpie1:

???

u know where he is?

 

deltacube008:

Not exactly. 

You got a few mins?

You in a safe place? Somewhere private? Secure connection?

 

wormpie1:

Yes. Totally safe & secure. 

I have a favor to ask too,

But tell me what's going on first

 

deltacube008:

OK. Where to start? So we went on our “vacation”

(I don’t know what my mom was thinking. Camping was a disaster.)            

And when we got back on Wednesday I found out you were dead.

My mom was kind of weird about it.  

She came into my room all serious, said she didn't want me doing any interviews 

(all these reporters wanted to ask me about you)

And told me to never, EVER say anything critical about Nutrexo to anyone.

Well. That was an odd thing to say.

So the next day when she was at work, I snooped around her office.

I really needed something to take my mind off the whole Dead Best Friend thing.

She's pretty good at covering her tracks, but I've figured out most of her tricks by now.

 

wormpie1:

so what did u find???

 

deltacube008:

Our moms were conspiring against Nutrexo. Yours, mine, Brooke’s.

You know how Brooke's dad Scott works there? 

I guess Kelly had found out they were up to no good 

Someone got drunk at their Christmas party and let details about the EcoCows slip

But Kelly and Mahnaz didn't come to my mom for help until after some conference where they found out the govt approved EcoCow milk. 

They wanted to blow the whistle on it, get the whole project shut down, but they needed evidence against it, so they convinced my mom to hack into Nutrexo’s servers and take some confidential docs. 

 

Cyrus coughed, and got up to take a drink of water from the bathroom sink. It made sense that Dev’s mom had helped; he’d known that Maman didn’t have the skills to get those documents on her own. But he didn't understand how Nutrexo found out she had them in the first place—

 

His heart sank as he remembered standing in the buffet line with Andi before the play, telling her about the stolen file. Back then, the whole thing had seemed a harmless diversion. But what if someone had overheard him? He never should have said anything in public.        

 

Feeling guiltier than ever, he returned to the computer and continued the chat.

deltacube008:

My mom and Kelly owe your mom big time. Mahnaz took the fall for both of them.

They've been trying to clear her name but so far, no luck.

People have been tearing her apart, saying that she basically killed you and stuff.

And Nutrexo gets to look like the victim—there's like this huge campaign to support them. 

It's been painful.

Then things got weird Saturday night. 

All of a sudden the news is like, oh, maybe they aren't dead after all, 

maybe *they're* the terrorists!

 

wormpie1:

Yeah. It's because we escaped Saturday. 

They're trying to cover their asses, make us look crazy 

so that nobody believes us when we try to tell the truth.

 

deltacube008:

ESCAPED? From where?

 

wormpie1:

I know this sounds insane but I swear it's true. 

They took us to the same place

where they’re developing the EcoCows

A research farm in the middle of nowhere.

They call it SILO.

There's this scientist Dr. Snyder

who does experiments on people too

 

deltacube008:

Well, fuck.

I don't even know what to say. 

You sure you're ok?

 

wormpie1:

Um, I think so. The three of us are fine.

But Naveed, not so much.

 

deltacube008:

What happened?

 

wormpie1:

Some messed up shit I don’t really want to talk about

so do u know where he is?

 

deltacube008:

Oh yeah I was getting to that.  

Ok so after I found out what our moms were up to, I had to tell somebody.

Of course the person I wanted to tell was you but I couldn’t. 

I tracked down Brooke, because I thought she should know.

We started chatting here and decided we couldn’t just sit back and let everyone believe what Nutrexo's telling them.

So I started working on a new website, totally untraceable to us.

NutrexoTruth.com. The problem is we don't have much content. 

I'm not about to go poking around in their servers for more proof.

Especially after what happened with your mom—bad luck that the docs she got didn't turn up any dirt.

Plus Brooke and I both got interrogated by the FBI yesterday so we have to be extra careful

(Ugh. I tried, but it was pointless. Those guys have already made up their minds about you.)

ANYWAY. Last night Brooke popped up here and said that Naveed called her! 

 

wormpie1: 

WHAT??? 

 

deltacube008: 

Yeah but Brooke was kinda panicked

I guess he didn't sound so good, asked her for a ride home

He didn't seem to have any idea how much trouble he's in

But she couldn't tell him cuz she was afraid the FBI might be listening

 

wormpie1: 

Shit 

so where did he call from?? 

 

deltacube008: 

She searched the number after she hung up. 

He was at this bar called Terrence's Tavern, like an hour south of Seattle in Orting.

 

wormpie1: 

In Orting? That's where we are!

We could go look for him

 

deltacube008: 

Actually... I don't think he's there anymore

Brooke told him (in code) to go to this park on Lake Washington,

Coho Beach, where her cousin got married.

In the woods there's this old burned-out tree

She wanted him to hide out there until someone could pick him up

BUT she didn't know he was in Orting when she suggested it, 

And obviously he doesn't have a way to get there

So she told me to call Ethan, get him to search 

(Wish I could've gone. Hate not being old enough to drive yet.)

She was freaking out pretty bad, afraid her phone had been tapped, 

That the FBI would make her tell where the hideout was, 

and ambush him there if he did make it.

Or that someone recognized him in the bar, and the police would find out he called her but she didn't notify them like she's supposed to.

Then she was like, “Sorry gotta go” and signed off

I’ve been hanging out here hoping she would come back on, but… nothing.

(Just found out why—guess she took off, you can google it.)

 

wormpie1: 

Yikes 

u heard anything from Ethan?

 

deltacube008: 

He's been searching all night with a couple others. Nothing yet.

 

It occurred to Cyrus that each moment of relief he’d felt in the past few days had been swiftly followed by something unpleasant. Like Naveed smiling by the campfire just before the helicopter showed up, or arriving at Gretchen and Frida’s only to find out what happened at the protest. This was no exception. Naveed had managed to find his way out of the woods, but he was not safe. 

    

                      

deltacube008:

So, where are you?

 

wormpie1:

We’re at this farm with these nice old people. 

I had the best dinner last night

 

deltacube008:

Glad to hear it. You said something about a favor?

 

wormpie1:

Oh yeah, can I send u a file? It’ll explain everything. 

I know Nutrexo's probably gonna say we made it up, 

but I got it from the source and didn't change a thing

Anyway u should put it on ur new website

Oh and I'll see if I can find SILO on the satellite map

Also a picture of Dr. Snyder. She's the one they should be looking for.

but make sure it can't be traced back to u

I want everyone to know the truth

Maybe people will believe it if we put enough proof in front of them

How u gonna spread the word about the site?

 

deltacube008:

Two words for you, my friend: 

DANCING SQUIRREL

 

wormpie1:

HELL YEAH MEME IT UP!!! 

Think u can make it go as viral as old Nutkin did?

 

deltacube008:

You’re like super famous right now.

(Maybe infamous is a better word.) 

I’ll barely have to do anything and the internet will blow up.

Do you have a webcam? Maybe you could shoot a quick video.

 

wormpie1:

Sure I’ll get on that when the others wake up

Thanks Dev. For everything. 

 

deltacube008:

Sure thing. Seriously, SO GOOD to hear from you.

You need anything else, you know where to find me.

 

As soon as Cyrus sent Dev the encrypted file and logged off, he searched for Terrence’s Tavern. The results page was filled with recently-updated news sites. He clicked the first link and read.  

 

The owner of the bar had called the police about an hour after Naveed had left. “He didn't look much like the kid they've been showing on the news,” he said. “But something about the whole situation seemed off. It kept nagging at me, so I figured better safe than sorry.” 

 

The FBI had analyzed shards from a glass of water that Naveed dropped at the bar. The fingerprints matched those they had pulled from his carving knife at home. They were now expanding the search area, since a nearby homeowner had reported that her son’s bicycle was stolen from their front yard during the night, and they had issued a police sketch based on the bartender's description. In the picture, Naveed looked bedraggled and hollow-eyed. Kind of like a terrorist fugitive, Cyrus hated to admit. 

 

Across the country in Massachusetts, the FBI was trying to find Brooke. They had traced the call made from the bar's phone, and wanted to ask her some questions. But her father had awoken to find his daughter, and his SUV, gone. 

 

The internet was already blowing up.

 

As Cyrus scrolled through the news sites, a crushing dread descended. Police were searching the area, looking for them.

 

They weren't safe at Gretchen and Frida's anymore.  

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