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©2019 by Alanna Peterson. All rights reserved.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Sunday June 21

“Why can’t I call my parents?” asked Cyrus. 

 

Roya reached up to hold her brother's hand. “Are they okay?”

 

Gretchen hesitated. “Yes, they are all right, but… I am sorry to tell you this. They were arrested.” 

 

“Arrested? Why?” 

 

“Well... if you really don't know... it is a long story. I don’t think I will explain very well. Please, come in. Frida, can you find that article online?” 

 

“Can I call my mom?” Andi asked as they followed the couple into the cottage, trying to keep her voice steady.

 

“Of course. But before you do, you should know what’s happened.”

 

Inside, it was stuffy despite the open windows; the humid, stagnant air was unable to escape. Frida led them down a narrow wooden stairway to the basement, where it was cooler. She could only locate two chairs, so Cyrus and Andi sat at the desk while Roya sank onto a tattered corduroy couch, the black lab curled up next to her. 

 

Gretchen reappeared with three tall, frosty glasses of ice water, and Andi sipped hers gratefully as Frida booted up the ancient desktop computer and clicked around. Cyrus, beside her, breathed audibly; she could tell he was restraining himself from taking control of the mouse. 

 

Finally, Frida found the article. “Here it is. Take your time. We were about to have supper—we'll set out some plates for you, when you're ready to join us.” She and Gretchen excused themselves.

 

“What happened? Will you read it to me?” Roya asked drowsily from the couch.

 

“Hold on,” Cyrus said, already reading. Andi, though, focused on the top of the page, where her drab school picture was displayed alongside a photo of Cyrus’s family at the beach. Naveed stood smiling in the center of the frame, his arms around Cyrus and Roya, pulling them close. Andi pressed her hand to her chest. Looking at the photo made her heart ache.   

 

Cyrus scrolled down, so that the screen was filled with words, and there was nothing to do but read. 

 

DEAD OR ALIVE? NEW EVIDENCE COMES TO LIGHT IN SEATTLE BOMBING

Six days after a car bomb exploded during a downtown Seattle protest, leaving seven people injured and four children presumed dead, police reveal they are now investigating the possibility that Naveed (17), Cyrus (15), and Roya Mirzapour (8), along with Alexandria “Andi” Lin (16), did not perish in the explosion—and may have carried out the bombing themselves.

Saman and Mahnaz Mirzapour are currently facing terrorism charges after the explosives detonated in their van. They both maintain they had no knowledge of the bomb. But, according to police, Mahnaz—who worked as a research scientist at Nutrexo until she was fired eight years ago—admitted to data theft after confidential files from the company were found on the family's laptop computer.

Authorities had assumed that the children decided to leave when the protest grew chaotic, and were in the van when the bomb exploded. However, skepticism about their deaths has been growing in some circles, since no remains have been found.

 

Yesterday came a new development: a flash drive containing password-cracking software was found near the site of the explosion. Police were able to obtain a partial fingerprint and matched it to Cyrus Mirzapour. This led to a re-examination of previously collected evidence, and Seattle Police Chief Emmett Packard states the SPD is now pursuing the possibility that Cyrus and Naveed Mirzapour engineered the bomb and went into hiding following its detonation. 

On the morning of the explosion, Naveed Mirzapour sent a text to his girlfriend that may have hinted at his plans: “Can't talk now, headed to protest. It's gonna be epic. Fill you in later.” She noted that he had been avoiding her in the days leading up to the protest, and has not had any communication with him since.

Federal authorities also obtained a string of messages written in Farsi from Naveed's email account. The family is of Iranian descent, and he had been corresponding with a friend in Tehran, Farhad Abbasi, for over a year. In an email sent three days before the protest, Naveed described his excitement for the rally, saying that he was eager to fight back against “corporate control of the food supply.” “Any pointers?” he asked Mr. Abbasi, who had alluded to his own involvement in anti-government demonstrations in Tehran.

 

Mr. Abbasi's response: “Cause a little chaos. And don't get caught.” 

Police note it is unlikely that Roya, the youngest Mirzapour, has been involved, but Andi Lin's role is less clear. Her mother, Joyce Lin, has repeatedly declined requests for interviews, but confirmed with police that her daughter met the brothers months before the attack. 

Some have speculated that the Mirzapours used Ms. Lin to exploit her connections with Nutrexo's senior VP—Mark Williams’ daughter is a close family friend—but Williams denies having any discussions about the company with Ms. Lin.   

Nutrexo issued a statement yesterday urging employees to be alert, and to work from home when possible. “We have reason to believe that another, larger, attack on our company may be imminent. But we must stand strong. America deserves a safe, wholesome food supply, and Nutrexo delivers. We will not let these terrorists destroy what we've worked so hard to provide for the people of this country.”

Chief Packard urges citizens to remain aware of their surroundings. If anything suspicious is seen, the police should be contacted immediately.   

Cyrus’s chair scraped the floor. He disappeared into the bathroom, slamming the door. Roya, who had fallen asleep on the couch, stirred but did not awaken. 

 

Andi turned back to the article and read the first of the 837 comments before she managed to stop herself. 

 

I can't believe I spent the last week feeling sorry for these kids. Now I wish that blast actually did kill them.

 

Mahnaz Mirzapour deserves to rot behind bars. No wonder her sons are violent extremists, she's probably been force-feeding them propaganda their whole lives. And now the rest of us are at risk, thanks to her. 

 

i dont get what these people are trying to prove. they say their making things more fair but really their just taking away our freedom. i'm gonna buy what i want and eat what i want. nutrexo knows what people like and their giving it to us and i'm going to keep supporting them and buying there products.    

 

Andi’s cheeks burned, and despite having not eaten all day, she felt nauseated. She lowered her head to the desk and took a deep breath. 

 

So Dr. Snyder hadn't been lying, not entirely. There actually had been an incident at the protest, and Andi's recurring nightmares about shaking ground weren't so much dreams as memories. No one had come looking for them because everyone thought they were dead. At least, until now; it was certainly no coincidence that the flash drive happened to turn up the day they escaped from SILO. Nutrexo was trying to make them sound like crazy terrorist bombers, so no one would believe them when they tried to tell the truth.

 

Mark's statement also bothered Andi. They had discussed the company together, and he probably knew exactly what was going on.

 

And then there was her mother. It was painful to think about how this past week must have been for her. She probably believed Andi had been killed; Andi couldn't imagine she'd buy the story that Andi had run off with terrorists. But it hurt even more knowing that her mother was alone—her dad was still at SILO, so lost in his fantasy world that he had no idea what was happening. Andi wanted desperately to call her, to tell her everything, but the police were probably monitoring her mom's phone, and she needed more time to think. 

 

Andi sat up, scrolling mindlessly down the page until an advertisement in the sidebar caught her eye. Mesmerized, disgusted, she watched as it continued its endless loop. She had to show Cyrus.

 

Andi tapped on the bathroom door. “Can we talk?”

 

“Fine.” Cyrus twisted the knob open. He sat on the closed toilet, holding his glasses in one hand, pinching the bridge of his nose with the other. The gun was on his lap.

 

He didn’t look up. “So, did you call your mom? I bet she can’t wait to rescue you from our family of fucking terrorists.”

 

“No. I’m sure she knows that’s not true—but I’m not going to call her yet. Cyrus, I’m not abandoning you. Besides, there’s something I need to show—”

 

“What am I going to do with this?” Cyrus swept his hand over the gun. “Gretchen and Frida were nice to take us in, but if they see this... it'll look like....” 

 

Andi picked it up. “Here. I'll find somewhere to hide it for now. Once we explain what happened, they'll understand.” 

 

Cyrus didn't protest. His eyes focused on a cracked floor tile. “I can't believe... I mean, what the fuck, Andi? A bomb? And my parents, in jail... why are they doing this to us? Is it because of those documents my mom took?”

 

“I don't know. Probably.” It would have seemed an excessive response to a security breach, had it not been for what Richard had said at the party: Tara assured me that her team has it under control. He had put a mentally unstable person in charge of an important cover-up.

 

As Andi thought about the party, she realized why the name “Emmett” had sounded so familiar. “I'm not sure the police will believe our story, though. Richard Caring and Chief Packard are friends or something—they used to be frat brothers.” 

 

Cyrus buried his head in his hands. “Oh, God. What am I going to tell Roya?” he asked, his voice cracking. “Dammit. Naveed would know what to do. But he’s lost, Andi, and I… I can’t handle this.” 

 

His shoulders shook as he sobbed. Andi stood there, uselessly, close to crying herself; the more she considered their situation, the heavier its impossible weight grew. And there was a gun in her hands, black and hard, heavy too. She hid it underneath a stack of towels in the cupboard, then put her hand on Cyrus's back. He looked up at her with watery eyes. “You don’t have to do it alone,” she said. “We’ll figure it out together.”

 

Cyrus exhaled, replacing his glasses. “Together. Okay.” 

 

They returned to the main room. Andi debated whether to show him the ad; he had enough on his mind. But, if they were going to do this together, he needed to know. She led him back to the computer. 

 

“Sorry, but you need to see this.” Andi pointed at the screen, where the advertisement played on.

 

They watched as small red chips sprung from a blue bowl like a fountain, filling the air with elaborate patterns. The banner at the bottom read, “A new flavor of awesome: Blazin Bitz Crave. Get ‘em July 1.”

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