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remember that. Sometimes it happens. If he's gonna shoot you, you take care of
yourself and worry about it later. But you always have to take it seriously,
because the other fellow wants to live just as much as you do."
"I... found that out." Justin wondered if finding it out would set him apart
from everybody he knew back in the home timeline. Knowing things your friends
didn't couldn't help but isolate you from them . . . could it?
"You've joined a club nobody wants to belong to." Mr. Brooks was scarily good
at thinking along with him. The older man went on, "Chances are you'll meet
more members than you know about, because the others won't talk about it any
more than you will." He turned to Justin's mother. "What's going on here?"
"I'm still alive. Nobody's robbed the place," she answered. Then she filled
him in on the bigger picture, the way she had with Justin.
He nodded. "Okay. Thanks. It could be worse. It could be better, too, but it
could always be better."
He was asking Mom more questions when Justin went into the back room. He got
out of Adrian's uniform as fast as he could and put on the clothes he had in
the pack. They were wrinkled as anything, but he didn't care. He didn't care
about going upstairs for a different outfit, either. He wanted to turn into
himself again, as fast as he could, not a Virginia soldier any more. Anything
but a Virginia soldier, in fact.
When he came out again, Mr. Brooks nodded to him. "Took the whammy off, did
you?"
"Yeah!" Justin said.
"Don't blame you a bit."
Justin nodded now. He was glad the coin and stamp dealer didn't blame him.
But, all things considered, how much difference did that make? He'd blame
himself for the rest of his life. If he hadn't put on the uniform . . . what?
He started to think, That African-American kid would still be alive then. But
was that true? Was it even likely? Wouldn't Smitty or one of the other real
Virginia soldiers have shot him instead? Or, if they hadn't, wouldn't the
self-propelled guns have killed him? How could you know? You couldn't, not for
sure. He wondered if he was looking for an excuse to feel less guilty. He
hoped not. He would stay a member of Mr. Brooks' unhappy club no matter what.
He'd just have to figure out how to live with it, and that wouldn't happen
overnight, either.
He had the rest of his life to worry about it. The kid he'd shot didn't, not
anymore. And that was exactly the point.
"I don't feel good." Gran said it in a surprisingly matter-of-fact way. Most
of the time, she was proud of her aches and pains. She used them to outdo
other people around her who might have the nerve not to be well. But coming
out and announcing something like this wasn't her usual style.
Because it wasn't, Beckie paid more attention than she would have otherwise.
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"What's the matter?" she asked.
"The light seems too bright. And I'm warm, even though I know the air
conditioner is running," Gran said.
Beckie walked over to her and put a hand on her forehead. She almost jerked it
back in alarm. Her grandmother wasn't just warm. She was hot, much too hot. It
could have been a lot of things. Beckie feared she knew what it was.
"Can you get me some water?" Gran usually milked her symptoms for all they
were worth, too.
This time, Beckie didn't mind. As she went to the sink, she wondered what to
do. Call the local emergency number? With fighting still going on in the city,
would anybody pay attention? A long burst of machine-gun fire underscored her
fears. Somebody screamed not a short, frightened scream like the ones in the
movies, but a shriek that went on and on and on. Anybody who screamed that way
was dying as fast as he could, but not fast enough.
But with people in Charleston making noises like that, how long would the
emergency people take to get here if they came at all? What would they do when
they did? Will they stick me in quarantine somewhere? Will I ever get out
again? She and Gran were foreigners here. Did California even have a consulate
in Charleston? She looked in the phone book and didn't find one. Especially
during a rebellion, the Virginians could do anything they wanted.
"Let me have some more," Gran said, so Beckie did.
Then she looked in the phone book again. Sure enough, there it was: CHARLESTON
COINS AND STAMP COMPANY. It gave an address along with the phone number.
Beckie didn't know where that address was. She'd never expected to come to
Charleston. But the room had a computer terminal. It was slow and clunky by
California standards, but it worked. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]