cover

Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Kathy Reichs

Title Page

Dedication

Prologue

Part One: Broke

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Part Two: Buccaneer

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Part Three: Bull

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Part Four: Booty

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

Bones of the Lost

Copyright

About the Book

The second novel in the Virals series by Kathy Reichs, the number one international bestselling author of the Temperance Brennan novels and inspiration for the hit Fox TV series, Bones.

Since their dangerous transformation, the Virals have been lying low. But now Loggerhead Island is at risk, and with it, their parents’ jobs. The pack suddenly faces separation. The only thing that can stop it is money, and lots of it.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Tory Brennan, great-niece of famous forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan, thinks she’s devised the perfect plan: find the lost treasure of famous she-pirate Anne Bonney. Legend has it that Bonney hid her fortune somewhere near Charleston, but in nearly 300 years no one has found it.

With the help of newfound powers, and a nudge from modern technology, the Virals are on the right track. But they’re not the only ones looking, and whoever is following will stop at nothing to recover the treasure first. Adding to the danger, the Virals soon learn that Anne Bonney didn’t leave her booty unprotected. And there are dead bodies to prove it.

The path ahead is fraught with danger. And this time, the pack’s special abilities may not be enough to save them…

About the Author

Kathy Reichs is forensic anthropologist for the Offices of the Chief Medical Examiner, State of North Carolina, and for the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale for the province of Quebec. She divides her time between Charlotte and Montreal and is a frequent expert witness in criminal trials.

Also by Kathy Reichs

Déjà Dead

Death du Jour

Deadly Décisions

Fatal Voyage

Grave Secrets

Bare Bones

Monday Mourning

Cross Bones

Break No Bones

Bones to Ashes

Devil Bones

206 Bones

Spider Bones (Published in hardback in the UK as Mortal Remains)

Flash and Bones

Virals

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For Hannah, Madelynn, Brendan, Brittney,
and Brianna, my Texas critics
.

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CANNONS THUMPED IN the distance.

Boom! Boom!

Final, frustrated salvos that faded with the dying light.

Wind screamed and lightning slashed a bruise-purple sky. Thunder clapped. Rain drummed the heaving forecastle deck.

Nervous shouts ricocheted as the crew struggled to trim the mainsail. Instructions. Curses. Prayers.

Revenge crested an enormous wave, then listed hard to port as a massive gust shoved her sideways. Timbers groaned. Voices bellowed in panic.

The pirate ship vibrated with an unnatural hum, moments from capsizing.

Seconds passed. Eons.

Then, mercifully, Revenge dropped into a deep trough. Shielded from the fierce gale, she slowly righted herself.

The deck leveled.

The shouts morphed into dark laughter, the giddy excitement of those pulled back from the brink. Backs were slapped. Grins spread like plague.

To all but one.

A tiny figure huddled alone on the quarterdeck, clutching the stern rail. Her body was drenched. Wind danced her hair, ripped at her shirt, bandana, and velvet waistcoat.

The woman had no complaints. The deadly storm was speeding Revenge to safety.

Her gaze scanned the trailing horizon. Anxious. Searching for enemy sails. Hoping not to spot them.

Then Revenge mounted another gargantuan wave.

There they were. A trio of black cutouts against the heavy, dark clouds.

Two were sloops similar to Revenge. Nothing they couldn’t handle. But the third vessel was trouble.

English.

Frigate.

Bristling with thirty cannons.

Bullocks.

Calico Jack’s men were good fighters, true pirates all. But they were no match for such a warship.

Revenge ran for her life.

Moments later the woman saw sailors scurrying the decks of the pursuing ships, frantically reefing sails.

Slowly the trio dropped back, swung about, and reversed course.

As it turned, the massive frigate fired one last broadside. A futile gesture. The range was far too great.

The woman finally smiled.

The approaching storm had soured the chase for the Crown’s small fleet.

Her relief was short-lived, replaced by other worries.

Escape had a price.

Revenge’s bowsprit was pointed into the heart of the rising tempest.

Anne Bonny watched a colossal breaker crash over the bow. Jack’s crew had dodged the hangman’s noose, but the sea would have the final say.

They’d had little choice but to chance the storm. Not after blundering into the British patrol. Frankly, Bonny was amazed Revenge had eluded the colonial authorities yet again.

Third time this year. The net is tightening.

Weeks earlier, the Charles Town militia had cornered Revenge while she was anchored off the Bahamian coast. Jack’s men had awakened hungover and surly. They’d fought as best they could, but Revenge had nearly been forced against the rocks. Escape had been a very close thing.

And now they tempted fate in violent waters.

Bonny slumped to the deck, arm looping the rail for safety.

So tired. Tired of running.

For a moment, Bonny’s eyes drifted shut. Unbidden came the image of Laughing Pete, his body crushed by a British cannonball.

Her lids snapped open.

A storm had saved Revenge this time. Climactic luck. How long could such good fortune hold?

Of late, the gallows loomed large in Bonny’s mind.

So few of us left.

She saw faces, recalled names.

Stede Bonnet had been captured on the Cape Fear River, hanged at White Point in Charles Town. Rich Whorley had mistaken militia boats for merchant ships and paid with his life. Charles Vane had been hanged at Gallows Point, not ten leagues from where she now slumped.

Even Blackbeard was dead, killed in battle off the Carolina coast.

Yet Jack refuses to see.

Bonny raised her eyes to the topmast, where Calico Jack’s banner flapped wildly. A black field, a white skull, two crossed cutlasses.

According to Jack, the flag announced he was always ready to fight.

He thinks we can go on pillaging forever. Even as they pick us off, ship by ship.

Bonny shook her head.

The other captains understood. Black Bart Roberts and Long Ben were already on the run. The rest would follow. Colonial power was increasing in the Caribbean. More warships. More troops. More control.

The golden age of piracy was drawing to a close. Any fool could see that.

Our way of life is ending. I won’t end with it!

Bonny thought hard. Decided.

Pushing from the rail, she scurried amidships. Years at sea had made her adept at traversing the pitching, rolling deck. Rain pummeled her head and shoulders as she dropped through a hatch into the vessel’s underbelly.

Dark. Dank.

Two pirates guarded the forward compartments. At her approach the men stepped aside, careful to avoid giving offense. Anne Bonny was not to be crossed. She needed no one’s permission to visit the treasure hold.

Thunder boomed, shaking Revenge to her keel. Ignoring the storm, Bonny pried open a rough-hewn wooden door, passed through, then closed it behind her. She was alone, a rare luxury on a ship at sea.

Bonny took in the cramped chamber. Sacks of wool and tobacco lined one wall, piled next to oil casks and giant barrels of rum. A strongbox was bolted to the portside boards, filled to the brim with gold and silver coins.

Random objects filled what little space remained. Two leather chairs. A Spanish suit of armor. Jewelry boxes inlaid with rubies. Crates of English muskets. A set of ornamental brass sconces.

Anything of value, pirates will take.

Bonny smiled sadly. She was going to miss this line of work.

But she intended to survive.

Determined, she shifted aside a crate of perfume and two trunks of women’s clothing, revealing a wooden chest secured by a stout iron lock.

She didn’t open it. No need. She knew what lay inside.

This one is mine, Jack. The rest is yours.

But where to hide it?

Bonny’s brow furrowed in thought.

Then the smile returned. Wider this time.

Perfect.

It would take patience, she knew, and luck. But she had plenty of both. And wouldn’t that just goose the others?

Bonny chuckled softly. God, she loved being a pirate.

Jack is a fool. I must speak with Mary. Tomorrow.

Amused by the daring of her plan, Bonny retraced her path along the narrow passage and up the ladder to the main deck. The raging storm nearly forced her back down the rungs.

Night had fallen. Revenge was running in total darkness.

Bonny staggered to a rail and grabbed hold. Around her, crewmen struggled with lines and sails. She gazed out at the roiling ocean, oddly calm. She’d made her decision. Nothing would go wrong.

Two phrases winged through her brain.

That chest is mine. God weep for anyone who tries to steal it from me.

Revenge sped over an endless parade of enormous, frothing whitecaps.

Speeding Anne Bonny on her way.

North.

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SNAP.

THE RUSH WAS electric, like grabbing the third rail in a subway tunnel.

My blood raced, molten lead careening through scorched veins.

Pain.

Disorientation.

Then power. Limitless power. Visceral power.

Sweat exploded from every pore.

My irises sparked, flashed golden. Glowing yellow disks encircled bottomless, inky-black pupils. The world sharpened to a laser-fine crispness. My eyes pierced like daggers.

My ears buzzed, then honed to supersonic clarity. White noise filled my head. A beat. The dissonance coalesced into a symphony of distinguishable ocean sounds.

My nose awoke, whisked patterns from the summer breeze, deftly read the coastal scents. Salt. Sand. Sea. My nostrils sifted the delicate nuances.

My arms and legs quivered, smoldering with caged energy yearning for release. Unconsciously, I bared my teeth in animal delight.

The feeling was so incredible, so potent, that I panted with the pleasure of it. I wanted to live in that moment forever. Never stop. Never return.

I flared.

Beside me, Ben grimaced, dark eyes clamped shut. Muscles tense, his powerful frame trembling, he tried to flare by sheer force of will. Failed.

It doesn’t work that way.

I kept quiet. Who was I to give advice? In the end, I didn’t understand our powers any more than Ben. My control wasn’t much better than his.

Not once I freed the wolf.

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I suppose you’re wondering what I’m talking about. Or you’ve already decided I’m nuts and are slowly backing away from this book. Can’t say I blame you. A few months ago, I’d have done the same thing.

But that was before I changed. Before a microscopic invader altered my biological software. Before I evolved, became something more. Something brand new. Something primal.

Here’s the short of it.

A few months back, a nasty supervirus infected my friends and me. The organism wasn’t natural. It came straight from a secret laboratory, created during an illegal experiment. And this bug had a taste for human carriers.

How did I get so lucky?

An unscrupulous scientist, Dr. Marcus Karsten, cooked up the germ. He was my father’s boss at Loggerhead Island Research Institute. In a mad dash for cash, Karsten crossed two types of parvovirus, accidentally creating a new strain that was contagious to people. Unfortunately, we caught it from a wolfdog named Cooper, Karsten’s test subject.

Don’t get me started.

Anyway, I was sick for days. We all were. Then things got weird.

My brain would snap like a rubber band. My senses would go berserk.

At times I’d lose control, unable to suppress sudden animal instincts. Scarfing raw hamburger meat. Stalking a caged gerbil. It was the same for the others.

When the dust settled, my friends and I were forever altered, down to the core. The vicious pathogen scrambled our cellular blueprint. Rewrote our genetic code. Canine DNA barged into my human chromosomes and made itself at home.

It’s not easy, living with wolf instincts buried inside your double helix.

But our condition is not without certain … benefits.

I’ll be blunt. My friends and I have special powers. Superhuman abilities. Hidden, but very real. You heard me right.

We’re kind of a big deal. Or would be, if we could tell anyone about it, which we can’t. Not unless we want to learn about human dissection. Up close.

We call the power “flaring.” That’s the best I can describe the sensation. I burn up inside, my mind warps and snaps, and then boom! My powers unleash.

I’m learning to control my abilities. At least, I think I am.

Okay, hope I am.

Heck, I’d settle for just knowing what they are.

I understand the basics. When I flare, my senses go into hyperdrive. Sight. Smell. Hearing. Taste. Even touch.

I become faster. Stronger.

More alive.

Viral.

That’s what we call ourselves. Virals. It seemed appropriate to have a group name after becoming a gang of genetic mutants. It’s good for morale.

There are five Virals total. Me. Ben. Hi. Shelton. And my wolfdog, Cooper, of course. After all, he was patient zero.

The upshot is we Virals can tap the physical powers of wolves. But not always when we want them. And sometimes the changes come unbidden.

To be honest, we have no idea exactly what happened to us, or what we can do to fix it. Or what will happen next.

But one thing is certain: we’re different. Freaks. Disambiguations.

And we’re on our own.

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Ben’s frustration grew with each passing moment. Angry, he ripped off his black T-shirt and threw it to the sand, as if the garment alone was foiling his efforts. Perspiration covered his deeply tanned skin.

I turned away so he wouldn’t see my already glowing eyes. Didn’t want to increase his aggravation. Ben Blue in a mood is no fun for anyone.

Hi crouched just beyond Ben. A chubby kid with wavy brown hair, he wore a red Hawaiian shirt and green board shorts. Not exactly stylish—or even matching—but classic Hiram Stolowitski.

He stared down the shoreline, having long since lit his own flare. Of all the Virals, accessing the power came easiest to Hi.

“I see you, Mr. Rabbit,” he whispered to himself. “You can’t hide from Wolfman Hi.”

“Good work,” I deadpanned. With my powers unleashed, his every word was crystal clear. “Taunting a helpless bunny. That’s a worthwhile use of our flare time.”

“He taunted me first.” Hi’s gaze remained glued to his target. “By being so darn cute! Aren’t cha? Aren’t cha cute, you fuzzy wittle guy!

My golden eyes rolled. “We’re supposed to be practicing.”

“Then practice your vision, Lady Buzzkill.” He pointed. “Fifty yards. Third dune from the tree line, the one with all the cattails. Typha latifolia. Brown fur, speckled. Black whiskers. It’s an eastern cottontail. Sylvilagus floridanus.”

Hi loved showing off his knowledge of natural history almost as much as he liked conducting scientific experiments. Both traits were inherited from his father, LIRI’s head mechanical engineer.

Then Hi mock-squealed, his cheeks reddening. “Oh! And he’s got a bunny friend now, too!”

We stood near the northern edge of Turtle Beach, on the west coast of Loggerhead Island. The interior forest loomed to my right. To my left stretched the Atlantic Ocean, unbroken all the way to Africa.

I focused on the spot Hi had indicated, a rough patch of cattails and salt myrtle at the wood’s edge. My gaze zeroed. Locked.

The scene leaped forward with awesome clarity, beyond anything a human eye should be able to see. I could make out every leaf, every twig. Sure enough, two snuffling rabbits were tucked inside the foliage.

Half a football field away.

“Your flare vision is fantastic,” I said. “Better than mine. I can’t make out their whiskers from this distance.”

Hi shrugged. “Then I’ve got you beat with one sense, at least. I don’t hear as well as Shelton, or have your schnozzaroo.”

Beside me, Ben grunted. Growled. Shook. He still couldn’t light the lamp. His eyes remained closed, but his mutters had shifted to four-letter words. Unpleasant ones.

Observing Ben’s struggle, Hi scratched his chin. Glanced at me. Shrugged. Then he quietly slipped around behind Ben.

And, without ceremony, kicked him in the ass. Hard.

Ben toppled forward into the sand.

“What the hell!?!” Ben surged to his feet and advanced on Hi with clenched fists. His eyes now blazed with yellow fire.

“Take it easy, slugger!” Hi backpedaled, both hands in the air. “I was only getting you mad enough! Had to be done.”

So far, Ben could only tap his power when enraged. Like now. He looked ready to remove Hi’s head.

“Stop!” I yelled, anxious to prevent a homicide. “Ben, you’re flaring now. It worked.”

Ben paused and flexed his hands, noticing the change. Scowling, he nodded at Hi. Hi gave a big thumbs-up, grinning from ear to ear.

“We’ve got to figure out a better way,” Ben muttered, “or I’m going to end up thrashing one of you guys. I may pound Thick Burger here anyway,” he said, gesturing toward Hi.

Hi chucked Ben’s shoulder. “Hey, you’re welcome pal. Anytime.”

Faster than thought, Ben grabbed Hi and wrapped him in a vicious bear hug. “Smart-ass.”

Hi sputtered, gasped for air. “Back off! I don’t like you that way!”

Ben laughed. Then he lifted Hi over his shoulders. Effortlessly.

My jaw dropped.

Ben spun Hi overhead like a chopper blade. Once. Twice. Hi turned a pale shade of green. Lime? Teal? Shamrock?

“I’m gonna puke!” Hi warned. “DEFCON One!”

Ben bounded to the waterline. Heaved.

Hi flew like a ragdoll, landed face-first in two feet of surf, sputtering and cursing.

Ben grinned wickedly. “I think I’ve got it now. Thanks.”

“Ungrateful.” Hi blew water from his nose while surveying his sopping clothes. “But I’ll admit, that was kind of awesome. You get strong.”

Hi tried splashing his attacker, but Ben danced away, hooting. Then Ben sprinted down Turtle Beach, leaped the sand dunes, and disappeared from sight.

“Wow,” I said. “He’s fast, too. Much faster than me, even flaring.”

Hi slogged back onto the beach. “I let him win. He needs the self-confidence.”

“Right.”

“Hey, I’m a giver.”

“A saint.”

It was good to see Ben laugh again. Smiles had been rare since the Heaton case. The media firestorm had burned out quickly, but our parents were not so easily distracted. We’d each been grounded for most of the summer.

And I mean grounded. The adults had been savvy enough to hit where it hurt. No visitors, TV, or phone. Not even Internet access. It was brutal, like living in a cave.

With no chances to meet or even discuss our abilities, I’d begun to quietly freak the flip out.

The virus was a wildcard rampaging through our bodies. Anything was possible.

Was the sickness gone for good? Had our powers stabilized? Did anyone else know about Karsten’s secret experiment? About Coop? About us?

I’d been trapped with these questions for weeks. Alone.

The isolation hadn’t been good for my nerves.

Ben escaped first. The senior Blues never paid much attention to discipline. My parole came August first, after nearly two months served.

Good behavior? More like constant moping. I just wore Kit down.

Hi had finally talked his way out last week. That surprised me. Knowing his mother, Ruth Stolowitski, I thought he’d be last for sure. Not so. As far as I knew, Shelton was still on lockdown. Apparently the Devers had zero tolerance for criminal behavior, regardless of justification.

Make no mistake, I was still on probation. Strict. Kit was watching me like a hawk. At least, he thought he was.

Once Hi shook free, the three of us began trekking out to Loggerhead every week. We needed to practice, safe from prying eyes. The isolation was ideal. And, right under my father’s nose, I could visit the island without suspicion.

Loggerhead is held in trust by Charleston University. Very few have permission to visit. Luckily, dear old dad works here. So do the other Virals’ parents.

Kit Howard is a marine biologist working at LIRI, the university’s on-site scientific station. One of the most advanced veterinary facilities on the planet, LIRI consists of a three-acre walled compound nestled on the islet’s southern half.

That’s not all. Loggerhead Island is a full-fledged primate research center, with troops of rhesus monkeys roaming free in the woods. No permanent buildings exist outside the main complex.

The habitat is as close to undisturbed as possible for a prime hunk of real estate lying just off Charleston Harbor.

A perfect place to fly your freak flag.

This was our third practice session, and we’d begun to notice slight differences in our abilities. Strengths. Weaknesses. Variations in style and finesse.

But the powers were complex, our grasp of them far from complete. What I didn’t understand would fill the ocean. Deep down, I suspected we’d barely scraped our full potential.

An explosion of sand reclaimed my attention.

My gaze fastened on a bouncing shape, moving wicked fast. Zoomed. Tracked. Unconsciously, my muscles tensed, ready to spring.

Then, recognition.

Ben, flying across the sandbank, a wild look on his face.

A second later, I knew why.

He was being chased.

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COOPER EXPLODED FROM the dunes, fur sticking out in soggy spikes.

The wolfdog puppy chased Ben down the beach, yapping like mad.

“Not so quick, are you Coop?” Ben shouted over his shoulder as he cut left, racing for the surf.

Coop skidded to a halt when Ben dove into the ocean. Thwarted, he barked and raced back and forth.

“Here boy!” I called.

Coop tossed one last yip at Ben before trotting to my side. Then he shook furiously, spraying seawater everywhere.

“Blech!” I wiped salty droplets from my face. “Thanks for nothing, mongrel.”

Coop looked pleased. I think. Hard to tell with dogs.

Hi, already doused, was nonchalant. “Did the bad Indian throw you in the water, boy?” Taking a knee, he ruffled Coop’s ears. “Been there.”

Hi was referring to Ben’s claim of ties to the Sewee, a North American clan folded into the Catawba tribe centuries ago. He’d even named his boat Sewee.

“I feel your pain,” Hi continued. “Thanksgiving was a huge mistake.”

Coop licked Hi’s face.

“Not nice,” I joked. “You’ll sour Jewish-Sewee relations.”

“It’s true, I take it back,” Hi said. “Our peoples have a rich history of mutual respect. Long live the alliance!”

I noticed movement in the corner of my eye. A wisp of gray passing through the forest. Sniffing once with my supercharged nose, I teased a scent from the air.

Warm fur. Hot breath. Musk.

Wolf.

“Look alive, Coop. Your mom’s here.”

“What?” Hi craned his neck. “Where?”

Three animals stepped from the trees. Whisper, the matriarch, was a gray wolf. A gorgeous, regal animal. All silver, with a hint of white on her nose.

Her mate, a rogue golden shepherd, stood by her side. I’d taken to calling him Polo. Behind them paced Coop’s older brother, another wolfdog hybrid. I’d dubbed him Buster.

For a moment, the pack watched the scene on the beach. Then Whisper barked once. Cooper sprang to join his kin. Reunited, the family loped into the forest.

“Have fun!” I called.

I was happy to let him visit his folks, but Coop lived with me now. Whitney and Kit just had to deal. So far, so good.

Well, sort of. Coop and Whitney weren’t exactly best friends.

Shrug. The opinion of my father’s annoying girlfriend was extremely low on my list of concerns.

“Did you smell her?” Hi asked.

I nodded. Downwind, I’d picked up Whisper’s scent at thirty yards.

“Amazing.” Hi stripped off his shirt, wrung it out. “Score one for your honker.”

“Thanks, I think.” I cocked my chin at Hi’s substantial midsection. “Nice abs.”

“Yeah, I work out twice a month. No exceptions. But stop hitting on me, it’s embarrassing.”

Hot day. Not surprising for mid-August in South Carolina. I wiped my forehead. My sweating talent was in full effect.

“Shoot.” Hi blinked, his eyes back to normal chestnut-brown. “I lost my flare. Stupid Ben.”

“Can you get it back?”

“I’ll try.” Hi’s face went blank in concentration. His pupils focused on nothing. Seconds ticked by. A minute.

Hi shook his head. “Still can’t burn back-to-back. Not since …”

He trailed off. I didn’t press. I knew what he was thinking.

The only time we’d flared twice in a row was at Claybourne Manor. The night when, somehow, I’d forced it on the other Virals. When I’d stepped inside their minds.

I don’t know how I did it. Had never been able to repeat the trick. Not for lack of trying. But no matter how hard I strained, I couldn’t reconnect. Couldn’t recapture that odd feeling of oneness. The cosmic link that broadcast my thoughts and let me hear theirs.

The close bond of a wolf pack.

“Do you want to try again?” Hi asked. Hesitant. I knew that this particular power gave him the willies. Same went for Ben and Shelton.

“Try what?” Ben joined us, water dripping from his shoulder-length black hair. “Are you talking about telepathy again?”

“It worked once,” I said. Defensive.

“Maybe.” Ben frowned. “Maybe not. It might’ve been part of the sickness.”

When our powers first presented, we’d been slammed for days. A terrible, soul-crushing illness that left us weak as kittens. The major symptoms eventually subsided, but random oddities continued to afflict us.

Would the symptoms ever disappear for good? I had no answer.

But the current topic of conversation was an old argument.

“It wasn’t the sickness,” I said. “I felt a real connection, even with Coop. We’re linked now.”

“Then why can’t you do it again?” Ben had no patience for things he couldn’t understand.

“I don’t know. Let me try now.”

Never one to wait for permission, I closed my eyes, slowed my breath. Tried to crawl backward into my psyche.

I pictured the Virals in my mind. Hi. Ben. Shelton. Even Coop. Then I forced the images together, into one shape. A single unit. A pack.

Something twitched inside my brain. A tiny surge, like a breaker flipping. For a brief moment I felt my mind push, find resistance.

An invisible wall separated my thoughts from others outside my being. Encouraged, I shoved again in a way I can’t describe. The barrier buckled, yielded slightly.

A low hum filled my head. Then it fragmented into murmurs, like hushed voices in a distant room. Coop’s form appeared in the center of my consciousness, but vague, indistinct.

As suddenly as it formed, the bond frayed. I heard a thud, like a book slamming shut. The image slipped its tether and dissolved into cerebral darkness.

SNUP.

Blink.

Blink blink blink.

My eyes opened.

I was slumped in the sand, flare long gone.

Hi’s voice broke through. “Cut it out, Tory! You’re going to faint again.”

Ben and Hi took my arms. Eased me back to my feet. Held on until satisfied I wouldn’t collapse again.

“Let it go.” The nimbus faded from Ben’s eyes. “The mind talk was a delusion. It’s making you crazy.”

Before I could disagree, a voice carried down the beach. Our heads whipped as one.

We were no longer alone.

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“YOU JOKERS COULD leave a note next time!”

Shelton strolled up the sand, hands in his pockets. Short and skinny with thick horn-rimmed glasses, he wore a blue Comic-Con T-shirt and oversized white gym shorts.

He also wore a lopsided grin. Shelton knew he’d startled us.

“Well, well, the caged bird sings,” Hi said. “When did you bust out?”

“Pardoned this morning.” Shelton wiped sweat from his dark chocolate brow, a gift from his African American father. The high cheekbones and hidden eyelids came straight from his Japanese mother. “I figured you’d be out here. And I can guess what you’re doing.”

“Tory’s trying to play mind-bender again,” Hi said. “She ended up face-planting on the beach.”

Shelton’s grin faded. “Can’t we just pretend that never happened? I can’t sleep as it is.” One finger nervously spun a key ring containing his prized lock-pick collection. A hobby of Shelton’s that often came in handy.

“Pretend it never happened?” I scanned their faces. “We need to understand the changes. We can’t just ignore them. What if we have more reactions?”

“I know, I know.” Shelton’s palms came up. “I’m just freaked out. I tried flaring a little, when my parents were gone. I still have no control. Then I caught a cold, and for two days I was sure the virus was killing me.”

Ben nodded. “Even when I can flare, the powers are never the same. Or stable.”

“We’ll get there.” I sounded more confident than I felt. “We just need practice.”

“Or lobotomies,” Hi muttered.

“But we experiment nowhere but here.” Ben’s gaze traveled from Viral to Viral. “Loggerhead is safe, but we have to be careful. It’s too dangerous to use our powers where someone might see. Agreed?”

Everyone nodded. Our fear of discovery was ever-present. The ramifications of being caught were too horrible to contemplate.

“We can only trust each other,” Ben finished. “Never forget that.”

“Enough doom and gloom.” Hi slapped Shelton’s back. “How’d you find us, anyway? Expert tracking skills?”

“I ran into Kit at LIRI.” Shelton turned to me. “Your dad’s looking for you. He told me to find ya’ll and bring everyone back ASAP. I think something’s up.”

“Great,” Ben said sarcastically. “What’d we do this time?”

“They probably heard about your assaults on me and the dog,” Hi said. “You’re looking at hard time, pal. Hope it was worth it.”

“It was.”

I whistled. A few beats, then Coop burst from the scrub, circled us twice, and shot down the beach.

“Well, no point guessing,” I said. “Let’s go find out.”

Ten minutes later we reached LIRI’s back gate.

Entering, we secured the barrier behind us. We’d forgotten once, and curious monkeys had spent a night testing doorknobs. Not good.

Around us, a dozen modern glass-and-steel buildings gleamed in the midday sun. Arranged in two rows, they faced each other across a central common. A concrete path bisected the grounds on its way to the main gate and, eventually, the dock. An eight-foot fence encircled the whole complex.

We paused outside Building One, at four floors the largest structure on the island. In addition to LIRI’s administrative offices, Building One also housed the marine biology laboratory, my father’s little fiefdom.

A tiny alarm piped in my brain. Something felt off. The facility seemed hushed, and strangely empty for a weekday.

Coop barked once, shattering the stillness. I placed a hand on his head.

“Easy, boy.” Ear scratch.

Kit emerged from the building. Fast. Too fast. He must’ve been standing in the lobby, watching for me. He eyed his watch, impatient.

“That’s my cue. Later guys.”

Nods and grunts in response.

Spotting me, Kit strode forward. We met at center court.

“Hey kiddo! Ready to head home?”

Uh oh. False bravado, laid on thick. My BS sensors triggered. Why was Kit trying so hard to be cheerful?

“Sure,” I said. “Is something wrong?”

“Wrong?” Kit pulled a face. “No! Pssh. Relax.”

Nonsense answer. My anxiety skyrocketed.

Kit was avoiding something, but I held my tongue.

The crossing was weird. Cooper sat beside me on Mr. Blue’s shuttle boat, his large head resting in my lap. Kit kept the conversation light, focused on trivial subjects.

So why the parental summons? By the time we reached Morris Island, I was on high alert.

A note about Christopher “Kit” Howard. He’s my biological father, but I call him by his nickname. Not Daddy, or Pappy, or Father, or Sir. We’ve known each other less than a year. For now, it feels like a good fit.

I came to reside with Kit nine months ago, after a drunk driver killed my mother. The shock of losing Mom had been doubled by meeting “Dad.” I’d barely had time to grieve before being shipped hundreds of miles to my new home.

Hello Carolina, good-bye Massachusetts. Whatever. I’d only lived there my whole life.

Kit and I are still figuring each other out. We’ve made progress, but there’s a long way to go.

“Home sweet home!” Kit stepped onto the dock and made a beeline for our front door. I followed, baffled. Home sweet home? Seriously?

Most of LIRI’s senior staff lives on Morris Island, in a row of townhomes owned by Charleston University. Constructed on the remains of Fort Wagner, an old Civil War fortification, our tiny community is the only modern structure for miles. The rest of the island is a nature preserve held in trust by CU for the state of South Carolina.

Morris Island is pretty far off the beaten track, even for Charleston. An outpost on the ass-edge of nowhere. I live in almost total isolation. Tough at first, but I’ve grown to love it.

“Come on, Coop.” I slapped my side. “Let’s get the news. Whatever it is.”

When I arrived, Kit was seated in the kitchen, toying with a napkin. His eyes met mine, darted away. Shooing Coop to his doggie bed, I took a chair at the table.

“You’re clearly uncomfortable,” I said. “Spill it.”

Kit opened his mouth. Closed it. Crumpled the napkin. Tossed it. Put his face in his hands. Rubbed his eyes. Looked up. Smiled.

“First of all, we’re going to be fine. There’s nothing to worry about.” One hand made a chopping gesture. “At all.”

“Okay.” Now I was worried.

“There’s a chance, that maybe, possibly, I might …” Kit searched for words, “… lose my job.”

“What!?! Why?”

“Budget cuts.” Kit sounded miserable. “Charleston University may have to shut down the whole LIRI facility. Obviously, that would eliminate my position.”

Bad. Very bad.

“Close LIRI? Why would they do that?”

Kit sighed. “Where do I start? The institute is in turmoil. We’ve had no director since Dr. Karsten …” awkward pause, “… left. The press has been brutal. Rumors are flying about Karsten running unauthorized experiments, maybe taking corporate bribes.”

I sat bolt upright. That hit way too close to home.

“Unauthorized experiments?”

“They found a new lab in Building Six,” Kit continued, oblivious. “Secure. Unregistered. It had a ton of expensive equipment, but no records. Very strange. We have no idea what Karsten was doing.”

My heart went hummingbird. Parvovirus. Cooper. Our illness.

If anyone ever found out …

I clasped my hands below the table to hide the trembling.

Coop sensed my unease. He popped from his bed and padded to my side. I stroked his head absentmindedly.

Wrapped in his own private gloom, Kit didn’t notice my agitation.

“The recent publicity caught the eye of some environmental groups. Now they’re protesting the ‘monkey abuse’ on Loggerhead Island.”

“But that’s stupid!” For a moment, I forgot my own distress. “The monkeys aren’t abused; they aren’t even disturbed. It’s observational research.”

“Try telling them,” Kit said. “We offered a tour of LIRI to ease their concerns. No dice. They don’t seem worried about facts, or that these animals have no place else to go. They just want to scream, ‘monkeys in captivity!’ and shut us down.”

Kit leaned back and crossed his arms. “But that’s all secondary. Bottom line: CU lacks the funding to keep LIRI operating. The bad economy has gutted the budget.”

“How big is the shortfall?”

“Huge. The trustees have been told to make deep cuts, and LIRI is extremely expensive to run and to staff.”

“Tell them to close something else!” Sharp. I didn’t care. Dominoes were falling in my head. The inevitable conclusions terrified me.

Again, Kit avoided my eyes. “That’s not all.”

I waited.

“With LIRI closed, the university won’t keep these town-houses.” He waved an arm wearily. “We won’t be able to stay here.”

Ice traveled my spine. I didn’t want to hear what was coming next.

“We’ll have to move.” His shoulders tensed. “I’m sorry, but there’s no other way. There aren’t any jobs for me in the Charleston area. I’ve looked.”

“Move?” Barely whispered. It didn’t seem real.

Kit rose, crossed to the living room, and gazed out the bay window. Beyond the palm-tree-speckled common, waves lapped softly at the docks below. The tide was slowly rolling out.

“I can’t afford Bolton on my own, Tory. Not without the LIRI subsidy.”

The other Virals and I attended Bolton Preparatory Academy, Charleston’s oldest and most prestigious private school. Hoity-toity. Very expensive.

As an incentive to live and work so far from the city, CU picked up most of the tuition for parents working out on Loggerhead.

“Don’t worry.” Kit turned and locked eyes with me. “I saw some listings online that might work. I’ve already contacted a lab in Nova Scotia that needs a marine biologist.”

“Nova Scotia?” I stared, dumbfounded by the turn of events. “Canada? We’re moving to freaking Canada?”

“Nothing’s decided, I just thought—”

“Stop!” My hands flew to my ears. “Just stop.”

Too much.

Too fast.

I stormed past Kit, up the stairs, and into my bedroom.

Slammed the door.

My face hit my pillows seconds before the tears began to flow.

image

THE PITY PARTY was short.

I flew to my Mac, powered up, and had iFollow running in seconds.

I needed the other Virals. Now.

iFollow connects groups online. When users log in from a smartphone, the app will track the movements of all group members on a city map. The program also has file sharing and social networking functions. It rocks.

We still use it, despite everything. We need a way to locate everyone in a pinch. To watch each other’s backs.

I checked the map, posted a message, then switched to videoconference mode.

And waited.

Shelton popped onto my screen first, head bobbing, making me slightly queasy. A motor hummed in the background.

A check of the GPS confirmed my guess. A red orb indicated that Shelton was just off the coast of Morris Island, inching north. He’d activated face-to-face from his iPhone.

“Did you hear?” Shelton asked, voice panicky.

“Yes. Where are you?”

“On the shuttle.” His pitch climbed the scale. “Everyone at LIRI’s getting fired! My dad just told me.”

“I know. Kit said the same thing.”

My spirits sank through my shoes. I’d held a vague hope that Kit had somehow gotten it wrong. Overreacted. But Shelton confirmed the awful truth.

“What will we do?” Shelton tugged his earlobe, a nervous habit. “We’ll all have to move away.”

Before I could answer, my screen divided into thirds. Hi appeared on the left, framed by his bedroom walls. Huffing and sweaty, he’d clearly run to his computer.

“Oh crap. You guys know, too.” Wheeze. “Can you believe it?”

I shook my head, at a loss. I hadn’t felt this powerless in a long time. Not since Mom died.

“Did you get all the details?” Hi asked.

“What details?” I felt a new surge of worry.

“According to my dad, the problems run deeper than just CU’s operating budget. Apparently the whole state is broke. The legislature is trying to liquidate assets they’ve deemed nonessential.”

“What does that mean?” Shelton asked.

“The state may seize and sell Loggerhead Island. Developers have been salivating over those beaches for decades.”

“No!” I snapped. “They can’t!”

“They can,” Hi said. “My dad called a friend in Columbia who said a deal is in the works right now.”

“Don’t they have to vote on something like that?” Shelton asked. “Loggerhead is technically public property, right?”

Hi shook his head. “CU has title, and the legislature already has authorization to sell university assets. They can move forward with a sale any time they want.”

“Given all the bad publicity, the state kills two birds with one stone.” My fingers curled into fists. “PR bullshit.”

“It gets worse,” Hi said. “Morris Island may also be on the block.”

“No way.” I couldn’t believe it.

“Think about it,” Hi said. “Morris is even hotter real estate than Loggerhead. It’s closer, has a road, and is three times bigger.”

“And since CU also holds title to Morris Island,” Shelton concluded, “it’s fair game too. That’s some slick dealing. Bastards.”

“They’ll build freaking condos over our bunker,” Hi grumbled. “So fat seniors from Hoboken can tan by the pool.”

“Goddamn it.”

Blasphemy, but right then, I didn’t care. My world—the new one I’d struggled so hard to create, to make work—was crumbling.

My computer screen restructured into four quadrants. Ben scowled from the sofa in his father’s rec room.

“You heard?” Shelton asked.

Ben nodded tightly.

“What about Whisper and her pack?” I said. “Or the sea turtles? Around five hundred rhesus monkeys live on Loggerhead. What about them?”

No one said a word.

The real-world answers were terrible.

Hi broke the silence. “Laws protect the turtles somewhat, but Whisper’s family isn’t really supposed to be there. The monkeys are worth big bucks. They could be sold to anyone, even medical research companies.”

Tears burned the back of my lids. I choked them off. Going to pieces would accomplish nothing.

“My parents say we’ll have to move,” Shelton said quietly. “They’re looking for new gigs right now.”

“Mine too,” Hi mumbled. “I hate change.”

I rolled my eyes. “Kit is looking at a job in Nova Scotia.”

“Canada?” Despite everything, Hi chuckled. “Have a good time, eh? Don’t fight with any moose. Meese. Whatever.”

“Shut up.” Against all expectation, I giggled. At least I had my friends.

For a while.

“We can’t let them split us up.” Ben’s first words.

His finger pointed at me from the screen. “You say we’re a family. A pack.” His arms folded across his chest. “A pack never gives up its own. Ever.”

I was surprised. Quite a speech for Ben.

“He’s right,” Hi said. “I can’t handle making new friends. Not my forte. Plus, where would I find new superpower-wielding mutants to argue with?”

“And let’s not forget the dangerous part,” Shelton added. “We don’t know what’s wrong with us, or what’s gonna happen. I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t deal with this flaring thing solo.”

Bobbleheaded nod from Hi. “I’m not getting dissected like some lab rat. You guys are supposed to watch my back.”

Then, almost as one, the boys looked at their screens. Directly at me.

Huh? I was the youngest. The only girl. Why was I in charge?

No matter. I was in total agreement.

If I had to lead, then I would lead.

This seizure will not happen.

“We’re going to need a plan,” I said. “Fast.”

image

I’D FORGOTTEN MY French project.

The end-of-year presentation, worth a third of my grade. Due today, I’d done nothing. So I stood before the class, panicked, faking a speech I hadn’t prepared.

But I couldn’t think of a single word. It was as though I’d never heard the language. I fidgeted, miserable, searching for something, anything to say.

Je m’appelle Tory. Parlez-vous français?

How could I have been so careless? I’d never pass now. My entire transcript would be ruined. College. Grad school. Everything down the drain.

Giggles rippled through the audience. Smirks. Points. Muffled laughter. Confused, I glanced down.

I wore Mom’s old bathing suit, a ratty one-piece with a flimsy skirt stitched to the waist. It couldn’t have been more out of style. Or place.

Mortified, I tried to cover myself. With my hands, my book. My cheeks flamed.

Where are my clothes!?!

Classmates howled, pounded desks. Hiram. Shelton. Jason. Even Ben. In the back, Chance Claybourne stood beside Dr. Karsten, glaring with angry eyes.

Too much, I couldn’t take it. The door. The hall. Escape. I ran.

I rounded a corner into a dark, narrow corridor. A strange odor stopped me. It was musky, like wood chips and freshly turned earth. Confused, I scanned for the source.

Lockers lining the hall began to rattle. Doors bulged, gave way. Hundreds of chickens burst forth. Squawking and flapping, they milled at my feet. The noise was thunderous.

Where to run? What to do?

The mass of poultry pressed tightly. Beady eyes zeroed in on my throat.

Adrenaline arrived in buckets. And with it, something else.

A crimson streak split my vision. My brain expanded, then contracted to a point. I trembled uncontrollably.

Fur sprouted on my arms, my legs. My hands melted into paws.

Oh no! No no no no no!

Claws sprang from my fingers. A low growl spilled from deep in my throat.

The wolf was emerging.

This time, all the way.

A hand closed on my shoulder. Terrified, I spun, shoved blindly. The figure crashed to the floor.

Kit looked up at me with startled eyes. He wore a tuxedo, now a ruin of grease and feathers.

“Tory, I made breakfast!” he shouted.

I shook my head, uncomprehending, starting to hyperventilate.

He can see me! Kit sees what I really am!

I howled in dismay.

“Tory! Breakfast!”

I sat upright in bed. Kit’s voice echoed on my eardrums. I heard bacon frying, smelled burned toast.

Ah.

A dream. A terrible, f’ed up dream. I don’t even take French. Hablo español.

I rubbed the heels of my hands into my eyes, trying to wipe away the nightmare. Covered in sweat, lower back aching from tension, I felt more tired than when I’d gone to sleep.

“Tory! Get down here now!”

“Blargh.”

Slinging aside covers, I trudged to the bathroom. Brush. Swish. Spit. Comb. Morning ablutions completed, I plodded downstairs.

Shocker.

Kit had set the table. Placemats. Silverware. Napkins. Glasses of ice water and OJ. Plates heaped with eggs, bacon, sausage patties, and grits. He’d even filled a pitcher with milk and set it on ice.

Someone was clearly overcompensating.

“Well, well,” I said. “Is there a birthday I don’t know about?”

“Nope. Just time I started feeding my daughter properly. Toast will be ready in a minute. The first batch didn’t cooperate.”

Cooper was following Kit’s every move. Hopeful. He glanced over when I entered the kitchen and yapped once, but stayed rooted in place. The prospect of human food trumped my appearance.

“Sellout,” I muttered.

Coop kept his eyes on the prize.

“The mutt can spot a master chef when he sees one.” Kit dropped a piece of bacon to the floor. Tail wagging, Cooper devoured the offering.

I shook my head. No chance this would become routine. But hey, you know what they say about gift horses. I tucked in with gusto.

Thirty minutes later my stomach was full, and I barely remembered the nightmare.

“I’ll be at work all day,” Kit said, “but call me if you want to talk. Everything’s going to be fine.”

“Sure.”

“I’m serious.” Kit forced eye contact. “I got an email this morning about another position, and this one’s in the U.S.”

“Progress.”

“It’s a bit farther away, but a much better job. Science adviser to a major fishery. Great pay.”

My eyebrows rose. “Farther? Where?”

“Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The online pictures are beautiful. Scenic. Rustic.”

My forehead hit the table. Struck a beat.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

“They’ve got wolves there,” he added lamely.

“Alaska?” I sat back. “Now it’s Alaska?”

“Think of the adventure!” Kit smiled, but his eyes betrayed anxiety. “The Last Frontier!”

“Are you messing with me? Say yes.”

“Nothing’s settled yet, obviously. All I know is they liked my résumé.”