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Finally, Mahir lowered the wand. “She’s clean,” he said. Becks scowled.

Shaun, on the other hand, grinned like he’d just been told that he was now uncontested king of the entire universe. He tossed Becks the keys. She caught them automatically. “You’re driving,” he informed her. “I’m riding in back with George.”

She muttered something before getting into the driver’s seat. I didn’t need to hear it to know that it wasn’t complimentary. I also didn’t have the energy to worry about it just then. Shaun helped me into the back of the van, where he sat down on the floor, opening his arms to me. I climbed into them willingly, nestling myself as closely against him as anatomy and the space around us would allow, and closed my eyes.

I fell asleep listening to the sound of his heart beating. I have never slept that well in my life, and I may never sleep that well again.

BOOK IV

Reservoirs

Okay, that’s it. No more Mister Nice, Heavily Armed, Really Pissed-Off Journalist.

—SHAUN MASON

The dangerous thing about truth is the way it changes depending on how you’re looking at it. One man’s gospel truth is another man’s blasphemous lie. The dangerous thing about people is the way we’ll try to kill anyone whose truth doesn’t agree with ours. And the dangerous thing about me is that I’ve already died once, so what the f**k do I care?

—GEORGIA MASON

Miss me?

—From Images May Disturb You, the blog of Georgia Mason, August 2, 2041. Shared internally only.

Yes.

—From Adaptive Immunities, the blog of Shaun Mason, August 2, 2041. Shared internally only.

SHAUN: Twenty-six

The Agora guards were all smiles as they came out to meet us. “Welcome back to the Agora,” said the one next to Becks’s window, holding out a blood testing unit. “If you would be so kind—”

“We’re going to need a fourth kit,” I said, craning my neck to see the window from between the seats. George was still asleep, curled up against me with her fingers locked in the fabric of my shirt.

“Or we could just let them shoot her,” said Becks sweetly.

Mahir put his hands up before I could say anything. “There will be no shooting of anyone who tests cleanly. Can we please get a fourth testing unit?”

“Of course, sir,” said the guard, looking unflustered. Apparently, people drove up with battered, dirty women in CDC scrubs all the time.

“George.” I shook her shoulder. She didn’t respond. I shook her again, harder this time. “Georgia. Wake up.”

“Problems, Mason?” asked Becks.

“Nothing I can’t handle,” I said. Leaning down until my mouth was only a few inches from George’s ear, I said, “If you don’t wake up right now, I’m going to get a bottle of water from the travel fridge. I will then pour it down your back. You won’t enjoy it, and I won’t care. Just in case you were wondering.”

Her eyes opened. I had the time to think, almost academically, that my crazy was useful after all—all those hallucinations got me used to the idea of a Georgia without retinal KA, and now I actually had one. Then she smiled, and all thoughts went out the window except for holding on to her and never, ever letting go.

“You have no idea how much I’ve missed you threatening me awake.” She untangled her fingers from my shirt and sat up, looking around the van. She stiffened when she saw the armed guards looking through the windows, patiently waiting for us to get our shit together. “Shaun? Where are we?”

“At our hotel. It’s a long story. Can you sit up and let them run a blood test?” Seeing the look of alarm in her eyes, I added quickly, “This place has security that would have given Buffy, like, spontaneous orgasms for days. They’re not going to share their results. They just want to know that we’re all clean before they let us through the gates.”

“If you say so,” she said warily.

“Promise.” I kissed her forehead before opening the van’s side door. Another guard was waiting there, this one holding a testing unit in each hand. I gave him a smile. He didn’t give it back. “My man! Is it time to prove that we’re not planning to eat the other guests?”

“We have a strict policy of non-cannibalism here at the Agora,” he replied, holding the tests toward us. His eyes flicked toward George’s bloody feet, noticing and acknowledging them, but he didn’t say a word. If we wanted to engage in dangerous behaviors, we could, as long as it didn’t result in our bringing infection past their gates. It was an attitude I could definitely respect.

“We’re good with that,” I said, and leaned over to take one of the tests. George did the same with the other. “On three?”

A flicker of a smile crossed George’s face. “On three,” she agreed. “One.”

“Two.”

Neither of us said “three.” Instead, we each reached out and placed our right index fingers on the test unit in the other’s hand. The guard didn’t say anything; again, if we wanted to be crazy, it wasn’t his problem, as long as we were clean.

We didn’t look at the lights. We just looked at each other. There were tears at the corners of George’s eyes, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that she wasn’t the only one. If she failed this, I wasn’t going to shoot her again. I wasn’t—

“Thank you, Mr. Mason, ma’am.” The guard leaned forward, pulling the test units from our hands before either of us could react. I turned, and saw the green lights gleaming at the top of each small white box. He smiled genially. “We’re pleased to have you back. Miss Garcia has been alerted to your arrival, and to the presence of your guest. One of our attendants will meet you at the door with slippers for the young lady. Please have a pleasant stay at the Agora.”

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