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Please be the real thing, I prayed, to no one in particular.

Only one of us can be real, replied the quiet voice of my inner Georgia.

I stiffened. She’d been quiet for so long that I’d almost started thinking of it as a transition. George dies, she moves into my head. George comes back to life, she moves out again. It was simple. Straightforward.

Impossible. You don’t recover from going crazy just because the thing that made you that way is magically undone. If the human mind worked like that, we’d be a much saner species.

“Shaun?” George looked up at me, frowning. “You okay?”

For a horrible moment, I didn’t know which of them I was supposed to respond to. Then Maggie stepped out of the elevator lobby, eyes wide. She was back in her normal clothes, a heavy cable-knit sweater over a long patchwork skirt, and her hair was braided into a semblance of control. She started toward us, her gaze never moving away from George’s face.

“Shaun?” she said, when she was close enough to be heard without raising her voice. “What is this?”

“That’s a complicated question,” I said honestly. The airlock door slid open behind me, and footsteps marked Mahir and Becks falling into a flanking position, Mahir to my left, Becks to George’s right.

“Hi, Maggie,” said George.

Maggie stiffened. “She sounds like—”

“That’s because she is,” I said.

“Maybe,” said Mahir.

“Probably not,” said Becks.

“We should go upstairs,” said Maggie, eyes still locked on George’s face. “This sounds like the sort of thing that shouldn’t be talked about in the lobby.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” I agreed.

Maggie led us back to the elevator lobby, not looking to see whether we would follow. She knew we would. George freed her hand from the layers of terry cloth and reclaimed mine, sticking close to my side as we walked. I clung back just as fiercely. Becks and Mahir brought up the rear, and none of us said a damn thing, because there was nothing we could say. This was too big, and too impossible, and too important to crack open before we were secure.

“My room,” said Maggie, once we’d reached the floor where the four of us—five of us, now—were staying. “It has the most space.”

“Wait—more space than my room?” I asked. “How is that possible? You could call the room I’m staying in an apartment and not get busted for false advertising. I think there’s someone living in the closet.”

Maggie cracked a very small smile. “My father owns a share in the Agora. When I stay here, I get a specific room.”

“Wealth hath its privileges,” said Becks, with none of the faint disdain that so often colored her voice when she talked about money. Then again, she was normally talking about money in the context of her own family, and she didn’t like them. Maggie’s money must have been somehow less offensive by dint of not belonging to the Athertons.

“Yes,” agreed Maggie, without irony. She led us all the way to the end of the hall, where a single door was set in a stretch of wall that could easily have played home to three doors leading into rooms the size of mine. Even that didn’t prepare us for the size of the room on the other side.

Becks put it best: “Holy shit. That’s not a bedroom, it’s a ballroom.”

“Also a living room, dining room, kitchen, and a bathroom with a private hot tub,” agreed Maggie, holding the door open for the rest of us. “The hot tub seats eight, in case you wondered. According to my mother, I was conceived in a suite very much like this one, but thankfully, on a different floor. I’m pretty sure she told me that so I’d never have sex here, ever.”

“Did it work?” I asked, curious despite myself.

She closed the door behind Mahir. “No. I brought Buffy here to celebrate when she first got the job working with the two of you. She wasn’t the first, and she won’t be the last.”

“And we are now officially getting too much information,” said Becks. “Thank you.”

“No problem. Can I get anyone anything before we start going over exactly how we’ve managed to shatter the laws of nature today?”

George cleared her throat, looking a little embarrassed as she said, “I don’t suppose you have any Coke on hand, do you?”

That was the best thing she could have said. Maggie blinked, looking briefly surprised. Then she smiled. “I do. Shaun? Same for you?”

“Coffee for me, actually,” I said.

“Coffee? Really?” Maggie’s surprise only lasted a few seconds. “Coffee and Coke, got it. Becks? Mahir?”

“Nothing for me,” said Becks.

“Tea, please,” said Mahir. “I have the feeling this is about to become one of those days wherein there is no such thing as too much tea.”

“You’re not alone there,” said Maggie. “Go ahead and sit down. I’ll be right back.” She vanished through a door near the entrance, presumably heading into the kitchen to get the drinks.

George walked over and sat down on one of the room’s two couches, burying her hands in the pockets of her robe. She slumped there, looking tired and frail. George was always smaller than me, but she’d never been skinny like this before. It was a little disturbing.

You’re willing to accept that I might come back from the dead, but you’re upset because I haven’t been eating enough? What should I be eating, the flesh of the living?


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