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My scowl deepened, while Mahir looked quietly relieved. Every word she said made her story a little bit more believable. That didn’t make me happy about it.

Becks ignored my obvious unhappiness as she leaned forward and addressed George. “So where does Rick come into all this?”

“I was in recovery—still pretty drugged—when he came into the room. I couldn’t open my eyes, but I heard his voice. He said…” She faltered, and took a long drink from her Coke before she continued. “He said he was sorry I’d had to go through all this. And he told me to do what I did best.”

“What’s that?” asked Mahir.

George looked at him. “He said to break this f**king thing wide open and let the pieces fall.”

“Ah. And after that?”

“I told the EIS I’d only cooperate if they let me get online. So they got me a connection, and I managed to use one of the back doors into the secure server to talk to Alaric.”

“Which one?” asked Becks.

“The Elm Street entrance.”

Maggie laughed, once, sharply, and was silent.

George continued. “We were supposed to talk about evacuating me after that, but… something went wrong.” She looked down at her soda. “Someone started shooting. I saw two of the orderlies go down. Gregory and Dr. Kimberley and I ran. They shoved me through a quarantine door as it was closing. I managed to get into an empty lab and set some charges. I mostly just wanted to create a distraction so I could try to sneak out in the chaos. Instead… well. That’s where Shaun came in.”

“I see.” Mahir turned, looking toward me. “Well?” he asked.

“You know my vote,” I said.

Becks scowled. “I don’t like this.”

“I didn’t ask if you liked it. It’s a horrible perversion of the laws of nature, we’re doubtless to be struck down by the divine, should the divine ever bestir itself to remember that we’re here. As we’re still periodically having a zombie apocalypse, I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon. Now what’s your answer?”

Becks looked at George. Then she turned and looked at me. “I believe her,” she said finally. “If she’s not Georgia, she thinks she is. It’s better that we keep her close.”

I could have cheered. Instead, I looked toward Maggie, who smiled.

“This is the sort of thing that happens in comic books,” she said. “I’m in.”

“Thank you.” Mahir turned back to George. “It’s good to have you back. Disorienting and terrifying, and you’ll forgive me if I don’t rush to embrace you, but… good. Now, how would you feel about breaking this f**king thing wide open, to see where the pieces fall?”

George finished her first can of Coke and put it aside before opening the second. The carbonation hissed into the silence. Then she spoke: “What else am I supposed to do?”

Shannon—

Danika was just in touch with me. Please provide the nearest safe meet-up point. I am en route to you. We need to talk. The endgame is beginning, and you’re going to need all the assistance you can get if you’re going to make it through this in one piece.

We all are.

—Taken from an e-mail sent by Dr. Joseph Shoji to Dr. Shannon Abbey, August 3, 2041.

They got her out. Kimberley and Lake… they got her out. She’s alive, she’s intact, she’s clinically sane, and she’s out.

Peter still doesn’t know what I’ve done, or what I’m going to do. But history will remember him as a president worthy of the name, and not another in the long line of crooks and monsters to have held the position. He will be known for who he was, and for what he did, and for what he sacrificed. All of them will. If that means history must also remember me as a monster, well…

So be it.

—From the private journal of Vice President Richard Cousins, August 3, 2041. Unpublished.

GEORGIA: Twenty-seven

After some discussion, we—meaning “Maggie and Mahir,” who were the only ones still considered completely rational; the rest of us were treated as compromised, to one degree or another—decided the best course of action was to stay at the Agora long enough to recover, and then head out. Mahir also pointed out that we were better off keeping the van under cover for at least a few hours, in case it had been seen leaving the vicinity of the CDC. So we were staying put. I wasn’t inclined to argue. The last few hours were starting to catch up with me, and I wanted nothing more than a dark corner I could curl up in until the urge to start shaking went away.

After a bit more discussion, Becks reluctantly agreed that I wasn’t likely to go crazy and kill Shaun without setting off the hotel security system, which meant the two of us could do our recovery in the same hotel room. “The Agora takes the safety of its guests very seriously,” Maggie assured her. “There are so few blood tests because the biometric monitoring system is so advanced. If either of them is in medical distress, the guards will be alerted within seconds.”

“Nice place,” I said, approvingly. “I didn’t even know this was here.”

“That’s the point.” Maggie smiled, still looking somewhat uncertain. “Is there anything I can have sent up to the room for you?”

I bit back my first answer, waiting a few seconds to be sure that it was what I wanted to say. Oh, well. In for a penny, in for a pound. “Can I get some clean clothes, a pair of sunglasses, and a bottle of the darkest brown hair color you can find?”

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