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We were still in the bathroom ten minutes later when someone knocked on the front door. The voice of the hotel said politely, “Mr. Mason, your request from the front desk has arrived. Would you like to claim it now, or would you prefer that it be left for your convenience?”

Shaun pulled away from me, cheeks flushed. “Uh…” he said. Then, more coherently, he said, “I’ll be right there. Thanks.” He got up, leaving me sitting where I was as he walked out of the room. I’d expected being alone to make me nervous, but it did the opposite. For the first time since the CDC decided to bring me back, no one was watching me. I was genuinely free.

Low voices came from the hall, followed by the sound of the door closing. Shaun reappeared, a brown paper bundle in one hand and a bottle of hair dye in the other. “What do you want to do first?” he asked.

I smiled.

An hour later, I actually felt like myself again. My hair was damp and dark brown, sticking to my ears and forehead as it dried. The clothes Maggie requested were perfect, if two sizes smaller than I would normally have worn—black slacks, a white button-down shirt, and a black blazer with pockets for my audio recorder and notepad. I didn’t have either of those at the moment, but just having the pockets made me feel better. Even the shoes fit. My eyes were the only things that didn’t look right, and that was what the sunglasses were for. Once I put them on, I looked like I’d been sick for a while, but I didn’t look like a clone.

I looked like Georgia Mason.

Shaun apparently thought so, too. When I put the sunglasses on, he stopped talking and just stared at me. Finally, in a quiet, reasonable tone, he said, “If it turns out that this is all some crazy, impossible hoax, and you’re a f**king android or something, I’m going to kill us both.”

“Cloning is crazy enough for me, so I’m good with that,” I said. “Can we kill a bunch of other people first?”

“Yeah,” said Shaun, and smiled. “We can.”

“How much of this is our fault, Shaun? How much… how many questions did we ask that we should have left quiet? People are dying.” I walked over to the bed, sitting down on the edge of the mattress. “Do we own this?”

Shaun barked a short, humorless laugh. “The people who started all this shit own it. We just made it happen a little faster. I think… enough of it is ours that we have to fix it if we can.”

“We can.”

“God, I hope so.” He sat down next to me, taking my hands. “This is what you missed. Your post got out—you know that—and it changed a lot of things, and nothing, all at the same time. It’s part of why Ryman got elected. You made it pretty clear he wasn’t playing on Tate’s team. It probably doesn’t help that Tate went all bad movie villain when I cornered him.”

My eyes widened. “When you what? Shaun—”

“Just listen, okay? See, after you… after I… I had to leave the van. Steve—you remember Steve, from Ryman’s security detail? Big f**ker, looked like he could stand in for the entire Brute Squad?”

“Please don’t tell me Steve died,” I said.

“No, he’s fine. Still writes me sometimes, or did, before we had to go off the grid. See, Steve and I broke quarantine to get to Ryman…”

The story he told was crazy and impossible and enough to break my heart. I’d always known that Tate was bad, but Shaun was the one who confronted him, and got fed a line about restoring America to its roots through fear and control. Tate martyred himself. It might have worked, too, if he hadn’t martyred me first.

Shaun buried me and tried to move on, but the world wouldn’t let him; the world never does. Instead, he wound up neck deep in conspiracies and craziness. Dave died. Kelly Connolly died. Dr. Wynne turned out not to be an ally, but one more crazy man out to change the world into what he thought it should be. The longer Shaun talked, the more I realized that the only allies we had were the ones we shared a website with.

I only stopped him twice: once to ask about the reservoir conditions, and once to make him repeat, several times, that he’d been bitten and hadn’t amplified. Crazy as it might sound, that was the part I had the most trouble believing. The additional details on the insect vector for Kellis-Amberlee just left me cold. Maybe mankind was going to lose the war against the living dead after all—and this time, it might not be because someone dropped a vial.

Eventually, Shaun stopped talking. Then he reached up and removed my sunglasses, putting them beside me on the bed. “We could run,” he said. “You and me. Head for Canada, or something. The others could finish this without us. You know they would.”

“And we’d never forgive ourselves,” I said. “We finish this. And if we survive, somehow, through some miracle… then we run. You and me, and anywhere they won’t find us.”

“It’s a date.” He leaned back, reaching for the phone.

I blinked. “What are you doing?”

“Calling room service. I don’t want you to blow away if there’s a stiff wind.”

I laughed and hit him without thinking about it. That brought a totally sincere smile to his face before he turned away to deal with placing our order. Less than fifteen minutes later, two massive bowls of chicken cacciatore were delivered to our door, along with a six-pack of Coke and a piece of tiramisu the size of my head. My stomach growled when I saw the food, and I realized that I was genuinely hungry for the first time in a long time.


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