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“Oh.” The Fox thought for a moment. Finally, she said, “This way,” and trotted back toward the living room. Lacking anything better to do, we followed.

As we rounded the corner, we were greeted with the fascinating sight of Becks slamming the Cat rhythmically into the wall while the Monkey looked calmly on. “You’re a feisty one,” he said. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

The Cat wailed. Becks slammed her into a wall again.

“Last guy I was interested in turned out to be an incestuous necrophiliac,” she said. “So no, not currently dating, and definitely not doing any more shopping in the ‘sociopath’ category. Now tell her to open the doors.”

“She can’t do that,” said the Monkey. The Fox trotted past him without pausing; he turned to watch her go. “Foxy? What are you doing?”

“Opening the garage!” she called back cheerfully, before pulling a picture off the wall to reveal the control panel it had been concealing. She slapped her palm against it, and the light above the nearest door went from red to green.

A look of horror spread across the Monkey’s face as he realized what she was doing. He lunged for her, one hand stretched out to grab her shoulder. “No! Don’t! That’s not—”

It was too late. The door swung open, revealing a garage packed with servers and computer terminals, and a garage door that was slowly rolling upward. As it rose, it exposed the men who were standing in the driveway between us and the van, their rifles trained on the house. They were all wearing hazmat suits, with rebreathers covering their mouths and noses.

“Oh,” said the Fox. “Oopsie.” Then she slammed the door.

The gunfire started a split second later.

Oh, don’t worry. You don’t need to tell Alaric what’s going on. You don’t need to tell Alaric who was in our system claiming to be Georgia Mason, or why the Seattle CDC is on CNN, in flames, or whether you’re all still alive. Alaric likes sitting around with his thumb up his ass, waiting to find out whether he’s got a bunch of funerals to not attend, since he’s still under house arrest with the paranoid mad scientist brigade.

Assholes.

—From The Kwong Way of Things, the blog of Alaric Kwong, August 3, 2041. Unpublished.

Upon reflection, I must note that I have, in fact, had better days.

—From Fish and Clips, the blog of Mahir Gowda, August 3, 2041. Unpublished.

GEORGIA: Twenty-nine

None of this made any sense, and none of Shaun’s explanations had done anything to help the situation. Not that it mattered. As soon as people started shooting, I stopped needing to understand and started needing to react. I ducked, grabbing Maggie’s hand—she was the one with the least field experience, at least as far as I remembered—and dragging her around the corner into the living room. They’d need to shoot through more walls to get to us here.

“Shaun!” I shouted, hoping I’d be heard over the gunfire. “Get the hell out of there!”

“The wall’s holding for now!” Shaun shouted back. Mahir rounded the corner, taking up a position on the other side of Maggie. He flashed me a wan smile.

My hand went to my waist, habit telling me that when I was dressed, I was also armed. There was nothing there but my belt. “Dammit, Shaun! If you don’t have a secret escape plan, you need to make the crazy people give us guns!”

The woman they called the Cat shouted, “We don’t let strangers go armed in this house!”

“Sort of a special circumstance, don’t you think?” I demanded.

There was an answering burst of gunfire from the hall, followed by the sound of the door slamming. Someone who actually had a weapon must have opened the door, taken a shot at our attackers, and closed the door again. “I think everybody should have lots of guns!” said the cheerful, faintly lunatic voice of the little redhead. “Monkey, can we? Can we please give everybody guns?”

“Yes, Monkey, please?” asked Shaun. He backed into view, not joining our cluster against the wall, but getting farther away from the door to the garage. “We promise not to shoot up any more of your shit than is strictly necessary.”

“Fascinating as diplomacy is, perhaps during a firefight is not the time?” Mahir sounded frantic, like he was the only one taking things seriously.

Shaun gave him a startled look. “Dude, chill. We’re fine until they shoot through the door.”

“Then we’re fine for another ninety seconds,” said the Monkey. “Foxy, give them guns.”

“Yay!” The redhead ran to the other side of the living room. She opened what I’d taken for a coat closet, exposing enough weaponry to outfit a good-sized tabloid. Shaun whistled.

“Okay, I’m in love,” he said.

“Fickle, fickle heart.” I started for the open closet, the others following. This whole situation seemed faintly unreal. We were trapped in a decrepit-looking private home while a small army tried to shoot their way in. The fact that they hadn’t already succeeded told me this place had some pretty good armor plating under the peeling paint. The people who lived here were concerned, but not panicked. That made it a little too easy to be casual about things, like there was no way we could get hurt.

We could get hurt. I’d already died once. That sort of thing tends to teach you that no one is invincible.

“Here!” The Fox handed me a revolver, and gave Shaun a semiautomatic handgun. She kept passing out guns, grinning like a kid on Christmas morning. “We’re going to shoot them reeeeeeal good, so it’s important everybody be ready to look their best!”

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