George being back is a miracle, and it’s also what’s going to mean this all ends bad, because I’m not thinking straight anymore. I lived without her once. I can’t do it again.
—From Adaptive Immunities, the blog of Shaun Mason, August 4, 2041. Unpublished.
Madre de Dios… Mother Mary, hold me closely; Mother Mary, love me best. Mother Mary, treat me sweetly. Mother Mary, let me rest.
I have never hurt this much in my life. Morphine is supposed to make the hurting stop, but instead, it shunts the pain to the side, like a houseguest you never intended to keep. It isn’t in your face, but it’s there, using the last of the milk, leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor…
This hurts. I am alive. The two balance each other, I suppose.
This was supposed to be Buffy’s revolution. It was never supposed to be mine.
—From Dandelion Mine, the blog of Magdalene Grace Garcia, August 4, 2041. Unpublished.
I don’t know how long they left us in that room. Long enough that George was pale and freaking out a little by the time they came back, even though she was trying pretty damn hard to hide it. I watched her anxiously, not sure what I was supposed to do. She’d never had a problem with hospitals before. Then again, I guess being brought back from the dead and used as a CDC lab rat would f**k up just about anybody.
The delay may have put George’s nerves on edge, but it helped settle mine. When those bullets started flying… there was a time when that would have elated me. With George in the field, all it did was make me sick to my stomach. She could have been hit. I could have lost her again. Again. And I couldn’t even grab her and hold on until I stopped feeling sick, because there was blood on my shirt. If it was hot, even touching her could kill her. I should never have grabbed her hand. I should have stayed away from her and observed proper quarantine procedures. And I couldn’t.
It was sort of ironic. I couldn’t catch the live form of Kellis-Amberlee because I’d managed to catch the immunity from her, and now that she was back where she belonged, she didn’t have that same protection. Even when I was safe, she wasn’t.
“I hate the world sometimes,” I muttered.
“What?” George stopped staring at the wall, turning to look at me instead. She removed her sunglasses, rubbing her left eye with the heel of her hand. “Do you think we’ll find out what’s happening soon?”
“I hope so.” I sighed. “All that for nothing. We didn’t get the damn IDs.”
“Didn’t those people send you to the CDC?”
“Yeah, they did.”
“So it wasn’t for nothing.” George shrugged, trying—and failing—to look nonchalant as she said, “It got you me.”
I was still trying to find a response for that when the door opened and the EMT who had escorted us inside stepped through. He was wearing clean scrubs, and the plastic face mask was gone. We both turned to face him, waiting for his verdict.
“We apologize for any inconvenience the delay may have caused. Miss Garcia required immediate attention,” he said. “If you’d come with me, I’d be happy to take you to your party.”
“Does that mean we’re cool?” I asked.
The EMT nodded. “Yes, Mr. Mason. You’re both in fine health. Your internal viral loads are well within normal safety perimeters. Now if you would please come with me?”
“Right.” George looked faintly ill. “Back to the white rooms.”
“Hey.” She looked my way. I smiled at her. “I’m here. It’s all different now.”
“Yeah.” George returned my smile before turning to the EMT. “Lead the way.”
We followed him back to the hall where we had first entered. The sound and motion that had been my only real impression of the place was all gone now, replaced by cool, sterile peacefulness. If it hadn’t been for the airlock looking out on the garage, I would never have realized it was the same hall. George kept her eyes locked straight ahead, looking like she was going to be sick at any moment. I just hoped no one would see her and take that for a sign of spontaneous amplification. Another fire drill was the last thing that we needed at the moment.
She relaxed a little when we passed through a sliding door and into a hall where the walls were painted a pale cream yellow. Interesting. It was just the white that bothered her. I made a mental note to punch the next CDC employee I saw in the face.
“Mr. Mason, Miss Mason, at this point, I do need to ask that you proceed through these doors,” the EMT indicated two doors in the wall to our right, one marked “Men,” the other marked “Women.” “There will be clean clothes available for you to wear while yours are being sterilized.”
I glanced at George. “You going to be okay with this?”
She laughed unsteadily. “If I can’t handle a basic sterilization cycle, I may as well give up and go back to the… go back to the place where you found me right now. I’ll be fine.”
“Okay.” I risked reaching out and squeezing her hand before stepping through the appropriate door.
The room on the other side was small and square, and—to my relief—tiled in industrial gray. I could have kissed whoever was responsible for that particular decorating choice. As long as the women’s side was decorated the same way, George might not flip out. As expected, there were no windows, and a large drain was set in the middle of the floor. The door I’d arrived through was behind me. Another was on the wall directly in front of me.
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