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“Awesome,” I said, and stepped past her into the room. I stopped dead just past the threshold, too stunned to speak.

George ducked in behind me. After a few startled seconds, she said, “Remind me to come here the next time I decide to get hurt.”

“You and me both,” I said.

The halls of the Agora’s medical center might look like the ones you’d find at any other upscale hospital, but the patient rooms were something completely different, at least if Maggie’s was anything to go by. The walls were painted a warm amber, and there was actual carpet on the floor—easy-clean industrial carpet, sure, but a world of luxury away from normal hospital tile. The only medical equipment in sight was a flat-screen display that flickered periodically between images, apparently doing the work of multiple monitors.

Maggie was lying in the middle of a comfortable-looking bed with a wine red comforter and more pillows than anyone needs, sick or not. She was too pale, especially for her. An IV was connected to her left arm, and there were sensor patches on her collarbones, but apart from that, she could have been taking a nap. Mahir was sitting to one side of the bed; Becks was standing near the wall. They both turned to look at us.

There was a moment of awkward silence before Mahir said, “If Maggie were awake and mobile, this is doubtless the point where she would leap to her feet, announce how worried she’d been, and run to embrace you. Please forgive me if I choose to take all that as written, and move straight to asking what the bloody hell we’re meant to do now.”

I nodded. “Forgiven. How is she?”

“The bullet went clean through. That’s about the only good thing I can say about it.” Becks didn’t look at Maggie as she spoke. She didn’t really look at us, either; her gaze was fixed on the wall, preventing anything uncomfortable, like eye contact. “Several of her internal organs were damaged, and her liver was nicked. She lost a lot of blood.”

“But she didn’t amplify,” I said.

“No. She’s going to be fine. They’re transfusing her with scrubbed plasma and filtering as much of the viral load out of her bloodstream as they can, but she never started to amplify.”

“What Rebecca isn’t saying is that Maggie came very, very close to crossing that line, and she can’t be moved.” Mahir dropped his head into his hands, voice muffled as he said, “She can’t be moved, and you can’t stay here. This is a disaster.”

“No, it’s not,” I said. For a moment—just a moment—I wished the George who only existed in my head would speak up and tell me what to say. Then I glanced to the George who was standing beside me, alive and breathing and as lost as the rest of us, and the moment passed. “Maggie can’t be moved, but she’ll be safe here. The Agora would never let anything happen to her, and she wasn’t involved with the actual break-in at the CDC, so it’s not like she can be accused of anything more criminal than letting herself get shot.”

“Harboring fugitives,” said Becks.

“Criminal negligence—she should never have left the van,” said Mahir.

“Being a journalist,” said George. The rest of us turned to her, startled. She shook her head, expression grim. “I read as much of the last year’s site archive as I could before we left to get shot at. Whoever’s running this game, they don’t like journalists, and they’re not discriminating between the branches. To them, a blogger’s a blogger.”

“She’s right,” whispered Maggie.

Mahir raised his head. Becks whipped around to face the bed. Maggie’s eyes were still closed, but there was a tension in her that hadn’t been there when we entered the room, a tension that spoke of consciousness.

“You know… they’re targeting the bloggers,” whispered Maggie. Every word seemed heavy, like it was being dragged out of her. “Martial law in Florida. Arrests all over the country. They’re… hiding something.”

“Hey. Hey. Don’t try to talk, honey. You need to save your strength.” Becks moved to crouch down next to Mahir. Looking at the three of them, I felt suddenly left out, like they had formed a unit I wasn’t meant to be part of. Then George touched my elbow with one hand, the sort of quick, subtle contact that had always been the limit we allowed ourselves in public, and I realized they’d formed their unit because they understood—probably before I did—that they were never really going to be a part of mine.

I was always going to be a haunted house. The only difference was that now my ghost wore flesh and held me when I needed her. Somehow, that made it better… but it didn’t stop the realization from hurting.

“No. Need to talk.” Maggie struggled to open her eyes, managing a single blink before they closed again. “Shaun, you have to… you have to take Georgia and go. Go back to Dr. Abbey. She’ll know another way to hide you.”

“What about you?” I asked.

The ghost of a smile flitted across her face. “I am going to lie here until I can feel my toes. And then I’ll ask the concierge to call my parents so I can tell them that the CDC is being naughty.”

Mahir actually laughed. “Well, that’ll certainly complicate things in our favor.”

“You have to stay with her,” said Becks.

“What?” Mahir twisted to face her, eyes narrowing. “I don’t believe I heard you correctly.”


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