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“I’m staying out of this,” I murmured to George. She nodded, not saying anything.

“One of us has to stay here and make sure Maggie keeps breathing until her parents get here—and that if she stops, there’s someone ready to tell them the real story.” Becks grimaced. “Sorry, Maggie.”

“It’s okay,” Maggie said, another ghostly smile crossing her face. “Medical family, remember? I don’t kid myself about things like this.” The smile faded, replaced by a grimace. “Could’ve done without getting shot, though.”

“And I’m volunteered to remain behind precisely why?” Mahir demanded.

“Shaun’s crazy, Georgia’s a clone, and I’m prepared to shoot them both if they so much as look at me funny. Whereas you have virtually no field experience, and have never shot someone you care about.”

“I’ve had field experience,” said Mahir.

“Was any of it voluntary?” asked George.

He grimaced. “No,” he admitted. “But I don’t care one bit for being the one who gets sidelined. It seems that’s always what you lot do right before you kick off the endgame. Remember Sacramento?”

“Bet I remember it better than you do,” said George quietly.

Mahir grimaced again. “I’m sorry. But you take my point.”

“Yeah,” I said. “You lived. You’re staying here, Mahir, and Becks is coming with us. You’ll like Dr. Abbey, George. She’s probably clinically insane, but she’s good people, and that’s harder to come by than sanity these days.”

Maggie made a thin choking sound that made us all freeze, until we realized she was trying to laugh. “You people,” she whispered finally. “You still think any of this is a choice. Get out of here. Get in your van, and get out of here, and finish it. Do you hear me? Finish it.” This time, she managed to force her eyes open for almost five whole seconds, glaring at us. “Finish it, or I swear, I will die, and come back, and haunt you.”

“I’ve had enough of being haunted,” I said. “We’ll finish it. But only because you asked so nicely, Maggie.”

“I can live with that,” she said, eyes drifting closed again. “Now go ’way. I want to sleep. Can’t do that with all you reporters here staring at me.”

Mahir stood, pausing long enough to glare at me before he stalked out of the room. Becks walked back to Maggie, bending to kiss her on the forehead. Then she followed Mahir, leaving me and George alone with Maggie.

“Let’s go,” I said.

“Wait,” whispered Maggie.

We froze.

“Tell her to come here.”

I glanced at George, who stared back at me, eyes wide and somehow helpless. I nodded. She sighed, nodding back, and walked over to Maggie.

“I’m here.”

“Closer.”

George leaned down until her ear was next to Maggie’s mouth. Maggie whispered something, expression as urgent as her voice was weak. George hesitated before replying, “I understand. And yes. I promise.”

“Good,” said Maggie, loud enough for me to hear. “Now go.”

George walked away from the bed, looking unsettled. She didn’t pause before leaving the room. I followed her, grabbing her arm before she could head for the admissions desk, where Mahir and Becks were speaking with the EMT.

“Hey,” I said. “What did she say to you?”

George turned to face me, her eyes meeting mine with a directness that her sunglasses had always prevented before. “She said that if I’m even a little bit Georgia Mason, I’ll kill myself before I’ll let the CDC use me to hurt you more than they already have. And I agreed.

“I think I’m mostly me, Shaun. I really do. But I know that mostly isn’t entirely. If there’s any chance I’m less myself than I think I am—if I feel even the slightest bit like I might be slipping—I will take myself out of the picture.” Her smile was humorless. “I won’t be the one who stops you from avenging me.”

There was nothing I could say to that.

We think we have an idea where she’s been, if not where she’s going. There was an explosion in one of the supposedly deserted neighborhoods; police found evidence of a massive amount of computer equipment there. It’s possible she and her friends were trying to buy themselves new identities when something went wrong. How things went wrong, I don’t know. We thought we’d removed all the tracking devices from her body. If we didn’t…

If we didn’t, you may have to prepare yourself for the idea that all of this was for nothing. There’s nothing we can do now but wait and see what happens next.

—Taken from a message sent by Dr. Gregory Lake to Vice President Richard Cousins, August 5, 2041.

Alaric took less than kindly to the message that Maggie had been injured and I was remaining behind to tend her while the others returned to the lab. I didn’t mention Georgia. There’s complicating matters, and then there’s blowing up Parliament just so you can make a few adjustments to the seating chart. He’ll find out soon enough.

Please God we all get out of this alive. Please God Maggie gets better. I want to go home. I want to see my wife again.

I want this all to be over.

—From Fish and Clips, the blog of Mahir Gowda, August 5, 2041. Unpublished.

GEORGIA: Thirty-one

We left the Agora shortly after sunset, when the cleanup crew declared the van road-serviceable and unlikely to infect and kill us all. Shaun took the wheel, since Becks wasn’t willing to let me drive. She said it was because I didn’t have a license; from the way she refused to meet my eyes while she was saying it, I suspected it was more an issue of her not quite trusting me yet. I couldn’t blame her. If I’d been in her position, and someone I’d already buried had come back… yeah. It was a miracle any of them trusted me at all. A miracle, or the kind of madness that was going to get us all killed.

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