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“Good, because the good Doc’s going to be real interested in talking to you.” Shaun twisted back around to face forward, watching the darkened forest roll by outside his window. “She’s a little hard to explain if you haven’t met her. Hell, nobody explained her to me.”

“I read the files.”

“There’s reading the files, and then there’s the reality of a mentally disturbed Canadian woman throwing a live octopus at your chest so you can tell her whether exposure to Kellis-Amberlee has changed its reflex speed. Which, in case you wondered, doesn’t happen. An octopus infected with Kellis-Amberlee is still fast, smart, and incredibly easy to piss off.” Shaun shuddered. “All those suckers…”

“Wait. Octopuses aren’t mammals.”

Becks smiled coolly at me in the rearview mirror. “And that’s why Dr. Abbey is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t met her.”

I sighed. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“Probably not,” said Becks, and turned off the narrow dirt road we’d been traveling down, onto another, narrower, dirtier road. This one seemed more like a deer trail with delusions of grandeur than an actual thoroughfare, and the van shuddered and jumped with every bump and pothole. Shaun whooped a little, causing Becks to shoot him a wide-eyed look. He grinned unrepentantly back. I got the feeling that there hadn’t been much whooping while I was away.

The dirt trail—I refused to dignify it with anything that sounded more maintained—emptied us onto a road that was just as decrepit, but had obviously been better, once upon a time. Chunks of broken pavement jutted up where the roots of the encroaching trees had managed to break through the surface. Becks swerved around them with practiced ease, and actually sped up, cruising through the dark like she’d driven this route a hundred times before. Judging by the calm way Shaun was watching the trees, she had.

The road ended at a large parking lot in front of a large, glass-fronted building that was probably originally some sort of government building or visitor’s center. “Forestry center,” said Shaun, before I could ask. “Welcome to Shady Cove.”

“… thanks.” I shifted in my seat, putting my laptop to the side. “Is someone going to come out and meet us?”

“No, but you should probably count on lots and lots of people with guns waiting for us inside.” Shaun shot me another manic grin. “Dr. Abbey knows how to greet visitors.”

“With terror and intimidation?” I asked.

“Something like that,” Becks agreed. She slowed down but kept driving, steering us into a covered parking garage attached to the back of the building. There were only a few vehicles already parked there, including—

I sat up straighter. “My bike!”

Shaun’s grin softened, becoming sadder and more sincere. “You didn’t think I’d leave it behind, did you?”

I didn’t answer him. I couldn’t speak around the lump in my throat. As soon as Becks parked the van I opened the door and climbed out, heading for my bike in what I hoped looked like a reasonably nonchalant manner. Not that it made a damn bit of difference either way. There was nothing—absolutely nothing, including the sudden appearance of a shambler from the shadows, which thankfully didn’t happen—that could have kept me away from my bike in that moment. I actually hugged the handlebars, I was so damn glad to see it.

Shaun and Becks followed, pausing long enough to get their duffel bags from the car. They stopped about eight feet away. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Becks elbow Shaun in the side, mouthing the words, “Ask her.”

He looked at her uncertainly before he cleared his throat and said, “Uh, George? Did you want to start the engine? Make sure I’ve been doing regular maintenance and all that good shit?”

“That depends.” I stopped hugging the handlebars, straightening as I turned to face them. “Do you actually want me to check the condition of the engine, or do you want me to run my fingerprints against the ones in the bike’s database?”

“The second one,” admitted Shaun.

“Right. Did you engage the biometrics when you locked the bike?” He nodded. I sighed. “Fine,” I said, and stuck out my right thumb, holding it up for both of them to see, before pressing it down on the pressure sensor at the center of the bike’s dash. A blue light promptly came on above the speedometer. I held my breath, and kept holding it until the light turned green before shutting off entirely. “Biometrics disengaged,” I announced. “Happy now?”

Shaun turned to Becks, grinning as he said, “Extremely. Told you she could do it.”

Becks nodded slowly. “Okay. You got one right. Come on. Dr. Abbey knows we’re here by now.” She started walking toward the nearest door, not waiting for the two of us.

I took a deep breath before heading over to join Shaun. Maybe he’d been sure that I could trigger the bike’s biometric lock, but I hadn’t been. Identical twins don’t have the same fingerprints. Why would clones?

Answer: because at least in my case, the clone was intended to pass for the original in every way possible, and that meant that if my fingerprints could be matched to my old body, they would be. I was just glad they’d taken the trouble with this body, given that it was never intended to see the outside of a lab.

Thinking about that too much made me feel nauseous. I shuddered and sped up a little, matching my steps to Shaun’s. Becks was already at the door, her palm pressed against a blood test panel. The light above it turned green, and she opened the door, stepping inside. She waved before slamming it in our faces. I moved into position next, slapping my hand down on the panel. The light cycled and the door unlocked, letting me inside.


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