“Be right there,” said Shaun.
I smiled at him and closed the door. “You know, for a black-ops virology lab, this place has pretty straightforward security,” I said, turning to face the room.
“No, we don’t,” said the short, curvy woman standing next to Becks. She was wearing a lab coat, blue jeans, and a bright orange T-shirt, all of which paled a bit when taken together with the hunting rifle she had pointed at my chest. “We just take slightly different steps to enforce it.”
The door opened behind me. “Hey, Dr. Abbey,” said Shaun.
“Hello, Shaun,” said the woman. She had a faint Canadian accent. “Who’s your friend?”
“Oh, right, you never met George, did you?” Shaun closed the door and moved to stand next to me. “Georgia Mason, meet Dr. Shannon Abbey, mad scientist. Dr. Abbey, meet Georgia Mason, living dead girl.”
“He must be feeling better if he can make bad Rob Zombie jokes,” said Becks.
“Feeling better doesn’t mean sane, stable, or thinking clearly,” said Dr. Abbey. Her eyes swept across my face, assessing me. “What do you think your name is, girlie?”
“Georgia Mason,” I replied, relieved that she’d asked a question whose answer I already knew. “I’m a ninety-seven percent cognate to the original. Don’t quiz me on my fifth birthday party and I’ll be fine.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You sure you should be telling me that?”
“I’m sure that if you’re going to shoot me, you’ll do it regardless of what I say now, and if you’re going to study me, you’re not going to shoot me regardless of what I say now, so I may as well be honest with you.” I smiled despite the tension. “I like being honest.”
“You brought me a mouthy clone,” said Dr. Abbey, looking toward Shaun. “And here it’s not even my birthday.”
He shrugged. “I try to be thoughtful. How’s it hanging, Doc?”
“Well, let’s see. You went to get me mosquitoes. You didn’t bring me any mosquitoes. Instead, you bring me a clone of your dead sister. So I’d say it’s hanging pretty damn poorly right now.” Dr. Abbey sighed, lowering her rifle. “Thank God you’re not the only people I have to work with. Come on. There’s someone here that I want you to meet.”
She turned, starting to walk away. I followed, and got my first real look at her facility. I stopped, staring.
I’m not sure what I expected from an off-the-grid virology lab run by a woman with the fashion sense of a traffic cone. I certainly didn’t expect a fully equipped, if somewhat quixotically designed, research facility. Racks of medical equipment, computers, and lab animals were everywhere I looked. The place seemed slightly understaffed for its size, but that was probably a function of its underground nature—it wasn’t like they could advertise for staff on the local message boards. “Mad Scientist seeks Minions. Must be detail-oriented, well educated, and unconcerned by the idea of being charged with terrorism if caught.” Just no.
As she walked, Dr. Abbey asked, “How’s Maggie?”
“Gut-shot and cranky, but the doctors say she’ll live,” said Shaun. “Is there any news about Alisa?”
“You haven’t been looking at the non–world shattering news feeds recently, have you?” Dr. Abbey paused to hang her rifle from a hook on the wall and said, “Alisa Kwong was removed from the Ferry Pass Refugee Center two days ago when well-known Internet journalists Stacy and Michael Mason made an eloquent plea for custody of the tragically orphaned girl. They ran their reports from just outside the interdicted zone, making it impossible to shut them down without causing a massive Internet shitstorm. So the feds gave them the kid. Alisa’s been e-mailing Alaric constantly. He can’t tell her where we are, but being able to communicate with her without worrying about the mosquitoes getting into the facility where she’s being held is doing them both a world of good. We’ll worry about getting her back when it’s safe.”
Her words were clearly directed at Shaun, who nodded, a serious expression on his face. It was still a little weird, seeing him look so grave about something that wasn’t related to risking his neck or getting a good ratings share. His priorities had shifted while I was gone.
He shot me a look, a smile curving up one corner of his mouth. Well. Not all his priorities.
“This is impressive,” I said. “Did you set this all up yourself?”
“Golly-gee, Miss Clone, no! The government used to set up surprise scientific research facilities all over the country, just so they’d be around for people to stumble into when they were needed. If you break a few jars, you’ll probably find guns and bonus lives inside.” Dr. Abbey’s smile was closer to a snarl, leaving her teeth half bared. “We’re here for your amusement.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You could have just said ‘yes.’ ”
“And miss the opportunity to see what you’d do if I called you stupid?” Dr. Abbey’s smile faded. She grabbed a small testing unit off one of the shelves, lobbing it at me. I caught it. She nodded slightly, apparently taking a mental note of my reflexes. “Go ahead and get yourself another clean blood result while we’re all standing here. I want a portable sample.”
“Doesn’t Shaun get one?” I asked, concerned. The unit was heavier than I expected, with no visible lights on the top.
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