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Dr. Abbey actually laughed. “You mean he didn’t tell you? The lucky boy’s immune.”

“Probably due to extended exposure to someone with a reservoir condition, which brings us back to you, Georgia.” The man who walked up behind her was clearly of Asian descent, even if his accent was pure Hawaiian. He was wearing knee-length khaki shorts and sandals, which wouldn’t do a damn thing to save him if we had to run. He had a round face, and a kind expression that put my teeth instantly on edge. I was quickly learning that no one who looked at me kindly was planning to do anything I’d enjoy. Call it the natural paranoia born of dying and coming back to life again.

Shaun’s hand clamped down on my shoulder. “Dude,” he said, voice radiating suspicion, “who the f**k are you?”

The stranger’s smile didn’t waver. “I’m Dr. Joseph Shoji. You must be Shaun. You know, I don’t think this could have been engineered to go any better if we’d tried. I really had no idea how we were going to get the two of you into the same place, and then you go and manage to perform a rescue op—”

The rest of the word was cut off as Shaun let go of my shoulder, pushing me back a step, and lunged for Dr. Shoji. Becks and Dr. Abbey watched impassively as Shaun’s momentum drove the two men backward, stopping only when Dr. Shoji’s shoulders slammed into the nearest wall. I made a startled noise that was shamefully close to a squeak.

“You CDC ass**le!” snarled Shaun.

“He’s not with the CDC,” said Dr. Abbey. Shaun didn’t seem to hear her.

“Bets on the crazy boy,” said Becks.

“Joey’s pretty mean when you get him riled,” countered Dr. Abbey.

I stared at them. “What are you two doing? Make them stop!”

“Sweetcheeks, there’s only ever been one person who could make that boy do anything he didn’t want to do, and she’s ashes in the wind.” Dr. Abbey’s gaze was assessing. “You’re close, but you’re not sure you’re good enough, are you? Now take that blood test.”

“You’re insane,” I said, and started to move toward Shaun and Dr. Shoji.

“Isn’t that what the ‘mad scientist’ after my name is meant to imply?” asked Dr. Abbey. Then she sighed. “Look. You can go along with what I’m asking, which isn’t much when you stop and think about it. Or you can try to intervene in Shaun’s attempt to throttle the life from my colleague—way not to fight back there, Joey—and I can have one of my interns shoot you where you stand. Pick one.”

Cheeks burning, I muttered, “I am getting damn sick of scientists,” and popped the lid off the testing unit. I slammed my thumb down on the panel inside, feeling the needles bite into my skin.

Dr. Abbey nodded. “Good. You can follow directions. That’s going to be important.” She placed two fingers in her mouth and whistled. On cue, an impossible terror came lumbering down the hall, jowls flapping, eyes glowing with menace.

I couldn’t help myself. I screamed. It was a high, piercing sound, and I was ashamed of it as soon as it left my throat. It had the unexpectedly positive effect of stopping the terror in its tracks. The huge black dog cocked its head, looking at me. Shaun also stopped trying to strangle Dr. Shoji, twisting around to regard me with alarm.

“George? What’s wrong?”

Mutely, I pointed to the dog.

“Oh.” Shaun blinked, releasing Dr. Shoji’s throat. The Hawaiian virologist took a hasty step away from him. “That’s just Joe. He won’t hurt you.”

“He will if I tell him to,” said Dr. Abbey, leaning over to pluck the test unit from my hand. She didn’t bother with a biohazard bag. She just snapped the lid closed and tucked the whole thing into the pocket of her lab coat. “Joe, guard.”

The dog sat, gaze remaining on me. Something in its posture told me it wouldn’t regard ripping my throat out as the high point of its day, but it would do it all the same if Dr. Abbey gave the order. The idea of moving seemed suddenly ludicrous, like it was the sort of thing only crazy people did.

“You’re a bit high-strung, aren’t you?” asked Dr. Shoji, rubbing his throat and giving Shaun a sidelong look. “Have you considered the benefits of marijuana? Or at least reducing your caffeine intake?”

“Don’t push it, Joey; he’s had a long day,” said Dr. Abbey.

“He just tried to strangle me.”

“Yes, but he failed, which means we’re still playing nice.”

“Don’t you touch my sister,” snarled Shaun, seeming to remember that Dr. Shoji was there.

I sighed, reaching out to grab Shaun’s elbow. “He’s not one of the doctors from Portland. It’s okay.”

“I heard screaming—is everything okay out here?” Alaric emerged from one of the side rooms, showing an admirable lack of self-preservation—it takes a reporter, after all, to run toward the sound of screaming. Reporters and crazy people, they were the only ones who would be moving in a situation like this. So which one was I going to be?

“The dog startled me,” I said, turning to face him. I tried a smile. It felt foreign, like it wasn’t quite designed to fit my face. “Hey, Alaric. Long time no see.”

Alaric stopped dead, blood draining from his face. Then, with no more ceremony than that, his eyes rolled back in his head and he hit the floor in a heap. The five of us stared at him. Even Joe the giant f**king dog turned his head to study the prone blogger for a moment before returning to the serious business of staring at me.


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