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“Dude really needs to toughen up,” said Shaun.

Becks sighed. “Or maybe we need to stop doing twelve impossible things every day. Are we all done waving our crazy flags around and proclaiming ourselves the Kings of Crazytown? Because I want to know what the new guy is doing here, and I want you to do whatever you need to do to prove that she”—she jerked a thumb toward me—“is close enough to legit that we can let Shaun keep her. I think he’ll cry if we don’t.”

Shaun glared at her. Becks ignored him.

“If I may?” Dr. Shoji looked from Shaun to Dr. Abbey, and finally to me. “As I was saying, I work with the Kauai Institute of Virology. I’ve been consulting with their Kellis-Amberlee research division for the past seven years, which is fairly impressive, considering they think I’m on loan from the CDC.”

I paused before saying slowly, “But you don’t work for the CDC, do you?”

“No. I believe you’ve already met some of my associates, Drs. Kimberley and Lake? They spoke very highly of you, even before they were sure you’d be able to make it out of the facility. They certainly thought you were the most promising subject—forgive me for using that word; it’s an ugly word, but it’s the only one I have—to arise from Project Shelley. We were all rooting for you from the start.” He was smiling again. It was such a kind smile. What was my life going to be like if I didn’t trust people who looked kind?

Probably a lot like it was before, when I didn’t trust anyone who wasn’t on my team. “You’re with the EIS.”

“What?” said Becks.

“What?” said Shaun.

“That was quicker than I expected,” said Dr. Abbey. She gestured toward Alaric, who was still lying on the hallway floor. “One of you, get him up. I don’t want an intern coming along and shooting him before he can wake up and tell them he’s not dead.”

“Giant dog,” I said.

She sighed. “Fine. Joe, down.” The dog abandoned its watchful position, lumbering back to its feet and trotting to stand next to Dr. Abbey, tail wagging wildly. She placed a hand atop its head. “Happy?”

“Not really, but I’m not seeing much of an alternative here.” I stepped closer to Shaun, still watching the dog warily. “Why is it here?”

“Joe is, like, a super-long story, and I’m a little more interested in the story that makes you meet Mr. Hawaii here and jump straight to him being with the EIS,” said Shaun. “Does that mean he’s working for the people who were holding you captive?”

“No,” said Dr. Shoji. “It means I’m working with the people who helped her escape, and it means I’m here to make sure you get her where she needs to be—where you both need to be. The man who funded most of Project Shelley needs you. This is what he was hoping for all along.”

“Who?” demanded Becks.

I didn’t need to ask. A quiet certainty was growing in the pit of my stomach. Maybe it had been since Dr. Shoji showed up, and I realized that everything—everything—was connected, whether we wanted it to be or not. There was no running away from the past. Alive or dead, it was going to catch up with us in the end.

Alaric groaned, starting to stir. I looked at Dr. Shoji and said calmly, “Rick. He paid to bring me back, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” said Dr. Shoji. “And now he needs your help.”

I sighed. “Right. Let’s peel Alaric off the floor and get him up to speed, guys. I think we’re heading for Washington D.C.”

Oh, of course. Georgia isn’t dead. Or, well, she was dead, but now she’s not, because the CDC is running an underground cloning lab, and the best thing they could think of to clone was a dead journalist who was a pain in their asses when she was alive the first time. And ninety-seven percent memory transfer? That isn’t science fiction, that’s science lying-through-your-teeth. Either she’s not as perfect as she thinks, or there have been a lot of scientific advances that no one’s bothered to share with the rest of us.

And then I think… Kellis-Amberlee in mosquitoes. Someone killing all the people with reservoir conditions. Dr. Wynne trying to kill half the team. That Australian scientist. All that census data. All the things that don’t add up, that never added up, that have been not adding up since before… well, since before Dr. Matras hijacked his daughter’s blog and told the world the dead were walking. All the things that never added up at all. And I think. Well.

Maybe this isn’t so impossible after all. And that scares the pants off me.

Thank God Alisa’s safe with the Masons. And if that’s a sentence that I can write without irony, maybe nothing is impossible anymore.

—From The Kwong Way of Things, the blog of Alaric Kwong, August 6, 2041. Unpublished.

Dear Alaric.

The people I am with, the Masons, say I should send this e-mail and tell you I promise I won’t e-mail again for a while, because I won’t be able to check mail and I don’t want you to feel bad when you send messages that aren’t answered. I can check e-mail again when we get back to Berkeley, but we aren’t there yet.

Mr. Mason is nice, but he stares into space sometimes, and it scares me a little. Ms. Mason isn’t so nice, I don’t think, but she’s trying hard, and I know that should count. Anyway, they said you sent them, and I should go with them, and they had pictures of those people you work with, the cute guy and the dead girl, and so I figured it would be okay. Please don’t be angry. I needed to get out of there before the mosquitoes got in, and I was so scared, and you said you’d send someone.


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