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“Yet,” said Alaric. He shook his head. “I believe in her now, Shaun. I mean, she’s right when she says she’s an imperfect copy—the Kellis-Amberlee kept turning her brain’s basic functions back on, but there was a little bit more tissue loss every time. That doesn’t mean she’s not who she says she is. She never had the chance to become anybody else.”

“God.” Becks shuddered. “Headshots just became a hell of a lot more important to me.”

I frowned, finishing off my lukewarm coffee before I asked, “Why?”

“Because Miss Atherton has just realized one of the things the CDC would prefer the population not be aware of.” Dr. Shoji took the seat next to Alaric. “I hope you don’t mind my joining you. When I realized you were finally getting around to discussing the science, I thought you might like the opportunity to question someone who used to be involved with it.”

My eyes narrowed. “You mean—”

“No, no.” He put his hands up, motioning for me to stay calm. “I left that part of my life behind a long time ago. There were some ethical lines I couldn’t bring myself to cross, and at that point… I was still suited to work in the private sector—hence my work with the Kauai Institute—but I could no longer stomach the CDC.”

“The cross-infection trials Kelly mentioned,” said Alaric.

It took me a moment to realize what he was talking about. When we first got to Dr. Abbey’s lab—what felt like a million years ago—we’d still been traveling with Kelly Connolly. In an effort to show us that the CDC wasn’t all rainbows and roses, Dr. Abbey asked her about some cross-infection trials using prisoners who “volunteered” to be injected with multiple strains of KA. All of them died.

“Yes,” said Dr. Shoji. “Those men and women died horribly, and they didn’t have to. That was when I realized it had to end. I stopped working on things that we didn’t need to do—and forgive me, Shaun, but finding a new way of bringing back the dead wasn’t something that needed to be a priority. We’d already done that. It didn’t work out well.”

“It’s cool,” I said.

Slowly, Becks said, “Kellis-Amberlee ‘raises the dead’ by turning the body’s electrical impulses back on. It’s like a viral defibrillator that just keeps on working, and working, and working, until there’s nothing left to work with. If they got a clean brain scan off of Georgia after you shot her, that means her brain was turned on at the time. They took their scans off a living brain.”

Dr. Shoji nodded. “Yes,” he agreed. “That’s how the technology works. It was originally intended to be a treatment for Alzheimer’s, a way of calling back memories that were still present, but had become… clouded, let’s say. Misplaced somehow. Once we realized that it could be used on the victims of Kellis-Amberlee, there was hope that we’d be able to bring them back to themselves—that memory recall could be used as a form of treatment, that, combined with antivirals and proper therapy, they could be cured.”

“So why didn’t it work?” I asked.

“The virus didn’t give up that easily. Nothing we did resulted in anything but agitation in the subjects. Some researchers, myself included, were concerned that we might actually cause the infected to become self-aware. People with rabies are aware that they’ve done horrible things. They simply can’t prevent themselves from doing them. No one wanted that with Kellis-Amberlee, and so the project was suspended.”

“Why didn’t you publish?” asked Becks.

“For the same reason the government is shooting everybody with a reservoir condition,” said Alaric. “If they let it get out that people are still thinking, no one’s going to pull the trigger. And then there won’t be anyone left to do the curing, because we’ll all be zombies.”

I frowned. “I’m not following.”

“They’re saying that once someone is infected, the virus takes over, but they’re still in there.” The engines might be soft, but they were loud enough that I hadn’t heard George walking up until she spoke. I turned to see her standing beside me, hair still rumpled from sleep, sunglasses in her hand. She looked at Dr. Shoji and asked, “Do zombies think?”

“No,” he said. “The virus does their thinking for them, thank God, because Alaric is right. If people stop shooting because they’re afraid of committing murder, we’re all going to die. But there’s a chance—not a huge chance, but a chance—that zombies dream.”

George nodded, leaning against the seat next to me. “That’s what I thought you were going to say. How long before we land?”

“We have about an hour before we begin our initial descent into Washington D.C.,” said Dr. Shoji. “How are you feeling?”

“Exhausted. I need a Coke.”

I was never going to get tired of hearing those words. “I’ll get you one,” I said, standing. “I needed to get another coffee anyway.”

She slid into my seat, flashing me a quick, grateful smile. Then she leaned forward, posture making it clear that she was asking Dr. Shoji a question. Probably more things about zombies thinking. Whatever it was, they would fill me in later.

I walked to the self-serve kitchenette at the back of the plane, pulling a can of Coke from the refrigerator unit before pouring myself a cup of blessedly hot coffee. There were wrapped cheese and turkey sandwiches in one of the cold drawers over the coffee machine. I took down three of those—one for me, one for George, and one for the first person who asked where their sandwich was. We needed to keep our strength up if we were going to go take on the United States government. Which was, by the way, insane.


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