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You should know, said George.

I didn’t reply. It felt weird, trying to reject that little inner voice when it was the only thing that had kept me even halfway functional in the months following the real Georgia’s death, but I couldn’t have them both, and given the choice, I’d take the George I could share with other people. That made her real. I needed real. I needed real to anchor me to the world, because otherwise I was going to slip right over the edge.

Going all the way crazy seemed a lot less appealing now than it had a few weeks ago. I used to view a total break with reality as a sort of psychological permission to spend the rest of my life—however long or short it happened to be—with George, and maybe even be happy. Having a living, breathing woman with her face made me admit that it wouldn’t make me happy. The George in my head wasn’t the real thing. Neither was the clone, if you wanted to get technical, but I’ve never been a technical guy. I needed Georgia in my life. I chose the one who was sitting in the cabin, waiting for her Coke.

Alaric had come around surprisingly quickly, after he finished yelling at us for not keeping him updated while we were in Seattle. Typical Newsie; he was less upset about the CDC raising the dead than he was about us not sending him regular reports. He’d spent about half an hour quizzing George on everything he could think of while Becks and I were getting us packed to go. She must have passed, because when he was done, he’d looked at me, said, “It’s her,” and started listening to her like she’d never died in the first place. If only it was going to be that easy for everyone.

“What did I miss?” I asked, walking back over to the group. George stuck her hand out as soon as I was close enough. I passed her the Coke and a sandwich, and was rewarded with a brief smile. She was wearing her sunglasses again, even though she didn’t technically need them. We were all frankly more comfortable that way.

“Dr. Shoji was explaining the landing plan,” said Becks. “We’re going to set down at the Montgomery County Airpark in Maryland, and drive from there.”

“The airport has been owned by the EIS since shortly after the Rising,” said Dr. Shoji. “We’ve managed to resist all CDC efforts to buy it from us, and since we’re still officially on the books as a functional organization, they haven’t been able to simply take it. There’s a ground crew waiting, and they’ve promised to have a vehicle ready.”

“How are we going to get off the property?” asked Becks. “I don’t suppose you’re running a completely unsecured airfield less than fifty miles from the nation’s capitol.”

“We’re good, but we’re not that good,” said Dr. Shoji. “You’ll take a blood test when you deplane, and another when you exit the airport. Both will be performed on EIS equipment, and logged in our mainframe. If the CDC is tracking you by blood test results, they won’t get anything from us. We stopped sharing all our data a long time ago.”

“Isn’t that illegal?” asked Alaric.

“Isn’t human cloning illegal?” asked George. She opened her Coke and took a long drink before adding, “The CDC isn’t playing by the rules anymore. Why should anyone else?”

“What a wonderful world we’ve made for ourselves.” Alaric scowled, slumping in his seat. “I’m getting sick and tired of everybody double crossing everybody else. Can’t something be straightforward?”

I raised my hand. “I’m just here to hit stuff.”

Becks glared. The anger in her eyes was impossible to miss, no matter how hard I might try to pretend it wasn’t there. “Don’t you dare, Shaun Mason. You may have been here to hit stuff once, but things have changed since then, so don’t you dare. You don’t get to go back to pretending you’re an idiot just because you have Georgia here to hide behind, you got me? I won’t let you. Even if you try, I won’t let you.”

A moment of awkward silence followed her proclamation, each of us trying not to look at Dr. Shoji, who had just witnessed something that felt intensely personal, at least to me. That wasn’t something that should have been shared with anyone outside our weird little semi-family.

Dr. Shoji clearly knew that. He stood, clearing his throat as he jerked his chin toward the sandwiches in my hand. “That’s a good idea. You should all eat before we land. I don’t know how much opportunity we’re going to have to stop once we hit the ground. We can’t risk any of you taking CDC-operated blood tests before we get to where we’re going.” That said, he turned and walked away, heading back toward the cockpit. In a matter of seconds, the four of us were alone again.

We looked at each other. Finally, Becks took a slow breath, and said, “Shaun, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said—”

“It’s okay.” I shook my head. “It’s true. I spent a lot of time letting George do the thinking for both of us, because I could get away with it. I’ve been doing all the thinking for a year now. I don’t think I can stop. But that doesn’t mean I want to do anything at this point beyond smashing things and shooting people and making sure this ends. You get me? This is going to end.”

“No matter what?” asked Alaric, almost defiantly.

I turned to look at him. Out of all of us, he was the one who still had something to lose. His little sister was with the Masons. If he died, she’d wind up staying with them. There were too many orphans in the world to take one away from an apparently loving family. They’d probably be more careful with her than they were with us, but that didn’t make them good parents, and that didn’t make them good for her. Not in the long term.

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