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I wasn’t expecting to find a smiling woman with ice-blonde hair loose around her shoulders, wearing a lab coat over a blue tank top and jeans. She smiled when she saw us, the expression lighting up her face in a way that would have seemed impossible when I thought her name was Dr. Shaw and she was dancing to the CDC’s tune.

“Hello, Georgia,” said Dr. Kimberley. She looked to the rest of the group, assessing them each in turn. “Who are your friends?”

“Dr. Kimberley.” I had the sudden urge to hug her—another point of deviation, as my memories were quick to inform me. I stiffened instead, rejecting the alien urge. “You made it out of the building.”

“I did, barely; we were able to delay the cleansing sequence long enough to get into one of the incinerator shafts, and climb from there to the roof,” she said. “Gregory is safe as well. We’re both hopelessly compromised, but we’ll find a way around that. We always do.”

“Such is the life of the epidemiological spy,” I said. I half turned to the others, gesturing to each in turn as I said, “Rebecca Atherton, Shaun Mason, and Alaric Kwong. The staff of After the End Times. This is Dr. Danika Kimberley. She saved my life.”

“I’d say she was exaggerating, but she’s not,” said Dr. Kimberley. She looked toward Dr. Shoji, who was hanging back, waiting for us to finish. “Were there any issues?”

“None. Our flight plan was approved without a hitch. No mechanical troubles, and the plane was swept for transmitters before we left and three times during flight. We’re clean.”

“Thank God for that,” she said fervently. She rummaged through the bag she had slung over one shoulder, producing five slim-bodied testing kits with the words EIS OFFICIAL USE ONLY stenciled on their sides. She handed one to each of us and said, “We use these for internal testing, which means they don’t upload to any servers but our own. If any of you come up positive, you’ll be isolated for six hours before we make a final determination.”

Becks paused in the act of opening her test kit. “What does that mean?” she asked.

“It means that if you have any chance of recovering from the Kellis-Amberlee amplification process, you’ll have started to show signs by the end of that time. If you haven’t shown any signs, we can either decommission you or retain you for further testing. We’d prefer to keep you, of course—undamaged live subjects are difficult to come by—but the choice would be yours, providing you made it before you finished amplifying.”

“You should absolutely be on the Maryland tourism board,” said Becks, and slipped her thumb into the kit.

There was a moment of quiet as everyone waited for confirmation that we were still among the legally living. Shaun watched the ceiling rather than watching the lights blinking on the test kits. Each set of lights blinked at its own tempo, analyzing the blood sample the kit had taken, looking for signs of seroconversion. One by one, they settled on a steady green. Clean. All of us were clean.

I elbowed Shaun in the side. “It’s good,” I said. “You can come down now.”

“Huh?” He looked down, eyes fixing on the green-lit test kit in his hand. “Oh.” He cast a quick sideways glance at my kit and visibly relaxed, some of the tension going out of his jaw.

Dr. Kimberley plucked the kit from his hand, sticking it into a small biohazard bag, which she then made disappear into the bag on her shoulder. The other kits went into a separate, larger biohazard bag, which she pushed into a chute in the side of the jet bridge. Then she smiled, not quite as brightly as when we first deplaned, and said, “Well. I suppose we’d best be moving along. Follow me.”

She turned and walked away. I was almost disappointed to see that she was wearing sensible sneakers instead of the impractical heels she’d sported at the Seattle CDC. The heels must have been one more part of her cover as Dr. Shaw, and sneakers would be a lot easier to run in if there was an outbreak. Still, it was odd to hear her walking without the gunshot clatter of her shoes hitting the floor.

The jet bridge let out on a small pre-Rising room painted a merciful shade of yellow-beige. I’d never considered beige the color of mercy before, but anything was better than that dreaded medicinal white. Chairs lined the windowed walls, presumably to give passengers a view of the airfield. There was no one there, and the air smelled like disinfectant and dust. We might have been the only things alive in the entire building.

Alaric was the last into the room. The door closed behind him, locks engaging with a loud beep. Dr. Shoji moved to the front of the group, waving for the rest of us to follow. “Come along,” he said. “The decontamination fumes can cause severe irritation if you stand too close.”

“And of course a door that actually sealed would look too much like competence,” muttered Alaric, and started walking faster.

Dr. Kimberley stepped back so that she was walking on my right. Shaun cast a suspicious look her way. She ignored it. “How do you feel?” she asked. “Any unusual pain or strange sensations in your hands or feet?”

“Hold on,” said Shaun. There was a tightly controlled note in his voice that I recognized as dawning alarm. “What are you asking her that for?”

“It’s okay, Shaun.” I put a hand on his arm as we walked, trying to soothe him. Looking back to Dr. Kimberley, I said, “I’m tired a lot. I ache. Everything feels pretty much normal.”

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