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“You’re the Vice President of the United States,” said George. “If you don’t have the clearance, who does?”

He didn’t say anything. He just looked at her.

“Right.” George sighed and removed the gun from her belt. Steve stepped up with a large plastic bin; she put the gun inside.

That was the cue for the rest of us to begin shedding our weapons. Alaric and George were clean in a matter of minutes. Becks and I took longer. The bin in Steve’s hands was dangerously full by the time we finished.

“Can we get a claim check for those?” asked Alaric.

Steve snorted, expression darkly amused. “Unlikely.”

“Just checking,” said Alaric, unruffled.

“Thank you,” said Rick. He pressed his hand against the wall. A light came on behind his palm, and the wall turned transparent—a trick I’d only seen once before, in the Portland offices of the CDC. There was an elevator on the other side.

Alaric whistled. “Where can I get me one of those?”

“First, get a six-billion-dollar security budget. After that, I’ll put you in touch with the DOD,” said Rick. The transparent patch of wall slid to the side as the elevator doors swished open, revealing a surprisingly industrial-looking metal box. This elevator could have been located in any dock or warehouse in the world, and yet here it was, in the White House. Rick beckoned us forward again. “After you.”

“If this is a trap, someone’s getting a very stern talking to,” I said blithely, and stepped into the elevator. George was barely half a step behind me.

Of the three Secret Service agents, only Steve got into the elevator with us, leaving the other two behind after handing one of them the bin containing our weapons. The doors swished shut again as soon as Steve was through, and Rick opened a metal panel on the wall, revealing, for the first time since our arrival, a blood testing array. It had eight distinct panels, one for each of us, with two to spare.

“I thought you didn’t do security theater,” said George.

“This is just a precaution. We’re going into a highly secured area,” said Rick. “We all have to test clean before the elevator will move.”

“Oh, great,” said Alaric. “I wanted to hang out in a death trap today.”

Becks elbowed him in the side as she pressed her thumb against the first testing square. The white plastic turned red behind her finger, remaining that color for a count of five before turning green. Rick did the same with the next square, cycling it from white to red to green. Then he stepped back, looking at the rest of us.

“You’re up,” he said.

None of us were infected. The elevator chimed softly and began sliding downward, moving with a smooth efficiency that bordered on unnerving. I realized that the four of us were standing clustered together on one side of the elevator, leaving Rick and Steve on the other. Steve was watching the wall. Rick was watching us, a deep longing in his eyes.

Talk to him, said Georgia.

I glanced toward the George beside me, wincing a little when I realized she hadn’t spoken. Still, it was good advice. I took a half step forward, focusing on Rick, and asked, “Rick, dude—what the f**k happened to you?”

“Do you remember how your sister used to say the truth was the most important thing in the world? That if we all knew the truth, we’d be able to live our lives more freely and with fewer troubles?” The elevator was slowing down. “It’s funny, because she always seemed to forget that a truth you don’t understand is more dangerous than a lie. Robert Stalnaker told the truth when he said Dr. Kellis was creating a cure for the common cold, and look where that’s gotten us.”

Robert Stalnaker was the muckraker—sorry, “investigative reporter”—whose articles on the infant Kellis cure resulted in its being released into the atmosphere, which led in turn to the creation of Kellis-Amberlee. If he hadn’t decided to “tell the truth,” we might not be in the pickle we’re in now. No one knows what happened to Stalnaker during the Rising. Whatever it was, I hope it hurt.

“Robert Stalnaker made up a story to sell papers,” said George. “And by the way, I’m right here. I can hear you.”

The elevator stopped. Rick turned to her, looking faintly abashed, and said, “I know. I just… I saw you made, Georgia. I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea of you knowing everything you knew, well… before.”

“I don’t, because I’m not the same girl,” said George coldly. “You of all people should know that. You can’t really raise the dead.”

“Great. Even the clone master has issues with Miss Undead America 2041,” said Becks. “This is really the guy who paid to have you resurrected, Georgia? Because so far, not impressed.”

It was nice to see that my team’s “us against the world” mentality extended to George. “So what is it you’re saying here, Rick?” I asked. “Are you saying we’re here to learn how to lie?”

“No,” he said. Rick pressed his hand against the panel next to the elevator door. It slid open, revealing the featureless gray hall beyond. “You’re here to learn why we have to lie, and why we can’t let you run around telling the truth without consequences. It’s time you learned the truth about Kellis-Amberlee.” He looked back over his shoulder at us, and his expression was haggard, like he’d personally witnessed the end of the world. “I am so, so sorry.”

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