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The man from the CDC made a strained choking noise, clawing helplessly at Alaric’s hands. Still, no one moved to pull them apart.

Finally, wearily, President Ryman said, “It would make everyone’s job easier if you would stop trying to actually kill him. I understand that you’re angry. This isn’t helping.”

Becks glared at him as she stepped forward, putting her hands on Alaric’s shoulders. He slumped, fingers still locked around the doctor’s throat. “Let him go, Alaric,” she said quietly. “It’s time to let him go.”

“They killed my parents,” Alaric mumbled.

“They killed a lot of people. They even killed Georgia. But strangling this man won’t bring them back, and he hasn’t finished telling us everything he knows. Now let him go. It’s time to let him talk. You can kill him later.”

Reluctantly, Alaric let go. The doctor staggered away from him, coughing, one hand coming up to clutch at his throat like he was going to finish the job of strangling himself. Pointing at Alaric, he demanded, “Restrain that man!”

“Begging your pardon, sir, but no,” said Steve. “I serve at the pleasure of the president, not at the whim of the CDC.”

The man from the CDC glared daggers at him. President Ryman ignored him, turning to us. “The mosquitoes are a modified form of the species that carries yellow fever,” he said. “They’re purely artificial. They can’t reproduce, and they can’t survive in temperatures below a certain level. The loss of American life has been tragic. It will end when winter comes.”

“They can’t reproduce?” said Shaun incredulously. “That’s your big solution? They won’t f**k? Did none of you people ever see Jurassic Park?”

“It may take us years to clean out the zombie mobs left by the outbreak, but I assure you, the mosquitoes will not be a factor for long,” said President Ryman. He met my eyes for an instant, and I almost recoiled from the pain lurking in his face. He was the president. He was the man at the head of this conspiracy—somehow, he’d gone from being Tate’s patsy to the man in the position Tate once aspired to. And he looked like he was being tortured.

“Tell that to my parents,” said Alaric. He sagged against Becks, glaring daggers at anyone who made the mistake of looking his way. If he’d been armed, I think more than one person would have been in danger of dying.

Still clutching his throat, the man from the CDC said, “Regardless, you were brought here for a purpose. You will do as you’re told, or you will not leave here alive.”

“What purpose would that be?” I asked warily.

“You have a certain reputation for honesty,” said the man from the CDC. “You will begin reporting the news as we present it, rather than reporting it as you see fit. By adding your voices to ours, we can hopefully control some of the more unpleasant rumors to have arisen since the events surrounding the most recent presidential election.”

It was my turn to stare at him. Finally, I said, “You want me to lie for you.”

“Oh, no,” said the man from the CDC. “You know, I’m disappointed. I really thought you’d be smarter. I suppose the cloning process wasn’t as reliable as we had hoped.”

“No,” said Shaun. He pulled his arm free of my hand. “You’re already out of the game as far they’re concerned. You said it yourself. The George I got was supposed to be the brainwashed agreeable one who thought they had the best damn ideas ever.”

“Then why?” I asked.

President Ryman sighed. “Shaun, I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re not.” Shaun glanced at me. The look on his face was enough to make me wish I’d never come back from the dead. “They brought you back so they’d have something they could use to make me do what they told me to do. They brought you back for leverage, so they could make me lie for them. You always told the truth, George. But I made people believe it.”

“Oh.” My voice was barely a whisper. It hurt to even force myself to speak that loudly. “Well, then it’s over. We won’t do it.”

“Again, I thought you’d be smarter.”

I turned to the man from the CDC. He was shaking his head, and holding what looked like a fountain pen in his hand. Shaun went rigid, barely seeming to breathe.

“You’ll do what we tell you to do. If you choose not to, well. We’ll have to find ourselves some replacement reporters, because you are all going to die.”

Because we chose to tell the truth

(The cool of age, the rage of youth)

And stand against the lies of old

(The whispers soft, the tales untold)

We find ourselves the walking dead

(The loves unkept, the words unsaid)

And in the crypt of all we’ve known

(The broken blade, the breaking stone)

We know that we were in the right

(The coming dawn, the ending night).

So here is when we stop the lies.

The time is come. We have to Rise.

—From Dandelion Mine, the blog of Magdalene Grace Garcia, August 7, 2041.

The problem with people who have power is that they start thinking more about what it takes to keep that power than they do about what’s right or wrong or just plain a bad idea. Here’s a tip for you: If you’re ever in a position to be making calls on right and wrong that can impact an entire nation, run your decisions past a six-year-old. If they look at you in horror and tell you you’re getting coal in your stocking for the rest of your life, you should probably reconsider your course of action. Unless you want to be remembered as a monster, in which case, knock yourself out.

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