As far as I knew, she never once visited that orphanage. And if she was claiming a migraine now, she was faking it. She was playing along.
Slowly, the man from the CDC said, “If he feels we built him a, as he says, ‘broken George,’ he won’t mind if I shoot her right now. We can always make him a better one.”
I froze, every nerve I had screaming two contradictory commands—save her, save her, don’t let her die again warring with no, you can’t, you’ll all die if you try, and you can choose that for you, but you can’t choose it for Becks and Alaric. I had to let him pull the trigger. I couldn’t let him. As soon as he started to tense his fingers I’d jump for him, and whatever came after that would be anybody’s guess. I knew that, even as the sanest part of me was telling me it was the worst thing I could possibly do. Becks and Alaric knew it, too. They glanced my way, uncertainty in their eyes. I was the boss. I was the one they counted on to keep them safe. And that wasn’t going to stop me from getting them both killed.
Rescue came from an unexpected quarter. Steve cleared his throat before saying, with professional calm, “If your hand so much as twitches, sir, I will be forced to shoot you. Intentionally beginning an outbreak in the presence of the president is considered an act of treason. Intent to commit an act of treason authorizes me to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent that act from being carried out.”
“Now,” said President Ryman again. “Your point is made. He didn’t stop you. They’ll listen to us. Put the pen down.”
“Fine.” Looking disgusted, the man from the CDC slid the pen back into the pocket of his lab coat. “You say the clone has no part in your decision making process. Prove it. Agree to distribute the news on our behalf.”
“Please, can I go lie down?” whispered George.
I knew she was faking. The pain in her voice was still enough to make me want to put my arms around her and never let go, men from the CDC and Secret Service agents and government conspiracies be damned.
“You treat all your science projects this badly?” asked Becks.
“Of course not,” said President Ryman. “Rick, take her somewhere. Calm her down, give her a glass of water, whatever it takes to settle her. We’ll decide what’s to be done with her when we finish sorting things out here.”
“Yes, Mr. President,” said Rick. He moved quickly, taking George’s elbow before I could formulate a protest. “Come with me. I’ll see if we can’t find you something to make you feel a little better.” If it had been anyone other than Rick, I would have stepped in. I wouldn’t have had a choice. But it was Rick, and he used to be one of us, and so I didn’t say anything. Steve followed after him, a hulking, defensive presence. He’d keep her safe if Rick couldn’t.
George sniffled and let herself be led away. She didn’t look back at me. Not once.
See? whispered the George in my mind. She believed every word you said.
“Shut up,” I muttered, and grimaced, waiting to see what effect that would have on the already questionably stable nameless doctor from the CDC.
He didn’t appear to have heard me. Instead, he watched as Rick led George away, waiting until they were out of sight before turning back to me. “My apologies if I seemed somewhat aggressive before,” he said finally. “Had things gone as originally planned, this is the point where we would be presenting her to you—not this clone, perhaps, but one that was not, as you put it, ‘defective.’ She would be a gift, given in good faith, to show you that working with us is the right thing to do.”
I wanted to tell him that if he’d reached the point where giving other people away like party favors was “the right thing to do,” he was too crazy for me to want to work with him—and I know from crazy. I wanted to tell him they shouldn’t have worked so hard to make a person when they cloned my sister, because an empty shell and excuses about brain damage would have been an awful lot easier for them to control. I didn’t say any of those things. I guess I never went all the way crazy after all.
Instead, I did what I do best, and went on the attack. “If you wanted us to get this far, why did your men try to kill us in Seattle?” I asked. “I mean, not exactly ‘hi, let’s be besties’ behavior, you know?”
“That was an unfortunate misunderstanding,” said the doctor.
“A surprising number of your misunderstandings involve bullets and body counts,” said Alaric. He was glowering. If I were the man from the CDC, I would’ve been considering a fatal accident for Alaric as a simple matter of self-preservation.
“There are automated security protocols that go into effect whenever we have reason to suspect industrial espionage—and it does happen, especially in a place like the CDC. Our discoveries are often quite lucrative. The theft of subject 7c was enough to activate those protocols.”
“Subject 7c?” I asked blankly.
“Georgia,” said Becks.
Once again, I weighed the merits of punching someone, and regretfully decided I couldn’t afford the fallout. “Do those automated security protocols usually include pre-bugging our shoes? Because your dudes only found us by following the bugs we already had on us.”
The doctor looked uncomfortable. “It is sometimes necessary to protect our investments through extra-legal channels. We had an… agreement… with certain elements of the local underground that, were they approached about an infiltration of our facility, they would ensure we could apprehend those responsible.”