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The door closed behind Rick, the little red light making another brief appearance before shutting itself politely off. “Cute,” I said, stepping forward to press my hand against the testing plate. Needles bit into the skin at the point where each of my fingers joined my palm. That was an unusual spot for a test array. I took a small, startled breath, finally pulling away as the light turned green and clicked off. “That’s my cue.”

“I’ll be right through,” said Steve. He smiled encouragingly when I looked back at him, and I held that image firmly in my mind as I stepped through the door to whatever was waiting on the other side. Steve wouldn’t have smiled while he sent me to my death. I might be a clone, and Ryman might be corrupt, but some things about a person’s essential nature never change.

The door opened on a narrow hallway that looked like it was constructed hundreds of years before the Rising and never substantially redecorated. Rick was waiting. A relieved smile spread across his face when he saw me. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come.”

“What, you thought I’d go back to the nice man in the lab coat who was about to have me recycled?” I dropped the pretense of having a migraine, straightening and looking at him flatly. “You could have warned me what we were walking into.”

“No. I couldn’t have.” The door swung open as Steve joined us in the hall. Rick switched his attention from me to Steve, asking, “Anyone following us?”

“Not that I saw,” rumbled Steve. I raised an eyebrow. He explained, “This is one of the tunnels built during the Cold War, in case we needed to evacuate the capital. They probably wouldn’t have been any use in a nuclear strike—a nuke’s a pretty damn big deal—but there’s one thing they do manage, quite nicely.”

I nodded slowly, catching his meaning. “We’re underground. No wireless transmission.”

“We sweep this hall hourly for bugs. For the moment, we’re in the clear.” Steve looked past me to Rick. “You can proceed, Mr. Vice President.”

“Thank you, Steve.” Rick sighed, beginning to walk. “It really is good to see you.”

“Most people just send flowers. Raising the dead is a little extreme.” I matched my steps to his, watching him as we walked. “What’s going on, Rick? What’s really going on?”

“I meant it when I said that, if it had been up to me, I would have simply handed you over to Shaun as soon as you woke up enough to know yourself.” A muscle in Rick’s jaw twitched as he continued. “I will go to my grave knowing that I have been responsible for your death more than twenty times. Each time one of the clones of the original Georgia Mason was decanted I told myself, ‘That’s it. No more. If she’s not real, we find another way.’ But each time, I couldn’t think of another way, and we needed you. I needed you.”

“Why?”

“Same reason those people back there were hoping you’d play nicely with the other children—people associate your face with the truth. If you tell them a lie they want to believe, they won’t question it.”

“And the government can keep on killing people like me. People like your wife. God, Rick, is that really what you want?”

“No. That’s what they want.” Rick stopped at an unsecured door, pushing it open. Gregory was sitting at a terminal on the other side, with Dr. Shoji looking over his shoulder. I couldn’t even be surprised. Rick kept talking: “I want you to tell the world the truth. I want you to blow it all to hell. People believe you. People believe in you, because of the way you died. They’ll believe the truth even if they don’t want to, as long as they’re hearing it from you.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Hello, Georgia,” said Gregory, looking up from the screen. “It’s good to see you again.”

“It was touch and go for a while there, but I pulled through,” I said. “How about you?”

“Minor burns, concussion, and I won’t be working with the CDC again anytime soon. That’s all right. I was tired of them anyway.”

“Good.” I turned to Rick. “Now please. Explain. A huge global conspiracy has ruined my life—hell, has ended my life, and then started it over again, leaving me with probably the worst identity issues I could imagine—and they did it for what? So you could clone me and use me to sell ice to the Eskimos?”

“A huge global conspiracy has ruined your life. If it helps, they also killed my wife.” Rick’s smile faded like it had never been there at all. “I took Lisa’s death for a suicide, because that’s what they told me it was. I found out differently only when I saw her file. They did it because of what you saw back in that room—there is no cure for Kellis-Amberlee. There’s never going to be a cure. There’s just going to be a war with the virus, one we can’t win, but can only adapt to. We can only survive it. And that’s not acceptable to some people.”

“So they’re doing this instead?”

“It didn’t start out like this, Georgia. It started out with good intentions—God, such good intentions. They thought they were taking steps to protect the country. In the end, no one noticed when protection turned into imprisonment, or when ‘for the good of the people’ turned into ‘for the good of the people in power.’ It was all baby steps, all the way.”

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