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“Aren’t the worst things usually that way?” I asked. “So why’s Ryman on their side now? Wasn’t he supposed to be the good guy? The one we could depend on?”

Rick didn’t say anything. He just looked at me, waiting. He didn’t have to wait long.

“Emily,” I whispered. “Emily Ryman has retinal KA.”

“Which makes her an excellent candidate for an ‘accidental’ death if he stops playing along—and you’re not their first clone. Just the first one that really replicates the person you were based on. If you’d been alive for the last year, you would have noticed that Emily rarely speaks in public. She just stands and smiles. Does that sound like the Emily Ryman you know?”

I stared at him in mute horror. Rick continued: “They replaced her the night after the inauguration, and now she and the children are hostages against the president’s good behavior. He’s in the same position you are. He’s a perfect figurehead, because even people who believe all politicians are corrupt remember his association with you on the campaign trail—and they remember what happened to Rebecca Ryman. They believe in him, even if they don’t realize it.” Rick laughed a little, bitterly. “I think this may have been the plan all along. Tate was never going to wind up in power. Ryman was too good a puppet to pass up.”

“I think I hate the human race,” I said.

“There’s the Georgia Mason we all know and love,” said Steve. “Now the question is, what are we going to do about it?”

I paused. “You mean I’m standing in a room with the Vice President of the United States, a member of the Secret Service, and two renegade EIS scientists, and you expect the clone to make the decisions? See, this is why this country is in trouble all the damn time. The people running it are crazy.”

“We just want to know if you’ll help,” said Dr. Shoji.

“And by help, you mean…?”

“Will you do what you did in Sacramento?”

What I did in Sacramento was reveal Tate’s dirty dealing and the fact that someone had been bankrolling him—but we never suspected the CDC, and so mostly, what I did was make sure Ryman got into power. That, and die. I knew they were asking me to tell the truth again, to tell it for them this time, but I couldn’t help remembering the way it felt to know that I was coming to an end. It wasn’t my memory, just a snapshot stolen from the virus-riddled mind of a dead woman, but that didn’t make it feel any less real. I died in Sacramento. If I did what they wanted me to do, I could very well die again.

And if I was going to be the kind of person who valued her life more than she valued the truth, I wasn’t going to be Georgia Mason at all. Unless I wanted to find someone else I was willing to be, this was what I was made for.

“We have to get Emily—the real Emily—away from the CDC, and get the kids out of here,” I said slowly. “They’re going to be civilians in a position to confirm my story. If I start posting while they’re still hostages, they won’t make it out of here alive.”

Steve cracked his knuckles. “Don’t worry about them. The First Lady still has friends in the Secret Service. We can extract the kids at any time.”

“Dr. Shaw is organizing a team to extract the First Lady from the CDC installation where she’s being held, and move her to a secure EIS facility near here,” said Dr. Shoji.

“The EIS has been a busy little secret government organization.” I looked levelly at Dr. Shoji. “If I do this, I need to know that we’re not replacing one bad deal with another. What are your plans?”

“I don’t speak for the EIS as a whole, and I can’t see the future,” he said. “But for the past ten years at least, we’ve been bleeding off the best recruits the CDC gets. We’ve been getting the members of your generation, the ones who want a solution that doesn’t always involve a bullet. I think that corruption is a risk for every organization. Even ours. But we’re going to be very busy for quite some time, just cleaning up the mess that’s been made for us. If the EIS is going to go the way of the CDC, it probably won’t be within my lifetime.”

“Whereas the CDC is a bad deal right now,” I said. “That’s fair. But you realize that if I do this, if I get involved, and you ever, ever start to cross the line—”

“I can’t promise what the future will be. All I can do is promise that the EIS will try to make sure we have one.”

I nodded. “Fine. Steve, get the kids out of here. Dr. Shoji, do whatever you need to do to get them to safety, and make sure Dr. Shaw takes care of Emily. Does anybody here have a gun I can borrow? The Secret Service confiscated all of ours.”

Rick blinked. “I was expecting you to ask for an Internet connection.”

“Oh, I’m going to need one of those, too, once we get everybody back together, but first, we have a job that requires weapons.” Steve unsnapped his sidearm and passed it to me. I accepted it before smiling coolly at Rick. “We need to go and kidnap the president.”

“And here my mother said a job in medicine would be dangerous,” said Gregory.

Rick didn’t say anything. But slowly, with an expression of almost painful relief, he nodded.

I regret to inform you that we have lied to you. Last year, when most of the site went “camping,” we were in actuality running for our lives, being pursued by no less an adversary than the Centers for Disease Control. Our flight began when Dr. Kelly Connolly, believed dead following a break-in at the Memphis CDC, arrived at our Oakland offices and asked for our help. The destruction of Oakland followed soon after. In the interests of concealing our location and activities, we were forced to present a cover story to the world. For this, on the behalf of the Factual News Division, I apologize.

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