Shaun shook his head. “Times like this, I wish Buffy were here.”
I put a hand over his, waiting for Mahir’s response. It came quickly: “Georgia… what is this?”
“This is the end. This is the last story.” I sighed and closed my eyes, leaning until my head hit Shaun’s shoulder. I was suddenly tired. So tired. “This is where we tell the truth and get the f**k out of the way while the experts figure out what they’re supposed to do with it.”
“I’ll download the files,” said Mahir. He took a breath. “After I tell Maggie about Becks, that is. I have to tell her.”
“Godspeed, Georgia Mason.”
“Same to you, Mahir. Same to you.” I tapped my ear cuff without opening my eyes, cutting off the connection. “When this is over, I want to find a new profession. Something with fewer zombies.”
“I could get behind that,” said Shaun, pushing me gently away. I opened my eyes, giving him a startled look. He indicated his shirt, where a spot of blood marked the needle’s entry point. “Still potentially hot. Sorry, but I’m not losing you again. Not over laundry.”
The statement was so ridiculous that I actually smiled before sobering again. “We all checked out clean when we went through the airlock.”
“Yup. I remain immune. Thanks for that. I mean, really. It sort of explains how I got out of so many close calls—and here I’d been attributing my survival to sheer awesomeness on my part—but I’m okay with that if it means I’m going to survive.” Shaun looked toward Alaric. “You okay? Not hurt?”
“She’s gone,” Alaric whispered, voice barely audible above the sound of the engine. “Becks is gone. She was there, and now she’s just gone.”
I exchanged a look with Shaun before saying, carefully, “I know. I’m sorry.”
“Will she come back? You came back. Will she?”
We exchanged another look. This time, it was Rick who spoke, before Shaun or I could say anything. “I’m sorry, Alaric. What we did with Georgia was unethical, and it would have been impossible if Shaun’s shot hadn’t left her brain essentially intact. We might have been able to replicate her body, but we would never have been able to re-create her mind.”
“I’m sorry,” I said again.
Alaric sighed—a shaky, shuddering sound—and said, “I knew you were going to say that. I just needed to hear it.” He lifted his head, regarding us with tear-filled eyes. “This wasn’t worth it.”
“It never is,” said Shaun.
We rode in silence after that, blindly following the lead car down twisting back roads and half-hidden residential streets. The motorcade wasn’t running its lights, but it was still equipped with the transmitters that changed the lights in our favor and allowed us to dodge the random blood tests on certain streets. It was possible the CDC could also use those transmitters to track us. I put the thought out of my mind as firmly as I could. If we were being followed, there was nothing we could do about it. We were out of places to go.
It felt like we’d been driving for an hour or more when we made a sharp left onto a private driveway. We had gone barely ten yards when a steel gate slid shut behind us, and blue guiding lights clicked on along the sides of the road.
“Wherever it is we’re going, I think we’re just about there,” I said.
“Think they’ll have cookies?” asked Shaun.
“I think they’re more likely to have full-immersion bleach tanks,” said Alaric darkly.
“Your optimism is duly noted,” said Steve. He cocked his head, apparently listening to something on his own earpiece, before adding, “Welcome to the EIS.”
“So that’s a ‘yes’ on both the cookies and the bleach,” I said.
We followed President Ryman’s car into a low parking garage that was better lit than the one we’d left. It was also substantially fuller. Dr. Shoji and Dr. Kimberley were standing in front of the doors to the main building, flanked on either side by orderlies with tranquilizer rifles. It said something about the past week that I found the sight extremely reassuring.
The car stopped, and one by one, we climbed out, squinting under the bright fluorescent lights. Shaun stood just out of reach, both of us turning to look toward our welcoming committee. Once everyone was out of both cars, Dr. Shoji stepped forward and said, “According to the news, there has been a terrorist attack on the White House, and both President Ryman and Vice President Cousins are missing, feared dead.”
“Where is my wife?” asked President Ryman.
“The clone died in the attack. The original is inside,” said Dr. Shoji. “She and the children are safe, and have been waiting for you. What do you intend to do?”
President Ryman paused before turning to me and smiling that faintly off-kilter smile I’d seen so many times on the campaign trail—the one that promised he’d do his best to change the world, if only we’d be patient with him while he figured out exactly how to do it. “I think it’s time I gave a little State of the Union interview. If Miss Mason would be so kind?”
I nodded. “It would be my honor, sir.”
“Great,” said Shaun, clapping his hands together. “Let’s go through decon, get in there, and change the world. And then? Cookies.”
“Cookies,” agreed Rick.