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I bit back a sigh. I’ve never been the most modest person in the world, and my time as the CDC’s favorite new lab rat was rapidly eroding what little modesty I possessed. I undid the belt, letting Kathleen peel the robe away, and took a seat in the indicated chair. It was covered in clear plastic that made little crunching noises as I slid myself into position. Worse, it was cold.

So was the greenish gel that Dr. Shaw’s technicians began applying to my throat, shoulders, and stomach. I frowned. “I thought this was going to be a brain wave test?”

“Yes, but since we have limited time, and you’re going to be immobilized anyway, I’m taking this opportunity to get a clear picture of your vital signs.” Dr. Shaw smiled. “I’m very fond of efficiency.”

“I’m beginning to see that.” The technicians, including Kathleen, were taping sensor pads to my front.

“There’s just one more thing that you might object to. I apologize, but I assure you, it’s necessary to ensure the accuracy of my tests.”

I gritted my teeth, steeling myself for something I wasn’t going to enjoy. “What’s that?” I asked. “You need me to sing Christmas carols while you measure my brain activity?”

“That could be entertaining, and you should feel free if it helps you relax, but no.” Dr. Shaw produced a pair of scissors from her pocket, holding them up for me to see. “Your hair will interfere with the placement of the sensors on your scalp. I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut most of it off if we’re going to get a clear result.”

For a moment, I simply stared at her. Then I started to laugh. I was still laughing when she began cutting my hair, and barely got myself under control in time for the testing to begin. The real test—the test of whether or not I could survive the CDC—was still ongoing. But I was starting to feel like I might actually stand a chance.

Subject 7c continues to respond to stimulus, and has begun questioning the conditions of her containment. She—and it truly is impossible to avoid assigning a gender, and even an identity, to a subject that has been awake and interactive for this length of time—continues to adhere closely to the registered template. Her responses are well within the allowable parameters. Perhaps too well within the allowable parameters; early concerns about cooperation and biddability were not unfounded.

It may be necessary to begin preparing the 8 line for release. I will continue to observe and study 7c, but do not believe that 7d would offer any substantial improvement in the problem areas.

—Taken from an e-mail sent by Dr. Matthew Thomas, July 23, 2041.

Preparations to separate the members of our group are nearly complete. Maggie keeps saying we shouldn’t split the party. Privately, I agree with her. This is madness. We will separate, and we will each of us die alone. And yet…

Something must be done. If Shaun’s paranoid ravings are correct, and the mosquitoes were engineered for release when a news cycle truly needed to be buried—one such as the cycle we were prepared to unleash when we left Memphis—then it is our responsibility to find a way to save the world from them. How arrogant that looks! “Save the world.” I’m not in the world saving business. I’m a journalist.

But it seems the world has other ideas. Maggie and I leave for Seattle tomorrow. I’m terrified that I will never see London, or my wife, again. And a small, traitorous part of me is elated. I thought we no longer lived in an age of heroes.

I was wrong.

—From Fish and Clips, the blog of Mahir Gowda, July 23, 2041. Unpublished.

Six

Deciding to hit the road took only a few seconds—the amount of time necessary for a thought to travel from my brain to my big mouth. Actually leaving took longer. Dr. Abbey wasn’t sending us out to die; if anything, she was sending us out not to die, something she took great pains to make sure I understood.

“This isn’t just about the mosquitoes, Shaun,” she’d said, while running yet another blood test and getting yet another negative result. “I wasn’t exaggerating when I showed you those distribution maps, or when I talked about the number of lives you could save by bringing me some live specimens. But it was never just about the mosquitoes.”

George had sighed in the back of my head then, sounding so tired it made my chest ache. She was dead. She shouldn’t have been tired anymore. But she was, and it was my fault, for refusing to let her go. She wants you to get exposed again.

“Are you f**king kidding?” I’d asked, too startled to remember to keep my voice down.

And Dr. Abbey had smiled, that bitter half twist of her lips that I normally saw only when she thought no one was looking, or when she murmured endearments to her huge black dog, the one with her dead husband’s name.

“Someday you’re going to have to explain how it is you’ve managed to create a subconscious echo that’s smarter than you are.” Still smiling, Dr. Abbey had looked me squarely in the eye and said, “I need to know if you can shrug off the infection a second time, outside lab conditions. If you can, that changes everything.”

Swell.

The next four days rushed past in a blur, with all of us preparing to do the one thing I’d sworn I’d die to prevent: We were getting ready to go our separate ways. After everything I’d done to keep us together, to keep us alive, I was going to scatter us to the winds, and pray everyone came home again. We started as a news site. Somewhere along the line, we became a family. Me, and George, and After the End Times. That was all I needed. I’d already lost George. Did I have to lose everyone else, too?

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