“Can I help you finish getting the van ready?” asked Becks. “Since we’re going to be sleeping in the thing for God only knows how long, I want to be absolutely sure that there are no old tuna sandwiches moldering under the seats.”
“Be my guest,” I said, waving toward the open van doors. “Mahir, tell Alaric and Maggie we’re rolling out in the morning. Team meeting at five.”
Mahir grimaced. “A.M.?”
“I take back what I said about you being a good man.”
“Too late. There are no take-backs in real life.”
Becks chuckled darkly. “Ain’t that just the truth?”
“Sadly?” I asked. “Yes. It is. Now let’s get back to work. We have a lot to get done, and not much time to do it in.”
Mahir was opening his mouth to answer when a scream rang out from the other side of the garage door, followed by the sound of gunfire. In the brief pause between the first volley of shots and the second, we could all hear the moaning coming from inside.
“Never a dull moment, is there?” I asked. Grabbing my pistol, I ran for the door. Becks was there just ahead of me. She pushed it open, and we ran together into chaos.
Dr. Abbey gave me a dressing-down this morning for yelling at her staff. “They didn’t sign up for this.” That’s what she said. Like it made all the difference in the world, somehow. “They didn’t sign up for this. Don’t treat them like they did.”
You know what, lady? None of us signed up for this. Not me, not Mahir, not George, not anyone. And I definitely didn’t sign up for keeping my mouth shut while a bunch of amateurs treat zombies like lab rats.
Zombies are dangerous. Science doesn’t protect you from that reality. If anything, science makes it worse.
I didn’t sign up for that, either.
—From Adaptive Immunities, the blog of Shaun Mason, July 23, 2041. Unpublished.
Yes. You were right.
We will proceed.
—Taken from a message sent by Dr. Danika Kimberley, July 23, 2041. Recipient unknown.
Dr. Shaw’s tests were actually soothing, despite the partial nudity and the being touched by strangers. She was calm and professional, leading her team with an unwavering precision that gave them a degree of serenity I hadn’t previously encountered at the CDC. Everyone else I’d dealt with had been uneasy when forced to come into direct contact with my skin, like being a clone was somehow catching. Dr. Shaw’s assistants showed no such discomfort. They affixed their sensors without hesitation, even peeling them loose and sticking them back down in new configurations. It was so matter-of-fact and impersonal that it was almost wonderful.
I didn’t realize I was starting to drift off until Dr. Shaw cleared her throat and said, “It would help us measure your waking brain wave patterns if you would do us the favor of remaining awake while they’re being recorded.”
“Oh.” I opened my eyes, offering her a sheepish smile. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s understandable. You’ve been through a great deal. Still, the cause of science must take precedence over comfort.” She leaned forward to affix a sensor to my forehead. Her lips almost brushed my ear as she murmured, barely audible even at that range, “The locks will be reset tonight at midnight. You can answer many of your questions then, if you’re quick about it.”
Pulling back before I could react, she pressed the edges of the sensor down and said, “Begin the next phase, James, if you would be so kind.” One of her assistants nodded. Dr. Shaw turned away, attention seemingly fixed on the machine in front of her.
Right. Information exchange time was over, at least for the moment. Her words had definitely had one effect, at least—there was no way I was going to start nodding off again.
All the tests I’d been through since I’d woken up had been different. That was unusual, all by itself. Blood tests, muscle memory response tests, even psychological exams performed by people who didn’t seem to understand the questions, much less the answers I was giving. The medical teams changed constantly, and each was directed by a different administrator. So what did that mean, exactly? What were they looking for that didn’t require a single supervising doctor to find?
Dr. Shaw was the first to outright admit to measuring my brain waves. I was reasonably sure she wasn’t the first one to do it. The chance to study a cloned brain that was actually functional and responsive had to be irresistible to them—and despite my fervent wish to believe otherwise, I knew my brain was as cloned as the rest of me. Nothing else made sense. When the virus went live in my original bloodstream, it attacked the brain with a ferocity unequaled by any naturally occurring pathogen. I’d been able to feel my memories eroding as I typed up the final entry on my blog. If they’d placed my infected old brain in my clean new clone body, I would have gone straight into amplification, and all their hard work would have been for nothing.
I watched the colored lines representing my brain’s activity spike and tangle on the monitor across from me. None of them made a damn bit of sense. I never studied medicine, beyond the first aid required for field certification. Mahir might have been able to decode the peaks and valleys, turning them into comprehensible data. Mahir wasn’t with me.
One of Dr. Shaw’s assistants was trying to peel the sensor from my left biceps. I lifted my arm, tightening the muscle to give him more traction. He shot me a relieved look. “Thanks,” he said. “This bio-adhesive can be tricky.”
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