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And I don’t know if I could live with myself if I didn’t keep trying.

We’ve been frozen here, just like we were frozen in Weed, back when the world seemed a lot less f**ked up. It’s time to start moving again, and I’m terrified, and I’m so damn relieved. I don’t think I’ll be coming out of this alive. I’m going to go out there, find out what really happened to George, make sure the whole damn world knows what she died for, and then I’m going to come home, and I’m going to go to where she is. I don’t know how much longer I can do this, but that’s okay, because I’m not going to be doing it for much longer.

—From Adaptive Immunities, the blog of Shaun Mason, July 24, 2041. Unpublished.

Nine

Gregory motioned for silence as we left my room. I nodded, for once grateful for my lack of shoes. My socks didn’t squeak against the tile. Somehow, he managed to walk so that his shoes didn’t make any noise, and we passed through the darkened CDC building like ghosts.

The door at the end of the hall was open, the light above it glowing a steady amber. Alarm lanced through me. Green lights mean there’s no danger; red lights mean the danger is near. Amber lights mean something has gone wrong.

Gregory’s hand landed on my shoulder, stopping me before I could do more than stiffen. “It’s part of our window,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Come on. We’re almost there.”

“Where are we going?” I asked, taking his words as license to break my own silence. He led me through the door and into another hall, one I’d seen only in passing, when they were taking me from one lab to another.

“Someplace they’d rather you didn’t see,” he said. He didn’t need to tell me who “they” were. “They” were the people who’d brought me back from the dead, and who gave Dr. Thomas his marching orders. “They” were the people behind all of this.

“So it’s something that’s going to cause me some of that stress they’re so interested in minimizing,” I guessed, more for the comfort of speaking than out of any serious desire to have my thoughts validated.

“You could say that,” Gregory said. We reached a corner. He raised a hand, signaling me to stop, and stepped around it alone. “We’re clear. Come on.”

I came.

We walked to another door with an amber light above it. This one led to a hall I hadn’t seen before. It was less pristine than the others. There were whiteboards on the walls, scribbled with notes about cafeteria menus and security sweeps. There were even a few flyers taped up, advertising cars for sale or asking if anyone knew a good tutoring service for high school biochemistry. It looked so much more real than the place I’d been since I woke up, so much more human, that it almost made my chest hurt. The world still existed. I’d died and come back, and the whole time I was gone, the world continued.

Gregory started walking faster, saying, “We’re almost there. We allowed six minutes transit each way, which gives us fifteen minutes at our destination. I’m going to need you calm at the end of that time. I can’t drag you down these halls if you’re not working with me.”

“Meaning what?” I asked, trying to sound like my stomach wasn’t balling itself into a small, hard knot of fear.

“Meaning that if you lose it, I’ll leave you.” The words were kindly spoken—he wasn’t trying to be cruel, just stating a fact. If I couldn’t control myself, he’d leave me. The other half of that statement didn’t need to be spoken: The EIS couldn’t afford to have his cover blown because I couldn’t keep myself calm. If he left me, he probably wouldn’t be leaving me alive.

“I understand.”

“Good,” he said. He stopped at a door marked AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY, producing a thumb drive from his pocket. He plugged it into the side of the blood testing unit. The unit beeped twice, and the light above the door went out. Gregory put his hand on the doorknob, but didn’t turn it. Instead, he looked at me gravely and asked, “Are you ready?”

“No,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I’ve never been ready for anything that had to be prefaced with that question. Now open the door.”

A small smile crossed his lips. “That’s the answer I wanted to hear,” he said, and opened the door, revealing a darkened lab. A dim blue glow filled the back third of the room. I looked back at Gregory, raising my eyebrows. “It’s okay,” he said. “Go on.”

“There’s an invitation to die for,” I said, and stepped across the threshold. The overhead lights clicked on immediately, starting low and climbing to a normal level of illumination. I appreciated that small courtesy. I may not be as photosensitive as I used to be, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy being blinded.

Gregory stepped in behind me, closing the door. “Here we are,” he said.

“Where is ‘here,’ exactly?” I asked, squinting as I looked around the room. It looked like it had been cast on the same mold as all the other CDC labs I’d visited, with undecorated walls, stain-proof linoleum floors, and lots of equipment I didn’t recognize. My heart leapt a little at the one thing I did recognize: a computer terminal.

Gregory followed my gaze and grimaced, looking genuinely sorry as he said, “I can’t let you get on the Internet from here, Georgia. It’s not safe.”

“But—”

“That’s not why we’re here.” He nodded toward the back of the room. The blue glow was less evident now that the lights were on, but it was still there.

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