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“We can get you new socks. Come on, now. We’ll have just enough time to get you cleaned up before they expect you at the lab.”

“All right, Dr. Thomas.” I walked toward him, the grass damp beneath my feet. I was getting better at deceit. I didn’t like it—I didn’t think I would ever like it, and that was good, because the day I loved a lie was the day I stopped being even remotely Georgia Mason—but I was getting better. I was going to need those skills if I wanted to get out of the CDC still breathing, rather than going out in a biohazard container bound for the incinerator.

I took the deepest breaths I could as we left the biodome, trying to capture the smell of the green in my lungs. That was what freedom would smell like. And I was going to be free.

Things I have done today that were awesome, whether or not I am currently a practicing Irwin: I shot a zombie bear in the head. Six times. Becks shot it four times, which I would gloat about, except she’s the one who managed to shoot the damn thing straight through the eye, taking it down before it could, you know, maul and devour us. The denizens of the gas station came out when they heard the shooting, loaded, as the old colloquialism goes, for bear; I don’t think they expected to actually find one.

Indy—the lady who runs the supply depot where we encountered the bear—said it was a grizzly. So hell, maybe we just killed the last grizzly in the world. I’d feel bad about that if it hadn’t been an infected zombie bear that wanted to eat my delicious flesh.

Damn, that was fun.

—From Adaptive Immunities, the blog of Shaun Mason, July 26, 2041. Unpublished.

Please tell me you know where they’re going, and you didn’t just lose track of our only known living human with a full immunity to Kellis-Amberlee amplification. Please. I don’t want to be the one who has to come out there and kick your ass.

Seriously, Shannon, be careful. You’re starting to get a little hard to follow, and that scares me. We both know who didn’t build those bugs, but if you make yourself too big of a target, when the time comes, you’re the one they’re going to come for.

—Taken from an e-mail sent by Dr. Joseph Shoji to Dr. Shannon Abbey, July 26, 2041.

Twelve

Berkeley was asleep. We pulled off Highway 13 onto the surface streets, using my still mostly accurate mental map of the area to guide us to the intersections and off-ramps that hadn’t been outfitted with blood test units. I was only wrong once, and that one time, the line for the testing station was long enough for me to get into the back and climb under a counter, where I would be safely out of view. Our van’s occupancy beacon was “broken,” courtesy of Alaric and a socket wrench, and they’re not yet legally required for a vehicle to be considered road safe. “Yet” is the operative word—I expect tricks like the one we pulled to be illegal within the next five years. God bless “yet.”

Becks pulled up to the manned booth monitoring traffic as it moved from the highway onto surface streets. I heard the slap of her hand hitting the metal testing panel, and the disinterested voice of the nightshift security officer as he asked where she was heading. As a university town, Berkeley has never been in a position to crack down on traffic as much as, say, Orinda, where the city limits basically seal themselves as soon as the sun sets. In Berkeley, only the individual neighborhoods can go for that kind of expensive paranoia.

Becks’s answer was muffled by the seat and the sounds of traffic coming in through her open window. Whatever she said must have passed muster, because she put the van back into drive and went rolling on after only about a minute and a half.

Don’t even think about going up there until she says it’s safe, said George. This would be a stupid way to die.

I couldn’t answer without the all clear, and so I just glared into the darkness at the back of the van, trusting her to get the point. She did; her laughter filled my head, amusement tinged with a grim understanding of just how bleak our situation could easily become.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Becks called, “We should be out of range of the cameras. You can come out now.”

“It’s about time.” I crawled out from under the counter and back into the front seat, not bothering with my seat belt. “I was starting to get a cramp back there.”

“You would have gotten more than a cramp if one of those guards had seen you.”

“I’m clean.”

Becks slanted a disbelieving look at me. “Do you honestly think no one’s going to be looking for you? After everything that’s happened?”

“No.” I shook my head. “I mean, we haven’t committed any crimes—well, technically, we could probably be charged with breaking and entering at the Memphis CDC, since the Doc was legally dead when she let us in—but I know there are people watching for us.”

“Watching for you,” said Becks, almost gently. “You’re the only remaining blogger from the Ryman campaign. You’ve got a level of credibility with people who aren’t blog readers that the rest of us can only dream about—and here, you’ll be recognized by just about anyone. Hometown boy makes good and then goes bad? You’re the target, Shaun. Not me, not Alaric, and not even Mahir.”

“You’re a ray of sunshine, aren’t you? Take the left on Derby.”

“Forgive me if I’m not that excited about the idea of going to visit your parents.”

“Adoptive parents,” I said automatically.

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