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Interns and technicians were everywhere, all rushing around on weird science errands. I don’t understand most of what Dr. Abbey’s people do, and that’s probably a good thing. Mahir understands a lot more than I do, and he says it makes it hard for him to sleep at night.

Speaking of Mahir, the man himself was storming across the room, a look of profound irritation on his face. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?” he demanded.

“That’s an interesting philosophical question, and one that would be better discussed over a can of Coke,” I replied amiably. “It’s good to see you, too.”

“I have half a mind to punch your face in, you bloody idiot,” Mahir said, still scowling.

Mahir used to be George’s second in command. Since she can’t run a third of the staff as a voice in my head, Mahir took over the Newsies when she died. I sometimes think he’s angry with me for not being angrier with him over taking her place. What he never seems to quite understand is that he’s one of the only people in this world who loved George the way I did, and having him on my side makes me feel a little better.

Besides, it’s funny as hell when he gets pissed. “But you won’t,” I said. “What’s our status?”

Mahir’s glare faded, replaced by weariness. “Alaric is still attempting to find out what keeps happening to our mirror sites. We’ve put up six new reports from the junior bloggers in the past hour, none of which touch on the Gulf Coast tragedy, and three of them have vanished into thin air. I think he’s going to start pulling his hair out before much longer.”

“This is what happens when you piss off a government conspiracy.” I started walking toward the kitchen. “How’s Becks doing on the extraction plan?”

Mahir answered with a small shake of his head.

“Aw, damn.” Alaric’s little sister, Alisa, was in Florida when Tropical Storm Fiona made landfall. She managed to survive the first wave of infections, through a combination of quick thinking and dumb luck. After that… Alaric was unable to step forward to claim her, since Dr. Abbey said that if one of us left, all of us left. We thought Alisa might wind up placed with a foster family, but things in Florida were too bad for that. She wound up in a government-sponsored refugee camp. She was sending regular updates and had managed to stay mostly out of trouble. Still, it was clear that if we didn’t find a way to get her out of there soon, Alaric was going to do something stupid. I understood his motivation. Family’s the most important thing there is.

“Yes, well. It is what it is.” Mahir paced me easily. He wasn’t always a field man, but he’d been working out since we arrived at Dr. Abbey’s—something about not wanting to die the next time we wound up running for our lives. “Dr. Abbey requests the pleasure of your company once you’ve had the opportunity to clean yourself up.”

I groaned. I couldn’t help it. “More blood tests?”

“More blood tests,” he confirmed.

“Motherfucker.” I scowled at nothing in particular. “Immunity is more trouble than it’s worth.”

“Yes, absolutely, being mysteriously immune to the zombie plague which has devastated the world is a terrible cross to bear,” said Mahir, deadpan.

“Hey, you try giving blood on a daily basis and see how you feel about it.”

“No, thank you.”

I sighed. “Is this another of those ‘no caffeine before donating’ days? Did she say?”

“I believe it’s not.”

“Thank God for that.” Don’t get me wrong. No one knows why I seem to be immune to Kellis-Amberlee amplification—something the CDC has been telling us is impossible since the Rising, by the way. You get bitten, you amplify, simple as that. Only it turns out that with me, it actually goes “you get bitten; you get annoyed; you have to take a lot of antibiotics, because human mouths are incredibly dirty and dying of a bacterial infection would suck; you get better.” I understood why Dr. Abbey needed blood almost every day. It was just a lot of needles.

Becks was in the kitchen when we arrived. She was sitting on the counter, holding a can of Coke. “Looking for this?” she asked.

“My savior.” I walked toward her, making grabbing motions. “Gimme. Gimme sweet, sweet caffeine.”

“The word is ‘please,’ Mason. Look it up.” She tossed me the can, a gentle underhand lob that wouldn’t shake the contents up too much. The team does that a lot these days—throws me things to double-check my manual dexterity. My recovery after being bitten was too miraculous to believe. We’re all waiting for it to wear off and for me to go rampaging through the lab.

I made the catch and cracked the tab, taking a long, cold drink before putting the can down on the nearest table and asking, “Have any of the new guys made it in yet?”

“The first batch is in processing now,” Becks replied. “We managed to net twenty-four infected tonight, including your four.”

“Cool.” Our lovely hostess needed a constant supply of fresh subjects, since her experiments required a couple dozen at any given time, and her lab protocols didn’t leave many of them alive past the three-day mark. Snatch-and-grab patrols were going out twice a week, minimum, and at the rate they were working, Shady Cove was going to be free of the infected in under three months.

“I guess.” Becks slid off the counter, giving me a calculating look. “What were you doing out there tonight, Mason? You could have been killed.”

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