I stared at her. “What—?”
“You are accompanied,” said a bland, pleasant male voice from a speaker set somewhere above the door. “Please identify your associate.”
“This is Georgia Carolyn Mason, version 7c. Designation, electronic journalist, human clone, presently listed as deceased in the main network. Affiliation, Epidemic Intelligence Service.” Dr. Shaw—Dr. Kimberley—sounded calm, and slightly bored, like she was reciting a shopping list. “Georgia, put your hand on the panel, if you would? I’d rather not be standing here when the security system decides we’re a threat and floods the hall with formalin.”
“Uh. No. That would be bad.” I pressed my hand against the flat testing panel, feeling the brief sting as the needles bit into my palm. A cool blast of antiseptic foam was released through a slit in the metal, cooling the small wounds the needles had left behind, and the light above the door began to flash, red to yellow to green and back again. The light stabilized quickly on green, and the door unlocked with a click.
“Ah, good,” said Dr. Kimberley. “Come along, Georgia.” She pulled her hand away from the test panel and pushed the door open, revealing yet another standard-issue CDC lab.
Well. Standard issue except for the three technicians who were standing just inside with guns in their hands, aiming them at the door. I recognized the one in the middle as James, from Dr. Shaw’s—Dr. Kimberley’s—other lab. The others were new to me.
Dr. Kimberley sighed. “Oh, yay,” she said, deadpan. “This is quite my favorite part. Is it Tuesday? It’s Tuesday, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Dr. Kimberley,” confirmed the technician on the left, a curvy, medium-height girl with a riot of carroty-red curls barely confined by her headband.
“Brilliant. In that case…” Dr. Kimberley pointed to the girl. “Matriculate.” She turned and pointed to James. “Alabaster.” She turned again, pointing to the tall, dark-skinned man on the end. “Polyhedral.”
All three technicians lowered their guns. “Glad to have you back, Dr. Kimberley,” said James. “Did you encounter any trouble?”
“None that couldn’t be handled.” Dr. Kimberley turned to me, offering a small, almost apologetic smile. “I was able to depart with what we needed, and that’s what matters. In the meanwhile… Georgia, I do apologize.”
“What?” I blinked at her. Maybe it was everything I’d been through in the past few days, but I was suddenly afraid I’d trusted the wrong people. “What are you talking a—”
And then the syringe bit into the back of my arm, and the world, such as it was, fell away, leaving me in darkness.
Acquisition of the subject has been successful. We will begin analysis immediately. If Gregory is correct, and she is truly close enough to the original to be viable for our purposes, well…
I can only hope she’ll find it in her heart to forgive us for what we must do. Expect further communication as soon as possible.
—Taken from a message sent by Dr. Danika Kimberley, July 31, 2041. Recipient unknown.
Ms. Hyland is gone. All the chaperones are gone. It’s just us kids now, and I don’t know how much longer the food will last… us kids, and the soldiers outside. They don’t let us out of the building, even during the day, even if we promise to wear lots and lots of bug spray. There isn’t any hot water. Some of the soldiers are going away. I don’t know what’s going on. I just know that I’m scared. Hurry, Alaric. Please, hurry.
I don’t know how much longer this can last. But I don’t think it’s going to be long enough, if you don’t hurry.
My batteries are dying. I may not be able to write for much longer.
—Taken from an e-mail sent by Alisa Kwong to Alaric Kwong, July 31, 2041.
The drive from Berkeley to Seattle takes fourteen hours if you use major roads and avoid serious traffic. It takes twenty-three hours if you stick to back routes and frontage roads. We split the difference, risking our cover several times in order to eke out a few hundred miles on I-5 before returning to the shadows, and made it from city to city in just under nineteen hours.
We didn’t stop in Shady Cove. Tempting as it was, there was too good a chance that we were being followed—and too good a chance that if we stopped there, we’d never leave again. Dr. Abbey tried to send us to the Florida hazard zone, and we failed. Fine. Barring another way to do the same thing, she’d probably insist we stay and start looking for a way to evacuate us all to someplace that was guaranteed to stay mosquito-free.
“I hear Alaska’s nice this time of year,” I muttered.
“What’s that?” George looked up, blinking still-unfamiliar brown eyes at me in honest confusion.
“Just wondering where we could run when this is over. The mosquitoes are going to be pretty damn hard to kill.”
“Maybe.” She shrugged, returning to her study of the jamming unit. A lock of her hair—it was starting to need a trim—flopped forward, falling in front of one eye. I resisted the urge to lean over and brush it aside. Unless I was having a really crazy day, she’d just vanish if I tried to touch her, and I needed the company too much to have her leave again. Becks had been asleep in the back since we crossed the border into Washington. Without my hallucinatory sister, I would be totally alone, and I wasn’t sure how much longer my own wakefulness would last.
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