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Dr. Kimberley smiled. “There you are, my dear. Just rest. It will all be over soon.” Then she pulled her hand back, and once again, the world went away.

There was no sense of time in the darkness. But Shaun was there, somehow, and he held my hand, and we sat together in the black, and everything was fine, forever and ever and ever.

Or until his hand slipped out of mine, and the blackness began to fade, and I realized my temporary peace had been just another drug-induced lie. Fury flooded through me. How dare they keep playing with me this way? It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t—


Again, the word was blurred and warped by what felt like an immense distance. This time, I forced myself to strain toward it, struggling to open my eyes. Nothing happened. Frustrated, I tried to respond, and again, managed to make only the faintest squeak.

That seemed to be enough. “She’s awake, Doctor. Not fully responsive, but recovering.”

“Good.” I heard the squeak of wheels rolling across a tile floor, followed by the soft compression of a body settling into a chair. “Georgia, this is Dr. Kimberley. I know you’re confused, and you may not have an easy time moving, but if you can, please squeeze my hand.”

Squeeze her hand? I wasn’t even touching her hand. Furious, I managed to squeak again.

“Kathleen is getting something to make you feel better, but I need you to work with us. Please squeeze my hand.” Her voice was measured, patient; the voice of a doctor who knew you wanted to trust her, because she was the hand that held the scalpel. “You’ve been under for about seven hours.”

Under? Under where? I was becoming more aware of my body, which was lying flat on a padded surface. My head was somewhat higher than the rest of me, probably to help my breathing. I strained to focus, clenching my fingers in the process. They hit something yielding.

“Very good!” Dr. Kimberley sounded pleased. The something was pulled from my hand. “Kathleen, inject the solution into her IV line and pass me the stimulants. It’s time for our Miss Mason to fully rejoin the living.”

I squeaked in fury. If Shaun were here, these people would have been knocked on their asses so fast—

And then a familiar voice spoke, startling me out of my anger: “Is she all right?”

I froze, inasmuch as my current condition distinguished that from my efforts to move. Dr. Kimberley didn’t appear to notice. “Yes, Mr. Vice President. The procedure was a success. Barring complications, I’m expecting her to make a full recovery.”

“Good.” A hand touched my forehead. I strained to open my eyes. “I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through all of this, George. Now do what you do best. Break this f**king thing wide open, and let the pieces fall.”

I moaned. It was the best I could do.

Rick pulled his hand away. “They’ll miss me if I stay gone any longer. Pass a message through my office if there are any complications. I want to know immediately. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” said Dr. Kimberley.

Sudden pain lanced through me, radiating out from a point somewhere near my heart. I couldn’t speak, but I could scream, and scream I did, arching my back away from the mattress beneath me until it felt like I was making a perfect half circle.

“She’s convulsing!” shouted Dr. Kimberley. “Trauma cart, now!”

Her voice began to slip away at the end, blurring into the general chaos as the dark reached out its tendrils and twined them around me once more. An alarm blared. I screamed again, so hard it felt like something tore inside my throat, and then the world fell away, leaving me to plunge into the black. There was no peace there this time, only pain, pain, pain.

Panicked voices in the dark, overlapping with each other: “—losing her, I don’t know why, she’s—” “—must have missed one—” “—check behind her collarbone—”

And then there was only the dark, so all-consuming it devoured even the pain, and the voices didn’t matter anymore. And then there was, for a time, blessed nothing. Nothing at all.


The third time my name called me out of the dark, it didn’t have any blurred edges or comforting distance. It was near, immediate, and spoken with perfect clarity. I groaned, suddenly aware of my body as a part of my consciousness, and of my consciousness as something distinct from the dark.

“… what?” I whispered. Even that much motion triggered a hundred more realizations. I had a mouth; I could speak. My lips were dry, my throat was aching. That was the only pain, at least for the moment.

I was alive.

“How do you feel?” Dr. Kimberley sounded honestly concerned. I’ve spent enough of my life dealing with doctors to know when they’re pretending to care, and she wasn’t pretending. The edges of her words—still Welsh-accented; the masks, it seemed, were off for good—were soft and weary, like she hadn’t slept for days.

“Water,” I whispered.

“You’re not dehydrated, but your throat will be dry. We’ve been feeding you via a tube for the past three days. It was removed about an hour ago. If you can open your eyes, I can give you some water. That’s the bargain, I’m afraid. Responsiveness for water.”

I opened my eyes. Light lanced into them like knives, and I quickly closed them again. There was a tap against the bridge of my nose as Dr. Kimberley settled something there.


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