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“That will block the worst of it,” she said. “I’m afraid we didn’t have the equipment to keep reminding your retinas of light. They’ll adjust if you give them a little time.”

“What… where am I?” I opened my eyes again. This time, the disposable UV-blocker Dr. Kimberley had given me kept the worst of the light from reaching me. The doctor herself was standing in front of my bed, a glass of water in her hand.

“You’re still in the Seattle CDC; we’ve been able to loop footage and falsify results to make it look like you’re in my primary lab, but we haven’t had any way to remove you from the premises. Not that we could have done so anyway, given the givens.” She leaned forward, holding the glass to my lips and tilting it until I could take a few tiny, carefully measured sips. “Slowly, Georgia, slowly. You don’t want to aspirate this.”

I pulled my head back, coughing a little, and asked, “Why can’t you just say ‘don’t breathe the water’ like a normal person?”

“Because I’m a doctor, and they teach us never to use little words where big ones will do.” Dr. Kimberley pulled the glass out of my reach. That made me focus on more of the room around us. It was packed with medical monitoring equipment, including an IV that was still anchored to my arm. I looked at it with disgust.

“What is all this?”

“It’s what’s been keeping you alive while we waited for the toxins to finish working their way out of your system.” Dr. Kimberley put the glass down atop one of the machines before taking a seat in the chair next to my bed. “Gregory showed you your replacement, did he not?”

“Yes,” I rasped.

“Then you’ll have seen that they were tailoring her to their requirements. They did the same with you, my dear, although they left your mind basically alone—small mercies, and all of that. They needed you for display. The rest of you was free game.”

“And that’s why you drugged me?” I was too tired to sound as indignant as I felt. I still gave it my best shot.

“Yes.” Dr. Kimberley nodded. “Have you ever heard of the sea wasp jellyfish? It’s one of the many nasty surprises lurking in our world’s oceans. This one comes from Australia, and has a sting capable of killing an adult human in minutes if untreated.”

“So?” I whispered.

“The nice people responsible for making you wanted to be sure nothing akin to what is happening right now would succeed, and they implanted biological explosives at strategic points within your body. They were to burst, given the correct set of stimuli, releasing sea wasp venom into your bloodstream. The only circumstance under which death would not be instantaneous would be one in which the toxins were released while a full medical team was standing by, ready to counteract the poison.”

The darkness was starting to make sense. I swallowed, trying to make my voice a little less unsteady as I said, “You could have warned me.”

“No, I’m afraid we couldn’t have. Some of the devices were set to trigger at specific key words that would inevitably have come up, if only because you’d have seen us dancing around them and demanded to know why.” Dr. Kimberley patted my hand. She wasn’t wearing gloves this time. Her skin was cool. “We removed eight venom packs from your intramuscular tissue, along with two trackers and a microchip identifying you as CDC property.”

That managed to annoy me all over again. “You mean they tagged me? Like a dog?”

“It’s not a bad comparison, sadly. If you ever made it out of this facility, they wanted to be able to track your movements, and to prove you were who—and what—they said you were. All that’s been removed, and your incisions have mostly closed over. You should be fine after another day or two.” A small frown crossed her face. “That doesn’t leave us much time. I have custody of you for a week. We’ve already used up three days with your decontamination and recovery. We can move forward now that you’re awake, but I’d hoped to have longer.”

“What she isn’t saying is that you nearly died three times,” said Gregory. I looked toward his voice. He was standing in the doorway, a tray in his hands. “The first operation taxed your system enough that the remaining venom packs began to rupture. We got those out, only to find that we’d managed to miss one.”

“And the third time?” I asked. It was hard not to smile, even with the things he was saying. I hadn’t realized how much I needed to see a familiar, believably friendly face.

“Your heart just stopped. We still don’t know why.”

“But we did manage to get it started again; there’s no reason to frighten the girl,” said Dr. Kimberley sternly. “Now, Georgia, I’m sure that you must have questions—”

“Who are you, what are you doing, and how the f**k are you planning to get me out of here?” I pushed myself into as close to a sitting position as I could manage, using the pillows that had been supporting my head to support the rest of me instead.

Dr. Kimberley sighed. “And apparently, we’ll be having question time now, rather than after you’ve put something solid in your stomach. I really am Dr. Kimberley; ‘Shaw’ was my mother’s maiden name. My first name is Danika. I trained at Oxford, and then later with the Kauai Institute of Virology, under Dr. Joseph Shoji. I was recruited to the EIS six years ago. I’ve been undercover with the CDC for the past five years. I’ve been on the Shelley Project since it started. You’re the first Georgia Mason to make it this far.”

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