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“The Shelley—oh, come on. They named the ‘let’s clone a reporter, it’ll be fun’ project after Mary Shelley? Couldn’t they at least have gone with Herbert West or something?”

“I didn’t get a vote,” said Dr. Kimberley, looking faintly amused. “Gregory here is one of our best men.”

“Dr. Gregory Lake, at your service,” said Gregory. “I’m primarily a field epidemiologist, but I came here when Dr. Kimberley called for backup. I’m glad I did. The situation was more advanced than her reports led us to believe.”

“It’s not my fault they don’t allow me access to the subjects until they reach the stage where the tests I’m supposedly here to run become necessary,” said Dr. Kimberley, an edge of irritation in her voice. “Half the subjects went from lab to slab without darkening my door.”

“Yeah, this is the sort of conversation that makes me feel really, really good about my prospects.” I slumped against the pillows. “So what, you’re the clone rescue squad?”

“Not quite.” Dr. Kimberley leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. She looked at me gravely. “Georgia, we’re here because we need your help.”

I blinked at her, glancing at Gregory. He had the same solemn look on his face. The urge to laugh bubbled up inside my chest. “You need my help? I’ve been dead for the last… I’m not even sure. Not to mention the part where I’m not actually who I think I am, just close enough to her that I probably qualify as clinically insane. What can I possibly do to help you?”

Dr. Kimberley and Gregory exchanged a look. He cleared his throat and said, “Things have gotten worse since you died. Shaun Mason is currently unreachable, following a rather unpleasant incident at the Memphis CDC, in which he remains a person of interest. He—”

“Wait—Memphis? Is Dr. Wynne okay?” Dr. Joseph Wynne worked out of the Memphis office. He was one of the first CDC employees I’d ever met who seemed to genuinely care about people. Without him, we might have died in the desert between Oklahoma and Texas.

“Dr. Wynne was killed during the incident. It’s still unclear what his role was—the CDC insists he was a martyr, but the EIS has reason to believe otherwise.” Catching the stricken look on my face, Gregory continued reluctantly. “Dr. Kelly Connolly was also found dead in the Memphis CDC.”

“Which was surprising when you considered that she’d been killed several weeks previously, in a robbery gone awry,” interjected Dr. Kimberley. “Once we started analyzing video footage of your brother’s team over the weeks leading up to the incident, we found a surprising number of shots including a blonde woman whose facial features mapped quite well with Dr. Connolly’s. Perhaps she didn’t die before that day in Memphis after all.”

“What are you saying?” I asked.

Dr. Kimberley motioned for Gregory to bring the water over again. “I’m saying things are much worse than you knew at the time of your passing.”

“That wasn’t me,” I said, almost sullenly. I’d just been drugged and cut open without my consent. I was feeling entitled to a little balkiness. Gregory held the glass of water up for me to sip, and I did, gratefully. The feel of the liquid coating the back of my throat may have been the sweetest thing I had ever experienced.

“No, you’re right; it wasn’t you,” said Dr. Kimberley. “But it was you at the same time. You’re a bit of a paradox, my dear girl, and possibly the only ace our side has left to play. We need you to be Georgia Mason, just as much as the other side needs for you not to be. We need you to think like her, we need you to act like her, and we need you to be her. We would never have made you. I like to think the EIS still has marginally more of a soul than that. Now that you exist, forgive us, but we will use you to our best advantage.”

I coughed. Gregory pulled the glass away. “What do you think you’re going to use me for? I won’t betray Shaun for you.”

“We never expected you would. Your loyalty is one of the things that makes you useless to Dr. Thomas and his ilk.” Dr. Kimberley’s lip drew back in a sneer. “That man’s never understood the virtue of loyalty.”

“Right.” Moving my left arm felt like one of the hardest things I had ever done. Somehow, I managed, raising it to rest my hand against my forehead. “So you’re the good guys. You’re just going to find a way to set me free so I can run off and join Shaun, and we can blow this conspiracy open and go live happily ever after. Is that it?”

“I wouldn’t have put it quite like that—” began Dr. Kimberley.

I looked to Gregory. “Is she stupid, or does she think I am? Because I know a line of bullshit when it’s being fed to me.”

“Florida has been declared a Level 1 hazard zone,” he replied.

“W-what?” I managed, after that seeming non sequitur had been given a moment to sink in. “That’s impossible.”

“An insect vector for Kellis-Amberlee was swept over from Cuba by a tropical storm, and deposited along the length of the United States Gulf Coast. We’ve lost more than just Florida, but that’s the only entire state to be designated Level 1. So far.”

“Wait. Are you saying—”

“This isn’t a natural mutation. These mosquitoes are three times the size of anything we’ve seen before—the perfect size for transmitting Kellis-Amberlee. Isn’t it a little odd that they didn’t appear until right after a major break-in at the CDC?” Gregory looked at me calmly. “The purpose of the EIS is tracking, containment, and eradication of infectious diseases. At this point, we consider the CDC a form of infectious disease. So yes, Georgia, we really are going to find a way to free you to find your team—what’s left of them—and tell them what you know.”


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