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“That wasn’t my first solo in these woods.”

“It was your first one at night.” She shook her head. “You’re starting to scare me.”

“And me,” said Mahir.

And me, said George.

“You don’t get a say in this,” I muttered. Mahir didn’t look offended. He knew I wasn’t talking to him. In a more normal tone, I asked, “So what do you want me to do, Becks? I don’t speak science. I barely speak research. Things are a mess out there, and we’re stuck in here, spinning our wheels.”

“So maybe it’s time you stopped spinning.” The three of us turned toward Dr. Abbey’s voice. Like the lab computer, it was pleasant and Canadian-accented. Unlike the lab computer, it was coming from a short, curvy scientist with bleached streaks in her shaggy brown hair. Her lab coat was open, exposing a bright orange CEPHALOPODS UNION #462 T-shirt.

I raised an eyebrow. “Okay, I’m listening. What have you got in mind?”

Dr. Abbey held up a thumb drive. “Get your team and meet me in the screening room. It’s time we had a little talk about what’s going on in Florida.” She quirked a small smile. “You can bring popcorn.”

“Science and snacks, the perfect combination,” I said. “We’ll be there.”

“Good,” said Dr. Abbey, and left.

Mahir stepped up next to me. “Do you have any idea what that’s all about?”

“Nope.” I shrugged, picking up my Coke again. The second drink was just as good as the first had been. “But hey. We may as well get started. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Managing things without Georgia has never been what I would term “easy,” but it’s never been harder than in the past few months. The devastation wreaked by Tropical Storm Fiona would have been terrible even without the additional horror of a newly discovered insect vector for Kellis-Amberlee infection. The loss of life would have been appalling even if so many of the lost had not gone on to attack and infect their fellow men. I find myself watching the news feeds and wishing, more than ever before, that Georgia Mason were with us today.

Georgia had a gift for reporting the news without letting sentiment color her impressions: She saw the world in black and white, no shades of gray allowed. It could have been a crippling disability in any other profession, but she made it her greatest strength. If she were here, she would be the one reducing bodies to statistics, rendering disasters into history. But she’s not here. She, too, has been reduced to a statistic, has been rendered into history. All of which means that I, unprepared as I am, have been forced to do her job.

May posterity show mercy when it looks back upon the work we do today. We did what we could with what we had.

—From Fish and Clips, the blog of Mahir Gowda, July 16, 2041.

Subject 7c is awake, responsive, and self-aware. Subject has asked several conditionally relevant questions, and does not appear to suffer any visual or cognitive disorders. Subject self-identifies as “Georgia Mason,” and is able to recount events up to the point of physical death (see GEORGIA C. MASON, AUTOPSY FILE for details of injury).

We are prepared to continue with this subject for the time being. Full medical files are being transmitted under a secure encryption key.

—Taken from an e-mail sent by Dr. Matthew Thomas, July 16, 2041.

GEORGIA MASON LIVES.

—Graffiti from inside the Florida disaster zone, picture published under Creative Commons license.

Three

I have to give Dr. Thomas this: He recovered quickly from the question I obviously wasn’t supposed to be asking yet. “I don’t think you understand what you’re saying.” He retrieved his pen from the floor. “Maybe you need to sit down.”

“My eyes are wrong. I could possibly be convinced to believe in a regenerative treatment that erased my scars. I could even accept that it was a deep enough dermal renewal to remove my licensing tattoo.” I raised my wrist, showing him the spot where my personal information should have been permanently scribed. “But there’s nothing that could have repaired my eyes. So I ask again: How long have I been a clone?”

Dr. Thomas narrowed his eyes. I stood up a little straighter, trying to look imposing. It wasn’t easy to do in a pair of CDC-issue pajamas.

“This is highly irregular…” Dr. Thomas began.

“So is cloning reporters.” I took a final sip of Coke before forcing myself to put it down. The caffeine was already starting to make me jittery. The last thing I wanted to do was finish the can and have my hands start shaking. “Come on. Who am I going to tell? I’m assuming you’re not planning on giving me a connection to the outside world anytime soon.”

Dr. Thomas gave me a calculating look. I looked back, wishing I had the slightest idea of how to look earnest and well meaning with my strange new eyes. Living life behind a pair of sunglasses was so much easier.

Finally, he nodded, a familiar expression flickering across his face. I’d seen it worn by a hundred interview subjects, all of whom thought they were about to pull one over on me. None of them ever seemed to realize that maybe my degree in journalism included one or two classes in human psychology. I may not be good at lying, but oh, I know a lie when I hear one.

“As I said before, this is highly irregular,” he said in a lower, warmer tone of voice.

Trying to win my trust through confession. Pretty standard stuff, even if the situation was anything but standard. “I know, but please. I just want to know what’s going on.” I’ve never done “vulnerable” well. It wasn’t on the final exam.

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