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“It may not tilt the balance fully in our favor, but it will help,” added Dr. Kimberley. “Your death was too well publicized, and you’re too well made. There’s no way you can be written off as a hoax once you get to the proper people. And if you can’t find the proper people, we’d be happy to provide them.”

I sighed. “Is this all just one big political ploy to seize control of the CDC?”

“Do you really care if it is?” asked Gregory.

Trying to think about this was starting to make my head hurt. I decided to try another approach. “Did I hear Rick? I remember waking up and hearing him here.”

“You did,” said Gregory. That was a surprise. I’d been half expecting them to lie. “He was able to sneak away to meet with us. I’m sorry you weren’t awake during his visit.”

“Vice President Cousins has been very concerned about you,” added Dr. Kimberley. “He’s the one who approached the EIS about infiltrating this project. He was able to get my security clearance improved—that’s how we could pull off this little ruse in the first place.”

“Not that it’s going to do us any good if you don’t recover fast enough for us to break you out of here,” said Gregory. He turned to look at one of the monitors. “Your system is still stressed from all the excitement. You need to get some sleep.”

“Sleep is the last thing I want,” I objected. “I want to know what the hell is going on.”

“And that’s why you need to sleep.” Gregory smiled a little, holding up an empty syringe. “I’m afraid you don’t have all that much choice in the matter. I added a little something to your IV line. We’ll see you in a few hours.”

“What—?” My eyes widened. “You bastard.”

“My parents were married.”

“You could have… could have asked me…” My voice was already slowing down. I didn’t know whether it was psychosomatic or just very well timed, but either way, I was pissed.

“You would have said no,” said Dr. Kimberley, standing.

“Damn… right… I…” I lost my grasp on the sentence as the dark reached up to take me. This time it was softer, and less menacing. That didn’t mean I had to like it, but when it became apparent that fighting wasn’t going to do me any good, I let go and let it pull me under.

The fourth time I woke, no one was calling my name, and no one else was in the room; I was alone in my little half-folded hospital bed, with a yellow blanket pulled up around my shoulders. I was so used to CDC white that the color was almost shocking. I pushed myself into a sitting position with shaking arms, letting the blanket fall away. My white pajamas were gone, replaced by a set of pale blue surgical scrubs. More color. After so long in a world without it, even those little splashes were enough to make me feel disoriented.

After I was sure I was steady, I swung my feet around to the floor—my bare feet. A momentary panic lanced through me as I realized my gun was gone. I grabbed the bedrail, intending to stand, and paused as I saw the gun resting on the bedside table. I picked it up, hand shaking slightly, and relaxed as the weight of the gun confirmed that it was loaded. They hadn’t left me defenseless after all. I tucked it into the waistband of my scrubs, checking twice to be sure the safety was on before I tightened my grasp on the bedrail, took a deep breath, and stood.

I didn’t fall. That was a start. There was no immediate pain, although most of me was sore, and various parts of me ached in an irritated way that made me think of feeding tubes and catheters. Necessary evils, but not things I really wanted to dwell on.

There was a door on the far side of the room. I focused on it as I let go of the bedrail and started to shuffle forward, slowly at first, but with increasing speed as my confidence came back. The soreness actually began to fade a little as I stretched the muscles in my legs and back. Maybe most of it was from lying still too long.

I made it to the door without incident and grasped the knob, honestly expecting it to be locked. Instead, it turned easily, and I stepped out of my small recovery room into what looked like the central lab. Dr. Kimberley was there, reviewing test results with two of her technicians. All three of them turned toward the sound of my door opening.

For a moment, the four of us remained where we were, blinking at one another. Dr. Kimberley was the first to recover. “James?”

“On it, Doctor,” said the technician, and stood, hurrying over to a small specimen refrigerator. He opened the door and produced a familiar red and white can, which he carried over and offered to me. “It’s good to see you awake.”

I took the Coke without a word, popping the tab and taking a long drink. The soda burned the soreness in my throat. All of them watched me. No one spoke.

I lowered the can.

“The first thing I will do—the first thing—is have myself checked for tracking devices,” I said, directing my words at Dr. Kimberley. “If we find anything, I don’t work with you people. I don’t give you anything. You’ll need to shoot me and start with another clone, and hope you can get away with it twice. Clear?”

“As crystal,” she said, nodding. “We’re playing fairly. Not because we’re innately fair, but because at this point, it’s in our best interests to do so… and it’s the only thing left that distinguishes us from the other side.”

“All right, then. How much time do we have?”

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