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“A favor?” Becks frowned, suddenly suspicious. Given how on edge she’d been since we arrived, that wasn’t much of a transition. “What kind of favor are we talking about here?”

“Nothing you’d lose any sleep over. We need you to break into the local CDC building and drop a little something off for us,” said the Cat. She resumed slicing bread.

“Define ‘a little something,’ ” I said. “We’re not blowing anything up. That’s their game, not ours.”

“Nothing like that. Their main storage facility isn’t online. We want access. So we have a pressure-point hotspot that we just need you to get into the proper place and switch on. Then you come back here and get your shiny new identities, and with them, the warm satisfaction of knowing we’re going to screw the CDC over in some fun ways that you don’t need to know anything about.” She put her knife down, resting her hands on the counter as she looked at us calmly. “Do we have a deal?”

Looking into her calm, cold eyes, I realized the Fox wasn’t the only crazy person living in this house. She was just the one who had the honesty to wear her crazy on her sleeve.

“Yeah,” I said. “We have a deal.”

… all attempts to culture a live infection in blood samples taken from Subject 139b have failed. More interesting, we induced amplification in a white-tailed deer, and injected it via dart with a serum derived from Subject 139b’s blood. The deer showed signs of improvement before dying of massive cerebral hemorrhage. The necropsy was inconclusive. Unfortunately, I think we’ll need to try this with a human subject before we can be sure of anything. My team is scouring the area for freshly infected individuals; thus far, we’ve had no luck.

No reports of mosquito-borne Kellis-Amberlee have come in from any of my sources in California, Arizona, or Nevada. It’s possible that we may be able to dodge this bullet. I don’t think so; we haven’t dodged any of the ones that came before it. But I’m starting to believe that there may be an answer. All I need is a little more time.

—Taken from an e-mail sent by Dr. Shannon Abbey to Dr. Joseph Shoji at the Kauai Institute of Virology, August 1, 2041.

Well, that’s that, then. We’re all going to die.

Charming.

—From Fish and Clips, the blog of Mahir Gowda, August 1, 2041. Unpublished.

Nineteen

Dr. Kimberley’s technicians didn’t have any street clothes in my size. They did manage to find me a pair of hard-soled slippers, which weren’t quite the shoes I’d asked for, but were several thousand times better than the socks I’d been wearing since I woke up.

Better yet—best of all—they brought me a computer. A sleek, hard-shelled little laptop, which Gregory set in front of me with the top closed. I reached for it. He pulled it back. Only a few inches, but far enough to make it clear that I needed to listen before I was going to get my hands on the machine.

“You have a connection, and a guest log-in routed through one of the administrative offices,” he said. “We can’t spoof it forever, but we should be able to get you about twenty minutes without raising any red flags. Please don’t run any open searches on phrases that might get the attention of our firewall.”

“Like what?” I asked. “Governmental corruption? Conspiracy to defraud the American people? Cloning?”

“Yes,” he said, without a trace of irony. “That’s a good initial list of things to avoid. Don’t log into any e-mail accounts with your name on them. Don’t—”

“I promise I’ve used other people’s networks before, and I’ve never managed to get anyone arrested when I wasn’t trying to,” I said, and reached for the laptop again. “We’re all trying to trust each other here. For me, the last step to trusting you is seeing that I have a clear connection. For you, the last step to trusting me is seeing that I won’t abuse it. So I guess we both start getting what we want when you let me have that computer, huh?”

Gregory chuckled and pushed the laptop toward me. “You’re definitely feeling better if you’re trying to use logic against me.”

“That’s me. Only rational when I’m not being cut open and dissected for the amusement of others.” I took the laptop, breathing slowly through my nose to keep my hands from shaking as I opened it. The screen sprang to life, displaying a stark white background with the CDC logo in the center. I let my fingers rest against the keys, breathing unsteadily out. “Oh, wow.”

“Maybe we only trust you because we don’t have any other choice, but we do trust you, Georgia.” Gregory touched my shoulder, causing me to look up. He smiled. “Let’s try and earn it from each other.”

I nodded. “I’ll do my best,” I said. And then I bent my head and started to type, and Gregory didn’t matter anymore.

His warning about avoiding my e-mail was smart, if unnecessary: Anyone who’s never worked professionally in Internet news would probably assume the first thing a journalist would do was go for their inbox. He was right, in a way. He was also wrong. All the public-facing e-mail addresses—the ones that fed into the customary webmail interfaces—were basically dummy accounts, feeding their contents into the true inboxes behind the After the End Times firewall system that Buffy had designed. The only time we ever needed to use those boxes directly was when we were somewhere that didn’t allow for logging all the way into the system. Even if I only had twenty minutes, I had plenty of time to make it that far.

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