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“No, but it’s mine, so I appreciate the repetition,” said Mahir. “Is the fence likely to be electrified?”

“Yes, but that’s what these are for.” I held up a pair of rubber clips. “They’ll bridge the current and let us cut through the wire. We’ll have to leave them behind when we run, but at least we’ll be able to run.”

Mahir eyed the bridgers. “Buffy’s work?”

“Dave’s.” I smiled a little. “He’d love this shit.”

“He’d already be halfway to the fence,” said Becks.

“Whereas we still need to get moving,” said Mahir. “Is there anything else I should know about the area?”

“Lots of blackberries, very little ground security according to the Cat’s schematics; they don’t patrol all that much. Once we’re inside—”

“We run, we keep our heads down, and we pray.”

“I do love it when you have a concrete plan, instead of making it up as you go along,” said Becks dryly. She pulled a pistol from her belt. “Let’s move.”

The Seattle night seemed surprisingly bright after the darkness of the parking garage, the moon and the distant glow of streetlights providing more than sufficient light. Mahir lagged at first, but found a pace that kept him between me and Becks, all three of us tromping over the broken ground as quickly and quietly as we could.

The quarter-mile between the van and the CDC was mostly open fields. We hunched over as we crossed them, running low through the tall grass. No floodlights came on to mark our trails, and no alarms went off that we could hear. Arrogance was working in our favor once again—the CDC’s, not ours. They’d been heroes since the Rising, and anyone who tried breaking into one of their installations wound up on trial for treason, if they were lucky. We’d always come in via legitimate entrances, whether we were supposed to be there or not. It had been so long since their external security was tested that they weren’t prepared for a small group of people who really wanted to get inside.

The fence was only a few yards farther away than I expected; our map was accurate, if not precise. That was a good sign for the rest of the job. I tossed one of the bridging cords to Becks, jerking my chin toward the fence. She nodded, and we approached together, waving for Mahir to stay back. He didn’t argue.

I told you he was a smart guy when I hired him, said George.

I held up one finger toward Becks. She nodded, holding up two fingers of her own. When we were both holding up three fingers, we leaned forward and snapped the bridging cords into place. A bright blue spark arced through them, and the air was suddenly filled with the hot, burning tang of ozone. Becks squeaked, and all the hair on my arms stood on end.

Slowly, I reached forward and wrapped my fingers through the links of fence between the cords. Nothing happened. Our bridge was successful; the current was no longer routing through this patch of fencing. I gestured for the others to come closer and pulled a pair of wire cutters out of my coat pocket.

It took only a minute, maybe less, for me to cut through the fence separating the Seattle CDC from the abandoned fields behind it. Then we were onto the manicured expanse of their lawn, running for the building, waiting for the sirens to start going off.

They never did.

I never thought of myself as a coward before all this. I actually thought I was kinda brave. Choosing to live in the middle of nowhere, where I could be attacked at any moment. But I was lying to myself. I was never brave at all.

I also wasn’t nearly as stupid as the people I love tend to be. So I suppose that’s something to reassure me as I wave from the window while they all march off to die. God, Buffy, why did you have to hire me? I could have worked for some other site. I would never have gone through any of this. And if you had to hire me—if God insisted—why did you have to go off and leave me to deal with all of it alone?

—From Dandelion Mine, the blog of Magdalene Grace Garcia, August 1, 2041. Unpublished.

Hey, George. Check this out.

—From Adaptive Immunities, the blog of Shaun Mason, August 1, 2041. Unpublished.

Twenty-one

Either Dr. Kimberley and her team were monitoring me or their timing was uncannily good, because no one came into the room until I was done crying. I was drying my tears on the sleeve of my shirt when two of the technicians stepped through the door, arguing with each other in low, urgent voices. Neither of them looked in my direction.

“Hi,” I said, just in case they didn’t know I was there.

“Hello, Miss Mason,” said the female technician, waving. I still couldn’t see her face, but I recognized her voice. Kathleen. “Is everything all right?”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far, but things have been worse.” I stood, the muscles in my calves protesting the movement. I’d been sitting still for too long. Everything had started to stiffen up. “Ow, damn.” I bent double, kneading the muscle of my left calf with both hands.

That’s probably why the first bullet missed me.

The shooter was using a silencer. There was a muted bang, too soft to be a proper gunshot, and the technician who entered with Kathleen staggered back, slamming into the wall. A red stain was already spreading across the chest of his formerly pristine white lab coat. He looked down at it before raising his head and looking at me, mouth forming a word he couldn’t quite push all the way out into the world. It was George.

It took the sound of his body hitting the floor to make me start moving. In my experience, once a person goes down, they don’t stay down for long, and when they get back up, they tend to be more interested in eating the flesh of the living than they are in finding out who shot them. I darted forward, grabbing Kathleen’s wrist and yanking her away from the body.

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