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“Here!” Gregory turned, now running backward as he thrust the coat into my hands. “Danika! Give her your shoes!”

“Right!” Dr. Kimberley shoved her shoes at me. I took them without thinking about what I was doing. “If you make it out of here, get in touch with Dr. Joseph Shoji. He’ll help.”

“What are you talking about?” I demanded. “We’re all getting out of here!”

Gregory smiled sadly. “No,” he said. “We’re not.” Then he stopped running, grabbing my arm and jerking me to a halt as he pulled the ID card from his pocket. He swiped it over the sensor pad of the nearest door, which slid immediately open.

“Override,” said Dr. Kimberley approvingly. “Nice one.”

“I thought so,” he said, and shoved me through the open door. Another of those metal shields slammed down a split second later, shutting them both from view. It was thick enough that it also cut off the sound of the alarms, leaving me in a sudden, almost shocking silence. I stared at the blank wall of steel in front of me for several precious seconds as I tried to process what had just happened.

There was a full decontamination cycle starting on the other side of that wall. And the only two people I knew were on my side were on the other side of it.

Okay, see the problem here? It’s one of scale. That’s all. It’s like math. Evil math. Take five bloggers, split them into three groups, and scatter them along the West Coast of the United States. Impose a radio silence. Start the apocalypse. Now, if Blogger A starts trying to contact Blogger B, using a secure DSL connection from Lab X, how long before Blogger A has a full-blown nervous breakdown?

Just wondering.

—From The Kwong Way of Things, the blog of Alaric Kwong, August 1, 2041. Unpublished.

RISE UP WHILE YOU CAN.

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

Twenty-two

This isn’t right.” Becks watched the door, pistol drawn. “There should be more security.”

“Maybe there’s something going on.” I kept most of my attention on my phone. I had a scanner running, checking for security frequencies that might give away our location. “Mahir? How’s it looking?”

“The booster should be online in a few more seconds.” He was on his back on the floor, using magnetic clasps to affix the Cat’s equipment to the bottom of a server rack. “I still feel odd about this whole thing. I think this is the first actual crime I’ve committed for you people.”

“We’ll put it on your résumé,” Becks said dryly.

“And we’re good.” Mahir pushed himself away from the server rack and stood, dusting off his still-immaculate pants. “That should work until they find it. Which will be never if that woman is half as good as she believes herself to be.”

“Let’s say she’s half as good as Buffy was, and assume that means she gets about a year.” I lowered my phone. “There’s still no security activity in this part of the building. We’re either clean to evac, or they’re setting up an ambush.”

Becks snorted. “Let me guess what you’re going to say next. ‘There’s only one way to find out.’ ”

“Sounds about right,” I agreed. “Let’s get out of here.”

The light above the door turned yellow just as we started to move. “There has been a security breach,” announced a calm female voice. “Please proceed to the nearest open lab and await instructions. There are currently no confirmed contaminants. Please proceed to the nearest open lab and await instructions. Remain calm. Please proceed to the nearest open lab…”

The three of us turned to look at each other.

“Okay,” I asked. “Who touched the bad button?”

The door slid open. We stopped looking at each other in favor of looking at it.

“Is that good, bad, or horrible?” asked Mahir.

“Don’t know, don’t care,” said Becks. “Let’s move.”

Finding the correct server room had put us deep enough in the building that we couldn’t just bolt for the exit. I gestured for Becks to exit ahead of me. She nodded understanding, suddenly all business, and left the room with her pistol held at waist level. I motioned for Mahir to go after her, and I brought up the rear. It wasn’t as cold a move as it might have seemed from the outside. Becks was well equipped to handle herself, Mahir needed the cover, and I…

I was the most expendable one here.

We made our way through the halls, ducking out of sight whenever we heard footsteps, and avoiding any room with a red light above it. Becks went around each corner first, signaling us to follow once she was sure the next hall was clear. I would remain behind just long enough to be sure we weren’t being tailed. It was slow. It was nerve-racking. I would actually have preferred a zombie mob. At least you can shoot those.

We all wound up standing together at a T-junction, identical halls stretching out to the left and right. “I… I can’t remember which way we turn here.” Becks sounded horrified. “I don’t know which way to go.”

“You go that way.” I pointed left. “I’ll go the other way. If you find the exit, wait there; I’ll catch up. If you don’t, turn around.”

“Shaun—”

“Still in charge,” I said amiably, before turning and jogging down the right-side hall. They didn’t follow me. They were smarter than that.

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