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The hall was deserted. I kept going, looking for the outer wall. My attention was so tightly focused that I didn’t hear the woman who was running barefoot down the next hall until she came whipping around the corner and ran straight into me.

I staggered backward, barely managing to keep my balance. She did much the same, ducking her head for a moment in the process—long enough for me to register that she was wearing doctor’s scrubs and a lab coat, but no shoes or socks. Her hair was short-cropped and dark brown, where it wasn’t bleached in streaky patches.

Then she looked up, and my heart stopped.

“George?” I whispered.

“Shaun?” Her voice was unsteady, like she wasn’t sure how she was supposed to be using it. We stared at each other, neither of us seeming to be quite sure of what we were supposed to do next.

Then she grabbed my hand and shouted, “Run!”

“Impossible” is something that stopped having any staying power when the dead started to rise. Trust me on this one. I’m a scientist.

—From the journal of Dr. Shannon Abbey, date unknown.

Every day I wake up thinking “We’re all going to die today.” Maybe it’s weird, but I find that comforting. Every day, I wake up thinking “This is the day it ends, and we all get to rest.”

That’ll be nice.

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 Unpublished.

GEORGIA: Twenty-three

I slipped the lab coat over my scrubs, dropping the shoes on the floor, where they landed with a clatter. I stepped into them, still moving on autopilot. There was no blood on me—it had all been on my slippers, and those were on the other side of the barrier. I was clean, and I was alone. If I was getting out of here, I was doing it under my own power. I took a deep breath, turned, and walked down the hall. It took all my self-control not to break into a run. Running would attract attention. I was one more person in scrubs and a lab coat, practically part of the landscape, and the last thing I wanted was to attract attention to myself.

Voices drifted down the hall ahead of me. Suddenly remembering my little gun, I dropped it into the lab coat pocket and kept walking. A group of unfamiliar technicians rounded the corner and walked right past me, barely seeming to register my presence. I really was invisible… until someone recognized me, anyway. That was going to happen sooner or later. I needed a plan, and “keep walking until you find the exit” wasn’t going to cut it.

Rescue came from an unexpected source: the building’s security system. “There has been a security breach,” it announced. All down the hall, the lights changed color. Some turned red. Most turned yellow, followed by their associated doors sliding open. “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—”

I stopped listening in favor of turning and walking toward the nearest open door, trying to look like I knew what I was doing. The first lab contained three anxious-looking orderlies. They were murmuring amongst themselves with their backs to the door. I stepped out of view as fast as I could, starting for the next open lab. It looked oddly familiar—oddly, because so many of the labs looked exactly like every other CDC lab I’d ever seen. I stuck my head into the room, scanning for signs of movement. There were none.

But there was a heavy black curtain covering the back third of the room. A faint blue glow seeped around the edges, casting shadows on the floor and ceiling. “No way,” I whispered, and stepped all the way into the room. The door slid shut behind me. I barely noticed.

Why would they unlock this lab? Wouldn’t they be too worried about the sanctity of their big bad mad science project to let people get near the tank? Then again, everyone who’d seen me had to know I was a clone. Maybe this was a wing where no one who didn’t have the appropriate security clearances would ever set foot. I walked across the room, pausing barely a foot from that dangling curtain. Did I really want to know?

Did I really have a choice? I reached out, grabbing hold of the nearest fold of fabric, and pulled the curtain aside.

Subject 8c floated peacefully in her tank, asleep and unaware. The window to 8b’s room was open. She was lying on her bed, headphones clamped over her ears. They were finishing her conditioning, implanting the subliminal memories they hadn’t been able to extract from the original Georgia’s damaged brain—or maybe just implanting the memories they’d crafted to replace the ones they chose not to salvage. Rage crawled up the back of my throat, chasing away the last of my fear. This was my replacement. This was the reason I’d been slated for termination. Their controllable Georgia Mason.

“Fuck that,” I muttered, and turned to survey the lab.

I’m not the technical genius Buffy was. I’m not even on a level with Alaric or Dave. I am, however, the girl who grew up with the world’s first Irwin for a mother, and a suicidal idiot for a best friend and brother. You can’t do that without learning a few things the Irwin’s trade, including the art of improvising explosives. It’s amazing how many of the things needed for a basic biology lab are capable of blowing up, if you’re willing to try very, very hard, and don’t much care about possibly losing a few fingers in the process.

No one came through the lab door as I mixed up my jars of unstable chemicals. That was a relief. I didn’t want to shoot anyone. Not because I was concerned about their lives—I was getting ready to blow massive holes in the building; concern about a few gunshot wounds would have been silly—but because I didn’t want to attract attention, and unlike our friend the sniper, I didn’t have a silencer. Ripped-up rags provided the fuses I needed, and I found a box of old-fashioned sulfur matches in one of the supply cabinets. Some things will never stop being stocked, no matter how far science progresses.


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