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Our path took us to a hole in the fence that looked like it was created by using a pair of magnetic current-bridging strips to reroute the electricity before cutting the wire. Mahir went through first, followed by Shaun, who kept my hand even while I was struggling not to snag my lab coat on the fence. Slowing down made me realize how much my lungs hurt, and how much my feet hurt. I didn’t want to risk looking at them, but I was pretty sure they were bleeding.

This wasn’t the time for first aid. We needed to get as far from the CDC as possible. I straightened, catching my breath as best as I could, and let Shaun pull me back into a run.

We got lucky; any zombies in the area had been attracted by the sound of sirens, and left us alone as we ran. We made it out of the grass and onto the broken sidewalk before my toes caught on the curb and I fell, gravity and momentum conspiring against me for one horrible moment. My hand was yanked free of Shaun’s, but not fast enough for me to catch myself. The landing knocked the air out of me—what little air had been left in me—and I wound up prostrate and wheezing, trying to find the strength to get back up again.

“Are you okay?” asked Shaun. He sounded concerned, but calm. Too calm; scary calm, like he wasn’t surprised to see me in the least.

I was still trying to get enough air to answer when the grass rustled, Becks and Mahir jogging up behind us. There was a click—the sound of a pistol safety being released.

“Move and you die,” snarled Becks, tone leaving no room for argument. I froze, stopping everything but my efforts to breathe. “Now who the f**k are you, and what are you doing here?”

“She fell,” said Shaun, sounding wounded. “Dude, what’s your damage?”

“It’s all right, Shaun,” said Mahir, who sounded as calm as Becks was angry. “Let her deal with this. You just stay right there.”

“What’s my damage? What’s my damage?” Becks laughed, a short, brittle sound that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. “I want to know what the hell game she thinks she’s playing. That’s all.”

“I’m not playing a game, Becks,” I said, voice muffled by the fact that I was talking into the pavement. “Can I get up before I try to explain myself?”

“Hold on,” said Shaun. Now he just sounded perplexed. Not being able to see people’s faces was starting to get to me. “I realize things were a little crazy in there before, so I was sort of willing to blow it off and all, but are you telling me you guys can actually see her?”

“What?” I said, lifting my head slightly. Becks didn’t shoot me. That was something.

“We can both see her, Shaun,” said Mahir wearily. He was panting from the run, although not as much as I was. “I don’t know who this woman is, but she’s no ghost, and no hallucination. We can see her perfectly well.”

“And if she doesn’t start talking soon, we can see her bleed,” said Becks. She nudged my leg with her toe, snapping, “Well? Identify yourself.”

“Please can I get up first?” I asked. “It’ll be easier for us to understand each other if I’m not talking into the street.”

There was a pause as some consultation I couldn’t see took place behind me. Finally, Becks said, “Fine. Get up. But if you so much as twitch funny, you’re going back down, for keeps. Understand?”

“I understand.” I pushed myself to my hands and knees, wincing as gravel and chunks of pavement bit into my hands. It was worse when I actually stood, pressing my bloody feet down on the ground.

Shaun took a half step forward, reaching out to help me with my balance. Becks switched her aim to him.

“Don’t,” she said, very softly. “Don’t make me.”

He stepped back, putting his hands up. “Okay, Becks, don’t worry. I’ll stay right here.”

“Thank you.”

“Thank you all,” I said. My hair was sticking to my forehead in sweaty, matted clumps, and the wind was cold on my cheeks. I hurt, I was possibly going to get shot in the next few seconds, and I’d never been so happy to be alive. I glanced at Shaun, reassuring myself that he was really there and really real, before looking back to Becks and Mahir. “I understand you’re probably confused and upset right now. I was, too, when all this started. But I swear, it’s me.”

“There is no ‘me,’ ” snarled Becks. Her eyes narrowed. “What the f**k kind of stunt is this? Plastic surgery? Natural lookalike so we wouldn’t be able to find the scars?”

“Cloning and experimental memory-transfer techniques,” I said. That was enough to stun Becks into a momentary silence.

Not Mahir. He drew his own gun, aiming it at my chest. “What’s your name?”

“Georgia Carolyn Mason.”

“What’s your license number?”

“Alpha-foxtrot-bravo, zero seven five eight nine three.” I rattled off the number without hesitation, glad it wasn’t one of the things stored in the fuzzy area of my memory. “I was issued my provisional B-class license on my sixteenth birthday. That license number was bravo-zulu-echo, one nine three two seven one. It was retired when I tested for my A-class license. I did that when I turned nineteen.”

“What’s my name?”

“Mahir Suresh Gowda. Your license was issued by the Indian consulate in London, so it’s about ninety digits long and comes with diplomatic immunity and what are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be on a different continent, objectively observing our problems?”


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