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He snorted. “Well, my boss went and got herself killed, so it seemed I was needed on a more local level.”

Becks recovered from her brief silence, asking, “If you’re George, what’s wrong with your eyes?”

I touched the skin below my left eye, grimacing. “Freaky, isn’t it? Again, cloning. The scientists who grew me couldn’t induce a specific reservoir condition. When they tried, they caused spontaneous amplification in the clones unlucky enough to be their test subjects. I guess it got pretty expensive, so they stopped trying before they got to me.”

“Makes you a pretty lousy copy,” said Becks coldly.

“I know.” I dropped my hand back to my side. “I’m the show model, to prove that they can make a realistic copy of a person. I wasn’t supposed to get out. The clone they were planning to send to you was surgically altered to look like she had retinal KA.”

“The clone they were planning?” asked Mahir.

I smiled. I couldn’t help myself. “She was in the lab where I planted the initial explosives. You wouldn’t have wanted her anyway. She was programmed to betray you.”

“And you weren’t?” demanded Becks.

“If I have been, I don’t know about it,” I said.

“This is impossible,” said Mahir.

“This is insane,” said Becks.

“This wasn’t my idea,” I countered.

Shaun cleared his throat. “This is starting to make my head hurt, and that’s probably not a good sign. Does somebody want to explain to me exactly how the CDC managed to bring George back from the dead?”

“They didn’t,” said Becks. “This woman is not Georgia.”

“Yes, I am,” I protested. “I know it’s unbelievable, but it’s true.”

Mahir frowned. I knew that look. It was the look he got when something presented him with a really interesting problem to solve. “We’ll not come to any conclusive decisions standing out here,” he said. “Miss, if you’ll allow us to search you for weapons—”

“And scan her for tracking devices,” interjected Becks.

“Yes, of course. Search you for weapons and scan you for tracking devices, and if you come up clean, we can take you back to the hotel where we’re currently quartered and try to sort this out.”

I let out a breath I’d only been half aware of holding. “I have a gun in the pocket on the right-hand side of my lab coat. It’s loaded, but the safety’s on.”

Becks stepped forward, sticking her hand into my pocket with more force than was strictly necessary. She pulled out my gun and stepped back, stowing it in her belt. I felt instantly less clothed. “Got anything else?”

“Not that I’m aware of. If there are tracking devices on me, I don’t know they’re there. They’re probably subcutaneous.” I shook my head. “The EIS would have removed any of those that they found, but that doesn’t mean they found them all.”

Becks sneered. “We’ll just see. You picked the wrong team to try infiltrating, lady, and as soon as we find out who you really are, I’m going to kick the ever-loving crap out of you.”

I smiled slightly, relief fading into a mellower look of generalized exhaustion. “See, that sort of thing, right there, is why I missed you guys so much.” I glanced at Shaun. “Becks is with you, instead of working with the betas now? Good call.”

“Becks is in charge of the Irwins,” he said. Then he frowned. “Shouldn’t you already know that, if they’ve sent you here to infiltrate us?” His tone was turning belligerent. He was starting to get angry. That was bad.

“They didn’t send me, Shaun. I escaped,” I said. “The one they wanted you to find would have a better cover story.”

“This is all academic,” said Mahir. “Whether or not she’s really Georgia—”

“She’s not,” said Becks.

“—she’s here, and we’re going to have to contend with her, one way or another.”

“At least we won’t have any issues with the law if we need to shoot her.” Shaun looked at me coldly. “She’s already dead.”

Seeing that look on his face hurt more than almost anything else in the world. “I’m not dead anymore, Shaun. I swear to you, it’s me. Please believe me.”

He suddenly lunged forward, grabbing my shoulders and turning me to fully face him. Becks started to moved toward us. Mahir grabbed her upper arm, stopping her. I barely noticed. I was too busy staring into the eyes of the man in front of me, the eyes I’d been waiting to see since the moment I woke up. They were looking at me with such anger. I’d seen that look on his face before, but never directed at me.

“Who are you?” he demanded, voice pitched low. The pain in it hurt almost as much as the anger in his eyes. My poor, poor Shaun…

“I’m Georgia,” I whispered. “I’m not anyone else, and that means that I’m her.”

He looked older, like he’d lived through more than just a year without me. His eyes searched my face, finally settling on my hairline. “Why haven’t you dyed your hair?” he asked.

“The doctors responsible for my care didn’t give me the opportunity. I would have, if they’d let me.” I would have given myself retinal Kellis-Amberlee, just so I’d feel less like a stranger in my own skin. I would have done a lot of things.


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