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“Really,” she said finally, in a neutral tone that could have meant just about anything.

Good enough for me. “Really,” I confirmed. “What I’m curious about is the list of labs. How many of those are going to be safe for us to visit? Where can we go to get the fieldwork side of the equation?” Kelly’s files gave us numbers, but they didn’t give us the rest of the picture. If we were going to understand, we needed to talk to someone who could confirm or contest the data—and if the CDC had been steered away from researching the reservoir conditions for as long as Kelly said, the labs on our list might have pieces of the puzzle we didn’t even know existed yet.

“All the labs on list A are ones with head researchers a member of the team worked with directly at some point, either before or after they went into the private sector,” she said, sounding much more relaxed now that she was dealing with verified facts instead of crazy reporters. “List B contains the labs where someone had personal experience with the supporting researchers, but not the head of the lab, and list C is made up of the labs where we had only secondhand information on the people working there. Reputations, credentials, whether or not they bothered to check their sources…”

“What about list D?” My hands were moving as we spoke, spewing out line after line of borderline coherent claptrap. It was the day after a death. We’d be expected to update—nothing was going to get us out of that, not even actually dying; George’s blog may have changed names when she died, but her backlog of files meant she missed less than a week. That didn’t mean we were expected to be profound.

“Ah.” Kelly’s tone was disapproving enough that I actually glanced toward her. Her lips were pursed into a tight moue of distaste. “That would be the labs where the researchers have been confirmed as following less than ethical paths in their research.”

“What, vivisection? Human test subjects?” I pressed Post on my first entry of the day, switched from my own feed to the administrative, and started typing again as I asked, “Full-body cloning?”

“It’s different when the CDC does it,” she said sharply. “We have a dispensation.”

“So?” I shrugged, continuing to type. “That doesn’t make it right. Hnt siany of the labs on list D would have been on list A if you weren’t being judgmental?”

Kelly sighed. “Two, at most.”

“Okay. Either of them anywhere near here?”

There was a horrified pause as she realized what I was asking. “Shaun, you don’t understand! These people were blacklisted from reputable scientific circles for a lot of reasons, and not all of them were as petty as you seem to think! These are not the secret heroes of some underground resistance against the evil CDC—they’re bioterrorists and crazy people, and they’re dangerous. We could get seriously hurt if we go to them. We could get killed.”

“And we could get killed if we stay here. I’m not seeing a difference in results.” I picked up George’s Coke and took another swig. “Your objections are noted. Can any of these people be trusted? At all? Or do I just pick one at random and hope they aren’t on the Frankenstein end of the ‘mad doctor’ scale?”

Kelly swallowed, throat working as she struggled against some clear inner impulse not to answer. Finally she said, “Dr. Abbey. I read some of the work she did on reservoir conditions before she went off the grid. I think she’d be able to help us.”

“Fine. Where is she?”

She sighed. “Portland, Oregon.”

“That’s a five- or six-hour drive if we take the direct route,” I said, sipping again from the can. “Annoying, but manageable. What was the big crime that got them blacklisted?”

“Unethical experiments involving the manipulation of the viral structure of Kellis-Amberlee. None involving human subjects, thank God, or she and her staff would be in federal prison for the rest of their lives.”

“I’m surprised they aren’t in federal prison anyway. How much blackmail material did she have?”

“Enough.” Kelly shook her head. “I don’t know much—it was all before my time—but she worked for Health Canada. Joint research team, theirs and ours. Some bad things happened, and she quit. Ever since then, she’s been pretty careful about who she lets get anywhere near her or her research.”

“Better watch out, Doc. That sounded almost like respect.”

“I like people who are serious about their work.” She shrugged. “Dr. Abbey was devoted to figuring out Kellis-Amberlee.”

“Somebody has to be.” I swung back around to the keyboard. “Better go see if Maggie’s got something you can wear, Doc. We’re going on another road trip.”

We made it out of Oakland alive. I’m still not sure how we did it, except that my team is made up of some of the best people I’ve ever known, and I don’t deserve them. I keep making it out of places alive. I think the universe is f**king with me.

I did something during the evacuation that yu shouldn’t ever do. I went back for George’s black box. I’d do it again, too. Because there’s already not enough of her left in this world, and I’m running out of things to hold onto.

Fuck, I miss her.

—From Adaptive Immunities, the blog of Shaun Mason, April 12, 2041. Unpublished.

Santa Cruz is gorgeous this time of year. I realize it’s a zombie-infested wasteland, but hell, at least the rents are good, right? Besides, there’s a reason this used to be one of the state’s most popular vacation destinations, and I doubt it had very much to do with their boardwalk, no matter what the old tourism brochures try to tell you.

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